PLATFORM: Xbox Live Arcade
Braid came out of nowhere and has received near universal acclaim, amassing more 10/10s than any Xbox Live Arcade title to date, and more than most retail games. A veritable ton of hyperbole has been spread on the internet about how good this game is, with reviewers proclaiming that it is “a true work of art” and that it “has the potential to change the way you think about reality.” (Actual quotes.)
Every once in a while, the gaming community gets it wrong.
“Super Mario Bros with a Prince of Persia twist, as featured on a 15 year old’s livejournal!””
Yeah, this game sweats those Brothers Mario so, so bad. It’s a puzzle-based platformer title with a lot of similarities to that game (more on this later) whose biggest draw is the inclusion of a modified version of the rewind feature from Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. The plot (such as it is) is told to you cryptically in books that are set out in front of each level. As you walk in front of each the story appears in words above your character for you to read, or skip, if you’re smart. The story really is disposable, despite what the developers might think. It’s an angsty bit of work that would fit well in an emo band’s repertoire.
The entries range from D&D goofiness like:
to overly sentimental drivel like:
Shit like that is real hard to take seriously. I find it helps to digest it if you imagine the writer typing it with tears in his eyes, barely hiding the hurt look on his face that’s directed at the people in his life that just don’t understand him. He angrily types and posts his blog while his lip quivers uncontrollably. He rises from the desk and makes it to his bed just in time to cry into his huge pillow… getting eyeliner all over the damn thing.
Think I’m joking about all this?
There’s a really, really nice twist during the last level but it has more to do with the gameplay than anything.
Here’s where the game shines. This is one fantastic platforming game, and the gimmick of rewinding time works incredibly well. Like I mentioned before, it’s very much similar to Prince of Persia‘s feature except here it’s unlimited and you can rewind to the very beginning of the level. No longer will one little missed jump be the end- even if you die you just rewind to where you were alive and try it over again. Soon in the game you’ll realize all the different tricks you can pull off by manipulating time.
It’s a hard to describe all the cool little ways you can use it. It starts off relatively easy (the available demo is just a taste) but more and more elements keep getting added to keep you on your toes. For example, early on in the game you’ll run across certain objects that shine green and can’t be affected by time. With the inclusion of this one element you’ve got a ton of new ways of looking at things. One of the first puzzles that uses it is in a room where there’s a key inside a pit. Normally if you fell into it to grab the key and rewound time, everything would go back to the way it was, but since the key’s got that shine to it you can jump in, rewind time, and it will stay in your hand. It starts from there and gets incredibly intricate, where you’re manipulating time to allow enemies to reach you so you can bounce on their backs and get to where you need to go (and plenty of other tricks).
One great thing about the game is that it doesn’t hold your hand… there’s only a tiny bit of explanation for how to use things. Most everything you’ll have figure out on your own, and for a game that’s as much a puzzle game as a platformer, this is key. You will get stumped at a bunch of the puzzles, but once you figure out the trick it’s oh so satisfying.
Also cool is how every level introduces a new gameplay mechanic. In one level you can drop a bubble that slows down time in the immediate area, perfect for slowing down projectiles and enemies. In another after you rewind time your shadow will repeat the actions you just made, allowing you to manipulate two areas or switches at once. There’s a huge amount of twists and as you figure out all the ways you can use each new move you’ll soon find all the puzzle pieces that are hidden around the land.
The one mistake made here is that each new move or feature is only good for that one level (of which there are only 6). The one constant is hitting the X button to rewind time, everything else is different every level. It makes sense to keep things interesting and fresh, but it would have been nice to have a level that incorporates a few of them to really fuck with your head.
But no one can really complain about the last level. It’s genius.
This is an absolutely beautiful game, of that there’s no doubt. It looks like a watercolor painting, with multiple layers of scrolling parallax to add a little fake depth and plenty of nostalgia to the game.
It’s also about as close as you can get to a Super Mario Bros ripoff. Forgetting the stupid “The Princess is in another castle” thing that’s annoyingly placed at the end of every level, you’ve also got piranha plants that come out of pipes, creatures that look like goombas with dreadlocks, and I could swear that some of the creatures make Chain-Chomp sounds. You pick up keys like in Super Mario Bros 2 and there’s even a stage that contains a direct rip of Donkey Kong. It’s obvious homage, sure, but it gets a little irritating for such an otherwise original title.
The music is atrocious. Composed mostly with stringed instruments, it gives the impression that you’re about to embark on a LARP to try to seduce a wood nymph. Turn it off as soon as you can.
If you’ve got half a brain you can finish this game completely in 4-5 hours. Once you’ve found all 60 puzzle pieces, fit them together and beaten the last level there’s really no reason to go back to it.
Oh, unless you’re one of those speed run freaks. You will unlock a Speed Run mode after you beat Braid, but it’s mostly worthless. There are 5 that are portions of a level, that’ll take you anywhere from 26 seconds to a minute five to beat their times, but there’s one more that’s a speed run of the whole game. That’s right, you can waste your time trying to speed your way through the entire game like The Wizard (but considerably less cooler). Let me set one thing straight- people who do speed runs are weird folks. I can see why some people get into it, but it takes a special kind of brain disorder to spend weeks and weeks to find that perfect line through your game of choice.
But hey, if you find joy in it, you can try to beat this whole game in 45 minutes for the final achievement in the game. While looking through the leaderboards for that ridiculous achievement I noticed a guy who had a time of 45:02. Can you imagine how much that must have hurt? That’s the kind of pain you don’t get over soon. That’s the kind of pain that will make you sit back and make you realize you’ve wasted 45 minutes (and two seconds) of your life for absolutely nothing and reconsider a new hobby.
A very good game, occasionally a great game (the last/first level is absolutely amazing), but not half the masterpiece most people are making it out to be… and the price does hurt. Sorry, say what you want about supporting the smaller guys- but 15 bucks is steep for the amount of game you get here. As others have said, it’s cheap when you compare it to the price of other forms of entertainment (movies, concerts, etc.) but you’ve got cheaper and better games available to you on XBLA. You probably won’t regret the money (I don’t) but for gamers on a tight budget, go for any of the other currently available “Summer of Arcade” titles, which are both better and two-thirds of the price.