Jonathan Blow and his small team at Number None, Inc. took the award for innovation in game design at the 2006 Independent Games Festival. After spending several hours with Braid I can understand why. The title is a puzzle-platformer without peer; a beautiful game on many levels and one that will be remembered for its ability to provoke thought and emotion as much as for the gameplay, art, storytelling and music.
Braid spins the tale of Tim, a humble man that leaves his home in the city on a journey to find his Princess. She has been captured by an evil monster and Tim is to blame. He made mistakes in their past relationship and forced the Princess to run away. This brief synopsis is as far into Braid’s story as I will go, for Tim’s journey is a unique one open to interpretation and one that should be experienced first hand. Read More...
As players guide Tim through Braid’s five worlds, different gameplay mechanics are utilized. Aside from the basic ability to make Tim jump, players can manipulate the game’s flow of time in a number of ways. One world has a basic rewind ability while others feature time dilation, parallel realities, objects unaffected by time or independent time streams.
The various abilities will help players to help Tim collect the 60 puzzle pieces scattered throughout the 30 or so levels that populate Braid’s worlds. Each world acts as a hub, containing doorways to the levels, as well as storybooks that give some more insight into Tim and his relationship with the Princess.
Reading the storybooks is entirely optional and the game’s levels do not have to be completed in a linear order, making Braid a fairly open-ended game. Players can walk through the worlds without collecting puzzle pieces, though they will be unable to “complete” the game if they choose to do so.
Collecting all of the puzzle pieces in a world will allow you to assemble them into a picture, providing more detail to the narrative. Assembling all of the puzzles will unlock the Braid’s final world and allow players to see the end of Tim and the Princess’ story.
Getting every puzzle piece in the game can be tricky as many of Braid’s puzzles have a singular solution to them. Though complicated, the environmental puzzles found in the game are never become cheap or obtuse. Most puzzles are very reasonable and relatively easy to find the solution to given a bit of thought.
Where Braid can get really devious is trying to execute the solution using basic platforming mechanics and a given world’s unique time property. Dropping a time dilation bubble and trying to outrun fireballs can get pretty tough, but never to the point of frustration like some pure platforming games thanks to the ability to retry from any given point easily.
Because of the nature of Braid, there is no death or game over screen. If players accidentally fall into a pit, hit an enemy or don’t get to a closing door in time, they will rewind the level and try again. Despite that, there where a few levels I actually found easier to complete by exiting and restarting rather than trying to rewind and patch my mistakes.
The controls are straightforward and simple. The A button is used to make Tim jump, B will make him interact with objects and doors. X houses the rewind function. While in rewind mode players can speed up or slow down the process using the LB and RB buttons, much like a DVD player. The Y button is also used, but quite sparingly.
Braid’s look evokes that of a living watercolour painting. Everything from the enemies to Tim and the environments he occupies is richly and lovingly detailed, colourful and for lack of a better word comfortable. Part of that comfort comes from a sense of familiarity in enemy and level designs that will be prevalent to platform game fans, especially older ones. The whole package is simply beautiful to look at throughout the entire experience.
The soundtrack compliments Braid’s visual style well and is anchored by compositions from artists Jami Sieber and Shira Kammen, among others. Many of the songs have long, sweeping strings that work with the rewind mechanic quite nicely. The music feels classical at times and Celtic at others, underscoring Tim’s quiet dignity as he traverses time and space.
Braid challenges players to think in different ways, not only to solve the game’s puzzles but also to make their own sense of the story provided. Not everyone will walk away from this one with the same feeling or take on what happens. This truly unique work has already spawned lengthy discussions and analysis from those that populate internet message boards and the blogosphere in the two weeks since its release.
Even going back to it to write this review gave me a different perspective on what happens in the game. It can be joyful and sad at the same time to look back on the story of Tim, the Princess and the fairytale universe they inhabit. No other game has ever made me feel so much by doing so little, let alone tear up while writing a review. Those that question the validity of video games as art should seriously have a look at Braid. Though taste in art is highly subjective, one would have a hard time ignoring the beautiful craftsmanship found here.
Braid is not a long game by any means. My first playthrough took about six hours, including the 45 minute speed run and eight extra challenges unlocked after completing it. Beyond that there is literally no replay value, you have to overwrite your save file in order to start over and reset all progress. There was some controversy about its price when it was announced – 1200 Microsoft Points ($15 USD, $17 CAD), but Braid is worth every single point because of the experience it contains regardless of length.
As of the publication of this review, Braid is an Xbox 360 Exclusive via Xbox LIVE Arcade. A PC version is in the works for later in 2008 and Jonathan Blow has hinted at a PlayStation Network version even further down the road.
+ Beautiful graphics, story and music
+ Unique, time-based puzzle gameplay
+ Makes you think in different ways
+ A true example of video games as art
- A few sections degenerate into trial and error