Thursday, August 7, 2008

Brain Teasing Turned to the Max... The Braid Review

A handful of games of recent memory have challenged the intellects of the brain towards solving puzzles. Braid turns up the puzzle solving to the max with platforming sections along with homages to iconic games like Super Mario Bros. and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. This puzzle platformer for Xbox Live Arcade feels like a hybrid of Mario platforming, the time mechanic from The Sands of Time, and challenging puzzle solving similar to Portal. Along with a simple yet complex story with a mind blowing conclusion, difficult puzzles that will test your mind, and a beautiful graphical style, Braid is truly something special despite its steep price and definitely worth a play through to experience such a rare game in this generation of consoles that I would say it would be this year's Portal in terms of being a short and sweet masterpiece.

The story of Braid seems simple at first as you play as Tim, a young boy dressed in a suit and tie, on pursuit of rescuing the princess. That simple theme alone feels like a homage to Super Mario Bros. as when you reach the end of a level, a random animal will say the iconic quote, "The princess is in another castle." As you read the books in the six worlds collecting puzzle pieces, the story becomes more complex and awkward at the same time as you learn more about Tim and his motives of this whole quest. Braid takes an unique approach towards starting a game by having no menus at all other than the pause menu as you just start right away to the action of traveling to the six worlds of different themes and puzzles. It starts out easy in the first world you step on, but it progressively harder testing your intellect on how to get the 60 puzzle pieces. The later puzzles take advantage of the themes in some worlds like using a doppelganger after slowing down time, using a time bubble, and a whole area where your movements dictate the enemy movements and time.

The simple controls of Braid are also noteworthy for a game like this of only moving, jumping, opening doors and switches, and changing the flow of time. The time mechanic is pretty much the foundation of Braid as the majority of puzzles require some manipulation of time of rewinding or fast forwarding. For a game as challenging for the puzzles, there are no deaths thanks to rewinding time when solving them. There are some obstacles to watch out for with all the puzzle solving and platforming with lava pits, goomba-like enemies, rabbits, and more. The frustration does kick in when trying to solve a certain puzzle for hours, but it is about taking advantage what is there to use and the time mechanic to solve them. On the other hand, the satisfaction of solving some of them feels like an achievement of its own. Some may seem impossible while others will question your mind of why you never thought of that idea. Even though this is a short game of six worlds that can last several hours pending on how fast you solve the most difficult puzzles, Braid is truly something unique and original among other games on Xbox Live Arcade.

The graphical style of Braid is really something special with the characters looking great as Tim animates pretty smoothly. Sure, there isn't as much variety of enemies, but this game is not as filled with action as in a 2D Mario game where this one focuses on the puzzles. The environments themselves also look beautiful as everything has some watercolor effect that makes it look amazing. The framerate also never hitches, which is a good thing for a game like this even though there isn't much going on. The music and sound effects are also remarkable with a surprisingly amazing soundtrack of chill tunes that go according to the themes of the game. The tunes themselves sound peaceful and relaxed especially for a puzzle platformer that never resorts to hard hitting sounds. The visual and artistic presentation of Braid does keep it separate from the rest of the XBLA games out now.

For 1200 Microsoft Points (15 dollars), it might be too steep to play Braid, but it is a completely inspiring and mind blowing experience of pushing puzzle platforming to a whole new level while paying tribute to the games that pioneered it to be what it is now. The nods to those games will make fans of gaming in general go crazy and the conclusion will confuse some players if they didn't read any of the books in the six worlds while being one of the best endings in recent memory of games. Sure, reading the books may seem like a lazy way to tell the story as cutscenes are all the rage for telling stories, but this text-based approach just makes perfect sense for Braid while letting the gameplay do all the talking. There is also minimal replay value with the option of speed running this game, but playing all of it once is enough to witness greatness. If you want to challenge yourself with these difficult puzzles and experience perhaps another reason that games can be art, I would highly recommend Braid as a special puzzle platformer and one of the best downloadable games on the Xbox 360.

Score = 9.5/10

  • Amazing visual presentation along with a great soundtrack.
  • Does great homages to games that influenced it like Super Mario Bros.
  • A simple story, but turned complex and a surprising conclusion.
  • Puzzle platforming pushed to a new level with the manipulation of time and challenging but not impossible puzzles.
  • Short game (several hours long on the first playthrough).
  • 1200 MS Points price point might be too steep.
  • Frustration will kick in if you can't figure out a puzzle for hours and hours.

No comments: