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Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: MumboJumbo
Developer: Number None Inc.
Release Date: April 10, 2009


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Xbox Live Arcade Review - 'Braid'

by Glenn "Otter" Juskiewicz on Sept. 2, 2008 @ 1:16 a.m. PDT

Braid is a 2-D puzzle-platform experience that bends all the rules with the manipulation of time.

Genre: Platformer
Publisher: Number None
Developer: Number None
Release Date: August 6, 2008

Wow.  No really, wow.  There are so very few original and innovative games that come out that when one does, it really grabs you.  If you're one of the seven people left on the Internet that hasn't heard of Braid, it's a puzzle platformer that has no instructions, no walk-through, no hints, and a story that encourages trial and error and clever thinking.

You play as Tim, who is searching for his princess.  Obvious nods are given to Mario throughout the game, but lest you think this is a simple mushroom-gobbling, turtle-stomping title, every level provides some narrative explaining Tim's motives and life, which I would say parallels a great indie film.  You're given just enough to let you fill in the blanks yourself.  Honestly, for an XBLA title, the level of depth is staggeringly deep.

In each level, there is a clear objective.  You must make your way toward an exit, and if available, try to obtain puzzle pieces to complete a level jigsaw puzzle.  Some are easy, some are locked behind doors for which you need to collect keys, and others require bizarre manipulations of time.  Each set of levels has its own sort of world physics, with Tim having differing abilities from being able to rewind time, pause time, or to localize an area of slowness while the rest of the world moves at normal speed.  Again, you're not given any clues or help along the way, but with an endless amount of lives (by way of the ability to rewind your death), cleverness is definitely rewarded.

Again, this isn't just a typical side-scrolling platformer.  Sure, you'll have your share of timed jumps to make gaps, you'll have to figure out which keys open which locks (a gripe I shall discuss shortly), and how to manipulate certain moving levers and bridges.  The addition of time manipulation is also not wholly unique, as the Prince of Persia series has offered up a similar ability and gameplay mechanics, but Braid sits so uniquely head and shoulders above other games.  It's more than a platformer.  It's more than a story game.  It's more than just a puzzle game.  Oh, and it costs more than 800 Microsoft points.

Depending on who you talk to, you'll hear some widely varying opinions of Braid.  Some people will decry it as nothing but a Mario rip-off with scrolling action and princess overtones.  Others will laud it as the best game ever.  If you like puzzles, scrolling platform games, and appreciate a clever story, then it's safe to say you'll enjoy Braid.  It's certainly not without some issues, though.

The developers of Braid refused to publish hints, a walk-through or a guide for the game, saying that every puzzle could be easily solved just by using some common sense and clever thinking.  While true for the most part, there are some levels that have one key and two doors.  That key will only open one door, but you don't know which one.  While your time reversal power will work to set things back, there are just some levels where time manipulation doesn't affect doors or keys, so if you guess incorrectly, you'll just have to start from scratch.  That is neither common sense nor clever; that's annoying.  While I do appreciate the open and mysterious story associated with Braid, some passages read like they were written by insightful literary geniuses, while others read like poor grade school sentences.  Additionally, Braid is short, as in beat-the-game-in-one-sitting short.  Granted, some levels you'll literally beat in 30 seconds while others will have you scratching your head for 30 minutes, but there is just no denying that overall, the game is short.

The music in Braid is hypnotic.  Every gentle song seems to fit the world so perfectly that even when you're shaking your fist and cursing at having to rewind for the 40th time, the music acts as a soothing buffer.  There was no point in the game where the music gave me a headache or caused me to shout something about hating it with a fiery passion, so I consider that a huge plus.

As a platformer, Braid has no available multiplayer options, but that's about as surprising as if I'd said that there weren't any first-person shooting levels either.  Just accept it.  If you can bring yourself to spend the $15 equivalent of MS points, which is truly and honestly worth it, you'll be playing a single-player, story-based platformer with puzzles — an SPSBPP, if you will.  Catchy, isn't it?

So there you have it.  I don't want to ruin the story for anyone who hasn't played Braid yet, but it's really worth playing.  It's not perfect, but for every bad lock puzzle and oddly written narrative, the "a-ha" moment of solving a tricky puzzle makes up for it.  The music is great, the art and design are unique, and the whole scope of the game is something to which independent developers and XBLA programmers can aspire.  Hopefully, we'll see a Braid II out of this, or perhaps it'll spark other designers to follow suit with some original and imaginative content.

Score: 8.5/10

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