While most games on Xbox Live Arcade are fluff and a waste of space, equivalent to the Wii library, a recent release has stood out quite noticeably. It takes decades-old styles and stories and creates a new, rich gameplay experience that is simply incomparable. This game is Braid.
The setting of Braid is a Mario-style archetype: the protagonist must fight a series of monsters, solve puzzles and traverse an array of platforms, ultimately to find the Princess.
Jonathan Blow, the creator of the game, takes the typical, cliché story and turns it into an intellectual and artistic epic. By recruiting David Hellman, awarded for the art of the well received webcomic A Lesson Is Learned But The Damage Is Irreversible, the consistently dynamic and expressive visuals depict scenes more vivid than those in blockbuster 3D hits, though the game is clearly 2D.
The sound of Braid is highly immersive. From the beginning screen, small, eloquent notes set a standard for the rest of the game to follow, which it does quite faithfully. With quiet, almost New Age sounds a la Jonathan Elias, the sound design perfectly accompanies the gameplay and the visuals.
Though the individual aspects of art and sound fortify the experience of Braid, the game does not depend on these artifacts like other games do. For its gameplay experience alone, Braid is easily as good as other games like Halo 3, GTA IV and Call of Duty 4.
The enjoyable puzzles are both challenging and unique, and the sense of achievement of solving them is strong—not to mention the Xbox awchievements themselves, which are extremely straightforward.
When starting the game, the protagonist, a red-haired man dressed in business clothes, goes throughout a house with various empty artwork beside each door.
There are seven worlds, with the character starting at world 1. When the player enters each of these “worlds,” though they are really just rooms in a house, a set of aligned books waits to be opened.
As the player walks into each podium containing a book, a series of literature appears on the screen, vaguely yet beautifully depicting the story.
The poetic value of the game’s script is evident, enlightening the reader and player with a deep story, even from the first few lines. Those who enjoy good literature will most certainly enjoy Braid.
The main focus of Braid is the manipulation of time. With the ability to rewind time at any point in the game, the player never really dies, but must go back and re-time his or her actions to solve each puzzle and reach each platform.
In certain worlds, a different power is introduced, like the slowing down of time or the ability to create a shadow that mimics actions that have been reversed.
Throughout most of the game, there are certain monsters, platforms and other objects that do not react to the manipulation of time. Many of these abilities and limits combine together to create a memorable, challenging and immersive experience, the last of which is rare for a platformer.
The only main goal of the game is to collect jigsaw puzzle pieces and arrange them into the picture. All six pictures unlock the final level, which is easily one of the most intense conclusions I’ve ever seen.
The pictures themselves can be used to solve puzzles in real time, showing how interconnected the components of the game are, and how perfectly they all fit.
While playing the game, there was one very annoying problem, something that nagged at me for days after I beat it: Braid ended.
Though an average of six hours is fair for an XBLA game and a simple platformer, I wish there were more puzzles, more charming visuals and sounds and another way to manipulate time and be creative.
While most other puzzle games have a specific, mechanical objective, the puzzle-solving in Braid feels unique, like I’ve done it for the first time, before anyone else.
Many times, Braid becomes more of an experience and less of a game, which speaks volumes for its credibility. Easily the best XBLA game to come out, over 50,000 copies were downloaded in the first week of its release. I found the title compelling, downloaded the trial version and simply bought it immediately after I finished the trial, something I’ve never done, even with full length games.
With a script worthy of a Pulitzer, a Grammy-caliber soundtrack and visuals that should have a gallery in a metropolitan museum, I would not only recommend Braid, I would insist that everyone buy it. Though it is currently solely on the Xbox 360, a PC release is scheduled for the end of 2008, and a PS3 release has not yet been ruled out.
For those that need a refreshing game that illuminates involving, challenging and, most importantly, fun gameplay (along with great writing, music and art), Braid is a must for those who appreciate a good story and a great challenge.