David Yun (Xbox Live Gamertag - Vawce): (contact-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2008-08-23 09:26:42
Braid (XBLA) - Rank S
Developer: Number None, Inc.
Publisher: Number None, Inc.
Several puzzle/platformers have seen release on Xbox Live Arcade: Cloning Clyde, Eets: Chowdown, Exit, etc. All of them exhibited intriguing elements of style and cleverness, but none of them managed to present a cohesive whole that compelled playtime. The genre nevertheless continued to attract me, and I cultivated the hope that a quality example of the species would eventually present itself. But in no way, shape or form did I anticipate the masterpiece that is Braid.
Braid is presented as an unassuming retro platformer, sporting overt homage to classics such as Super Mario Bros. and Elevator Action. You dash around scaling ladders, hitting switches, collecting puzzle pieces, and jumping on enemies' heads in order to rescue an abducted princess. Borrowing further from Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, the protagonist has the ability to rewind time, completely negating the need for mad twitch platforming skills.
This is where the gameplay shines. Not only is the time manipulation employed to erase misjudged jumps, it's the fundamental mechanic that drives the puzzles in every stage. Discussing their specifics would spoil them, but Braid's temporal conundrums are every bit the equal of the spatial enigmas from last year's cherished gem, Portal. These are the infuriating, seemingly insoluble puzzles that defy your feeble intellect until the solution suddenly crystallizes itself in your mind like the illumination of a light bulb. These are frustrating "WTF THIS IS IMPOSSIBLE" situations that yield intensely satisfying "OMG DUH I FIGURED IT OUT" moments of epiphany. The sense of achievement upon solving one of these intractable problems is immense. A few present themselves as tricky timing or jumping sequences; it's possible to power through these with gamer dexterity, but there is always an ingeniously simple alternative that requires no leetness whatsoever.
Not only are Braid's puzzles deviously elegant in their conception and execution, each stage features evolving mechanics that build upon previous levels, unlike the one trick ponies of other games in this genre. Progression feels fresh and uniquely challenging throughout the entirety of the game, as opposed to a rehash of a few repetitive solution types. If you play only the demo and think you've seen what the game has to offer, you're dead wrong and doing yourself a disservice.
In addition to exchanging Portal's three-dimensional physics based gameplay for side-scrolling time based puzzles, Braid swaps the playful humor for a wistful, melancholy tone. The hand drawn visuals are evocative of a bygone painterly era, which may be difficult to digest for gamers weaned on the digital age. The main protagonist, in particular, is unattractive - but you'll have to trust me that there's a legitimate story reason for this aesthetic design. Braid's narrative is an abstractly poetic journey that dances around themes of regret and forgiveness, only to climax with a CRUSHER of a twist ending that demands an emotional response. As far as videogame revelations go, it's up there with BioShock's "Would you kindly...?"
Braid has received accusations of pretentiousness. Most "artsy" endeavors do. With these sorts of works, the measure of worth needs to be weighed based on whether they inflate triviality to illusory grandeur, or actually deliver substantive meaningfulness. Braid delivers a subtly haunting experience through a deliberate and thoughtful integration of art design, narrative, music and gameplay. Portal's comedic presentation instantly rendered it more marketable, but Braid's challenging aesthetic is no less brilliantly rendered. (I can understand this negative perception, however, because I feel compelled to flog myself for the pretentious diction of this review, but each word is my heartfelt conviction.)
Numerous gamers are also balking at Braid's price point. At 1200 Microsoft Points ($15), it's fifty percent more than most Xbox Live Arcade offerings. If the demo even remotely pleases you, do not hesitate to pull the trigger. I can't stress enough that Braid is 2008's Portal, and to walk away from a game this exceptional over a measly fiver is a mistake. We've all paid much more for far less. Even Portal will set you back $20 on Steam. It's true that Braid is a fairly short game with little replay value, but it definitely bestows more value than the typical movie ticket and a bag of stale popcorn.
Braid is the first downloadable game I've awarded an S Rank, which immediately places it in contention for Game of the Year. It delivers an artistically fulfilling experience that could only be presented through the medium of videogames. As ridiculous as this may sound, Braid conveys the motivational underpinnings and emotional impact of otherwise trite videogame archetypes: the impassioned hero, and the imprisoned princess. The truth belying these themes are a riddle to be unraveled, even as you tackle some of the most imaginative puzzles ever devised.
[I refrained from embedding gameplay video, lest any portion of Braid be spoiled for you.]
[Edit: I comment more about Braid WITH spoilers in the blog section below this comic strip.]