Game Review 005: Braid

PROLEGOMENAN

Every year it seems like there are fewer games out on the market that truly stimulate, excite, and even shock those who play them for the first time. It often takes several years to develop a game with a rich atmosphere like that found in the Diablo series of RPGs. The risks are high and the rewards uncertain, especially for Indie developers, even with a good team and solid scope. Several types of genres will on occasion bring about these fresh perspectives gamers desire, from first person shooters, turn based strategies, racing, and of course RPGs.

I have discovered a unique game on Xbox Live that truly excited me from the moment I saw it, to the very end-game gameplay. I can safely say that no game has done this in over a year now, and quite possibly never quite to the level that Braid has done. While there are components to the game that resemble those of Mario World, you quickly move past common themes to those that fill yourself with imagination as you race to solve each puzzle, quite literally. In the end I still don't give it a 10/10, where you'll see why shortly.

GRAPHICS, SOUND, INTERFACE

You will immediately note the beautiful splendor that is the Braid world. It is a world not made of realistic colors, nor of candy textures as World of Warcraft is made of as I like to call them. Braid is a world of vibrant yet pleasing colors and textures that look exactly like they were painted with a handbrush, from the flowers on the grassy ground to the multi-colored sun in the sky. Braid sets you about in a world of pleasant scenery that wraps itself around music you could fall asleep too.

There have been some really annoying games I've played when it comes to music and sound effects. It doesn't take much to overdue this very critical component of gameplay, yet more often than not you see games that should have a light piano sound and instead come with a rock band singing something straight out of a rapper groups album. All game elements must be in harmony or one begins to notice flaws about each individual component, and eventually ignores the point of playing the game altogether!

Braid has a theme you wouldn't quite expect, but does it right. As with the happy world feeling, you are greeted with pleasant piano, violin and other orchestra sounds that are just enough to complete the world without sounding harsh or disrupting. This is especially important in a game that requires a sharp focus in completing puzzles and advancing through difficult objectives. What's more annoying when concentrating than harsh sounds, kids yelling in the background, dishes crashing on the floor... you get the idea.

As for the interface, nothing too special here as the game is using Xbox 360's proprietary control. Forward, backward, jump, menu, etc., all have their places on the game pad. You are even given a brief in-game tutorial that helps guide you through some of the basic commands, including one very special command that no other game has yet implemented -- time reverse and forward action buttons. The tutorial is a subtle but to the point, reflecting a bit of the puzzle-like attitude that the game is based upon.

GAMEPLAY

That's right, you are given control over the flow of time, an essential component to the game that is at the very heart of the gameplay and how you will manage to solve some of the most challenging, yet fun puzzles I've personally seen in a console game for some time now. Time is also not only part of the gameplay but part of the story. If you can conceive of moving backwards in time to reverse actions you've previously made that produce a net forward effect, you have a start at understanding the Braid world.

Moving backwards in time has two essential functions when completing puzzles and advancing through the game world. The first is that of error correction. Let's say you made a mistake, died when hitting a creature, or some other event that you wish to reverse. If only in the real world we could reverse time and start fresh. In most games you can simply hit the reset button, but in Braid you simply hit the reverse time button (or hit the reset button anyway if you really want to)!

The second is of puzzle solving. Moving backwards in time is often essential in adjusting the scene to ensure it is at a point where you can complete a puzzle properly. For example, often times you will be forced to jump off a cliff to retrieve a key. The only way to get back up is to reverse time, keeping the key with you as you reverse. There's a hint in there for those that play Braid and wonder what the special green sparkly items are for versus those that don't have that effect...

WRAPPING UP

I love puzzles, so any puzzle game is a bonus for me when I can get my hands on it. Combine that type of gameplay with beautiful graphics, pleasing music and sound effects that don't disrupt your concentration, and a storyline that interweaves nicely with the gameplay and you have at least one happy customer.

The only caveat I have with the game is that as you advance through the puzzle worlds you are forced to use the reverse time feature so much it almost becomes a distraction in itself. Imagine trying to solve a puzzle by constantly reversing time and moving forward over hundreds of attempts to get a sequence of objectives completed just right. Everything reverses, including the music, and as a result your ability to focus on the task at hand quickly is lost in frustration.

My respect for the developers grew ten-fold when I realized the game was developed not from some huge studio with millions of dollars in funding, but from a small independent group that simply wanted to make a different kind of game than was ever seen before. They certainly accomplished their goals and I think exceeded their expectations for such a successful Indie product as.

PROS:

- Unique time reversal gameplay with challenging puzzles
- A storyline that interweaves directly with the gameplay
- Graphics and music that are pleasing to the eyes and ears
- Cheap and quick to access over Xbox Live

CONS:

- Advanced puzzles require too many frequent time reversal adjustments
- A relatively short game after you understand its mechanics
- Only available on Xbox Live

FINAL OVERALL RATING

8/10

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