“Braid is a puzzle-platformer, drawn in a painterly style, where the player manipulates the flow of time in strange and unusual ways. From a house in the city, journey to a series of worlds and solve puzzles to rescue an abducted princess. In each world, you have a different power to affect the way time behaves, and it is time’s strangeness that creates the puzzles. The time behaviours include: the ability to rewind; objects that are immune to being rewound, time that is tied to space, parallel realities, time dilation, and perhaps more. Braid treats your time and attention as precious; there is no filler in this game. Every puzzle shows you something new and interesting about the game world.”
Looking at the fantastic visuals, one can only be reminded of Super Mario Bros., only with a gorgeous, vibrant, charming watercolour art style lovingly caressed across its bones. There are even subtle homages to the 80’s classic dotted around the game – one of which holds a much deeper meaning than what’s on the surface. The visuals are the first thing you see in Braid and they most certainly aren’t in any rush to disappear – there’s not one slapdash-on-detail example; every pixel has been defined and crafted to utter pleasing perfection, but not so much that it makes it difficult to distinguish between things that are there purely for visual interest (like trees and foreground foliage, etc.) and important things like doors, keys and platforms. It’s like traversing through a beautiful watercolour painting. I mean, you only have to look at this – the first thing you ever see in Braid – to realise that this isn’t your everyday visual job. That picture doesn’t display the true potency of the visuals whatsoever; every morsel is alive, kicking, breathing and warm to your heart. The visuals are relative to their respective world’s theme; World 2, “Time and Forgiveness”, has a very pleasant visual style comprised of lush greens, vibrant bunches of flowers and a backdrop of beautiful blue, green and yellow pastels. The theme of this world, therefore, is one of pleasance; a very forgiving, optimistic and positive tone. This idealistic setting can be compared with World 6, “Hesitance”, where the lush greens and once naturally-coloured wooden platforms have been replaced with sterile silver, cold-metal platforms and glowing flowers evocative of glass and radiation *ahem*.
An absolutely stunning, soothing, emotion-evoking soundtrack with Jami Sieber, Shira Kammen and Cheryl Ann Fulton taking the compositional helm. As a rarity in games, the stunning soundtrack fully compliments the visual theme of each world, and the added edge of some intentionally somewhat out-of-place sounds effects (like the meowing Mimic bunnies; the ‘clumping’ sound Tim makes when he lands; the gentle tap-tap of the savagely hazardous piranha plants and the deathly subtle doon when Tim dies) add a whole new admirable dimension to the game that can only cause one to question why it’s like that. Why is it like that? Simple – as confirmed in an interview I held with Jonathan Blow (the creator) himself – “It’s more about investing those situations with complexity that people might notice and respond to.” That’s pretty powerful stuff, man, but it makes total sense. It does, of course, apply to many more elements of the game outside of the sound, but this particular element is something very striking and connectible indeed. Even when reversing time, the music and sound effects still play – only in reverse – adding a whole new life and body of glistfully emanating sound. It’s a beautiful parallel that we have complete and utter freedom to explore. Fan-friggin’-tastic!
On the face of things, Braid is a simple 2D platformer, no different to the likes of Super Mario Bros., only with time manipulation and puzzle pieces. Of course, that’s only the face of it, and the game goes much deeper than that, but the face of the playability is what we’re looking at. Braid plays like a dream – an absolute fucking dream. Why? Because it completely ignores unnecessary trigger pulls, D-pad item selection and whatever conventions most games follow that leave a slightly sour taste, and instead follows the unquestionably simple control formula of traditional 2D platformers (most notably Super Mario Bros.) of left and right; A to jump and, breaking tradition, the X button to manipulate time. Pressing up and down makes Tim look up and down, respectively, but that’s for aesthetical value as opposed to anything vital to the gameplay. The controls are beautiful, but the playability is stunning; using your brain to get past obstacles to collect puzzle pieces is something that’s extremely easy to picture in your mind, but it goes far beyond that. Braid is a puzzle platformer, so what better way to represent your objective than actual puzzle pieces? They’re not your run-of-the-mill ‘collect a certain number of puzzle pieces to complete the level’ objective either; they must mean something other than being simple collectibles, right? Right! Located somewhere within each world is a puzzle board where the puzzle pieces you’ve collected in that particular world are stored, which you then fit together to form a picture representing that world’s theme without explaining it directly. Completing the puzzle boards and making your way to the end of each world to the Greeter (another Super Mario Bros. reference) is necessary in completing the worlds and progressing in the game; even one of the puzzle boards itself is used to obtain two out-of-reach puzzle pieces, which blew my mind somewhat. Of course, whereas puzzle pieces are just one part of the gameplay, the time manipulation mechanics are the game’s stand-out offering, giving the player the ability to accomplish things in a game that would never be possible otherwise, and it’s all thanks to the unquestionably banging time manipulation mechanic. The days of falling into a pit of fiery spikes followed by a loud noise, a minus one on the number of lives and a subsequently infuriating ‘Game Over’ screen are gone, as we’re now treated to the ability to reverse time to undo our mistakes (among other, deeper things…), therefore completely ruling out the possibility of death which, as we all know, is extremely annoying when you’re trying to complete a tightly crafted puzzle in a game. Braid forgives the player for their mistakes and gives them as many chances as they want, which is especially reflective of World 2’s “Time and Forgiveness” theme, but that doesn’t mean that the game is a walk in the park because there has to be some sort of challenge, doesn’t there? At the same time, the game’s difficulty curve is wonderful, but it will most definitely fluctuate depending on the player’s state of mind at the time of play. Sure, Tim has the ability to reverse time whenever he wants (that’s his ‘power’, if you will), but each world has its own unique time-affecting mechanic, such as World 5’s ingenious and deep ‘shadow’ mechanic which allows the player to create a shadow version of Tim that repeats Tim’s previous actions prior to reversing time, bringing something of a solo-teamwork aspect to the game, allowing multiple tasks – paired with some good timing – to be carried out. The shadow mechanic holds a very deep meaning – especially in regards to one particular moment in World 5 – but that’s for the player to stare at in tingle-tastic awe.
Braid is a rare example of a game that drops and draws you right into the experience, particularly because of the complete lack of menus. The first time you start the game up is a magical moment; you load the game and without any menus or obstacles, you’re there in the game whilst there, in huge fiery letters burning in the sky, is the word ‘Braid’. Inevitably, your eyes will go straight to the fiery letters until you notice an extremely subtle silhouette standing patiently on the bridge in the corner. Who – or what – is this? It’s Tim. It’s not Major Breakneck or General Troy Headsquash. It’s Tim, and that was one of the greatest character introductions EVER. It’s so subtle and pleasing. His name is actually a play on the word ‘time’, which, of course, is the game’s highlight mechanic. It works stunningly, and what happens next may go unnoticed, but when I first encountered it, my heart started racing like a horny hummingbird as the player is introduced to the core element of 2D platforming in a brilliantly subtle form; the starting point is a bridge in which the only direction you can walk to progress is by heading right. HOW BRILLIANT IS THAT?! As you head across the bridge and down some steps towards Tim’s house (the game’s hub location where the different worlds can be accessed), some street lights illuminate the once-silhouetted Tim in all of his rumpled-black-suit-and-red-tied sexiness and the adventure begins… *giggles*. You know what else is amazing about Braid’s abilities? It’s the fact that if a certain puzzle or obstacle is proving a wee bit infuriating, then you’ve most likely tired your mindbox out for the day and it’s time fo’ a brainrest to charge up for next time. This is something that games like Braid and Portal – both, incidentally, puzzle games – just so happen to be; games where, even when you’re not playing it, your subconscious will still tap away at the obstacle in the back of your mind in search of a solution and you’ll most definitely notice a difference when you come back to that particular puzzle later on. Braid is also, if you haven’t already gathered, a very emotionally connective game, soothing the player with soft waves of emotion at every special detail, such as the unnamed level in World 5 and its meaning; the Mimic bunny sitting atop the ladder in World 3’s irreversible key puzzle; the crying Goombas and the snowflakes travelling at a slower rate around the slo-mo ring.
For those expecting a heap of replay value from Braid, some of you may be a wee bit disappointed. I say some because there are those who, as well as being able to indulge in the speedrun and an optional re-playthrough to collect eight extremely-fudging-difficult-to-obtain hidden stars hidden around the game, (wait, where was I?…) will simply appreciate the game so much that unlockable features become obsolete and wouldn’t dare get in the way of the replay value. Some, however, will feel a little deflated at the apparent ‘lack’ of extras – be they the spectacularly addictive or score-piling inclined – but will still be able to find a huggable amount of replay value in the speedrun and, if they fancy it, collecting those mullafugging stars. The game takes three to four hours to complete (or around fifty-plus hours if you feel like sitting back and chillin’ to the beautiful visuals and soothing soundtrack), but what a three to four hours it is. You will not be disappointed, feel ripped off or get that sinking feeling about your choice of purchase, my dears. BOOYANG!
Now, if I was reviewing Braid back when the game was priced at 1200MSP, I wouldn’t have been able to have avoided mentioning the price, but the game has since gone down to a universally reasonable 800MSP, so complaints on this front are a no-no from me. Whilst, however, 1200MSP was a high price tag, if you’re the sort of person – myself included – who wouldn’t dare dream of turning your nose up at an experience like no other for a mere £10.28, then nothing should get in your way. I’m very happy that they permanently lowered the price to 800MSP for even more people to enjoy without fears of being ripped off (NEVER!). Okay – the game. In Braid, the player takes control of Tim, a mysterious man with an even more mysterious past, cobbled loosely together with extracts of ambiguous text found in each world’s limbo as the player glides across them, and his search for the Princess who “has been snatched by a horrible and evil monster.” Introductions aside, Braid is phenomenal. In fact, it’s in the same sense as that of the state of the universe before it existed; there just isn’t a word or description for it, but the closest we can get is by calling it ‘phenomenal’, other-worldly, and… well, let’s just say that it’s ‘braid’. Very rarely does a 2D platformer allow such deep exploration of the mind and aesthetical value, especially those of the puzzler variety. It’s comparable to Portal, only in 2D with gorgeo– yeah, you know the drill. And then there’s the awe. Ooooooohhhhh, the awe! There’s no other way of describing it other than ‘awe’ because what a certain bit of the game does to the mind, body and soul brings on something close to a conscious trance; a moment of such elation, euphoria and happy shock that you’ll want to run down the street waving your arms screaming everything you’ve got built up inside you from the sheer emotion boiling and a-bubbling inside you. I guess you can call Braid an ’emo’ of a game – there are those who claim to understand it, but, believe me, no-one ever will. There’s no harm in trying, though, is there?…
– Gorgeous hand-painted watercolour visuals
– Magnificent soundtrack
– Phenomenal story and a definite candidate for the best twist in gaming history
– A real noggin’ buster selection of puzzles; fantastic in every sense of the word
– The awe
– As if!
Buy, trial or avoid?
Buy the game, reverse time; repeat. Believe me, it deserves it because Braid is unquestionably a game that EVERYONE should experience at least once in their lives because there simply isn’t anything quite like it. You will never be the same again, my dears…
Final score: 10/10