Braid (XBLA) – Review

braid-cover Braid is a rather unique puzzler-platform game available through Xbox Live.  While the basic play makes the game look like your typical Mario clone, the bulk of the game is centered around the use of time manipulation and other time-related puzzles in order to collect hard-to-reach puzzles and complete the game.  The game is fantastically presented, and while the unique time-based puzzles are great, there is a very very steep learning curve as well as puzzles that require tight timing and controls in order to complete, and these may make the game too frustrating for those that lack the patience to solve them.  I feel the game could have used just a few more “tutorial” type puzzles which would have smoothed out the difficulty curve and made the game much more accessible.  Still, however, the game is one that should be praised for its distinctive approach.

 

Story: B+

Unlike your typical side-scrolling platform, there is a deeper story behind it.  You play as Tim who is searching for his Princess, but seems to keep missing her.  The story is told through books at the start of each world, and then culminates in the finale and epilogue, and while on first sight it’s rather trivial, people have found very deep meaning in the language, and when you play through it with that in mind, the game is pretty deep.  Mind you, without this information, it’s still an intriguing story but otherwise thin.

Gameplay: A

Braid may look like a platformer from the start, but the game is actually much more than that.  First, throughout the game, you gain the ability to reverse time, allowing you to first correct errors ala Prince of Persia: Sands of Time.  However, this becomes a much deeper mechanic when you start encountering the other ways the game plays with time, and the key focus of trying to solve the various puzzles in the game.

The game is divided into 6 worlds made up of several “rooms”.  Clearing all the rooms is not difficult if not in fact trivial, and that unlocks 5 of the 6 worlds, but the challenge is to collect puzzle pieces that are in hard-to-reach locations to fully complete that world, and only until the first 5 worlds are complete does the 6th world (which is where the story takes its dramatic turn) become available.

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Each world (outside of the first, which is more an introduction to the time reversal ability) has a unique time feature that comes into play.  In one world, there are elements (monsters, doors, keys, or the like) that do not rewind as you do, and thus manipulating these to get to the puzzle piece is necessary.  Other time tricks include a shadow character that repeats your movements once you rewind (an idea similar to Blinx: The Time Sweeper), a time ring that slows down time in the nearby area, and one world where time only progresses forward or backwards as you move in those directions respectively.  The variation in time-based elements creates numerous interesting physics elements that make this much more than a simple platformer.

However, there are two aspects that make this a rather difficult game that may not be for everyone, or at least may frustrate you to ruin the enjoyment.  The first is that the game is short – short to the point that you are basically given only one test room to get used to the new time mechanic for the world, and then you’re thrust into trying to figure out how it all works together.  This can make trying to figure out certain puzzles very difficult because you are being introduced to all the elements you need to solve it in one go.  I would have preferred the game to be about 50% longer as to have rooms where the number of new tricks you needed to learn was reduced as to allow a better learning curve to the game.  While the rewind functions helps a lot (eg, you really can never die and you can reset a puzzle, in most cases, via rewinding all the way to the start of the room), the constant repetition of certain steps at the start of solving a puzzle as to get to tricky final steps can be annoying.  The other aspect that can lead to hair-tearing-out experiences is the fact that several of the puzzles require very tight movements – not as tight as you’d find people using for speedruns in other games, but enough that you need to be within the right fractions of a second or at the right two or three pixels to successfully get through the levels.  Again, the rewind function helps to fix these small errors, but the fact there’s such a tight margin of error drove me crazy more than enough times.  Sure, I eventually got through the puzzles, and in regards to the first aspect, it felt good, but the puzzles that relied on perfect timing or jumps definitely tainted the overall enjoyment of the game.

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These didn’t ruin the game for me – the game was still sufficiently interesting and fun, but I do question these design choices.  I recently had my 360 RROD on me, during which Braid was released, but in the meantime I had run through Prince of Persia: Sands of Time in anticipation of its upcoming sequel, and one thing that stuck me there is that the game tosses you several elements throughout the game, but at a rate that is more reasonable to get to learn each element first but not so slow as to get bored of the elements as they are brought in.  In other words, you are given one or two opportunities to “try” a new element without significant fear of death (of course, you have the time reverse aspect as well), but then the challenges start to quickly add up requiring you to string the new elements into what you already knew to get through the level.  This is the type of thing that Braid really could have used, just a more gentle introduction to each aspect followed by the full-on puzzles that use it.

Once you’ve finished the game, you gain access to speedruns attempting to collect all the puzzle pieces on the level in the fastest time, and to find eight star secretly hidden about the levels.

Value/Replayability: C-

The game is rather pricey, the reasoning being explaining in several articles prior to its release.  And for that amount, you get what is probably about 3-4 hours of gameplay (this will depend on how well you can get your mind around the time-based puzzles).  While the speedruns help to give secondary replay value, the overall initial game length vs price is a bit of a stumbling block.

Graphics: A+

The game is beautifully presented; the background and foreground elements look like watercolor paints with nice visual touches, while Tim and the other sprites move fluidly and look wonderful.  The graphics adapt well with the time effects; they gray out when time reverses, or during the use of slow time, they wobble nicely.

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Audio: A

The game also has a very melody and moving soundtrack that is also affected by the time processes in the game.  It’s subtle enough that when you start having to repeat puzzles over and over again it’s not unnerving and is also a good audio cue for other aspects of the game to know how fast you are going forward in time.

Overall: A-

Braid is an interesting beast – myself, the core aspect of the game – a platform puzzler that includes time elements is great, and the visual and aural experience along with it are top notch.  However, I do question some of the core design issues; the learning curve which basically doesn’t exist is going to throw some people off from this game is probably the core thing that I would change, sacrificing its rather good length in order to have just a few additional levels to help players get used to the various mechanics.  But this should not be something to completely wreck the game; all of it can be taken in chunks (once you’ve walked through the world you can get back to any specific room quickly and thus try that part of the challenge).   I definitely recommend it just to see a unique twist on a standard formula and just remember to take it a few steps at a time.

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