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Monday, August 11, 2008

Braid Review

posted by on August 11 at 13:39 PM


(Xbox Live)

Not often do you see a video game both thank Italo Calvino in the credits and pay tribute to the author’s time-toying books, but such is Braid. The chief twist in this Mario-esque side-scroller is time manipulation. At first, it’s simply a convenient button-press to reverse death or a missed jump; rewind time a bit, try again. Soon, you can’t get anywhere without bending time.

An example: You’ll see a critter in a later level that glows green. Even when you hit the “rewind” button, this thing keeps moving forward in a backwards world, and you have to use its immunity to finish a puzzle. Later, your footsteps will make time go forward or backward, or you’ll have a ghost that moves forwards while you go back in time. Stuff like that.

Each level’s time twist comes with a story about memory, perspective, and broken relationships. The writing can get away from the author at times—just because it’s confusing doesn’t make it brilliant—but the story’s mix with the gameplay has weight, adding a pleasant layer of “ohhhhhh”/closure to the puzzles’ conclusion.

Braid has that going for it, along with some brilliant puzzles and great turns in both art direction (watercolors that melt with the passing of time) and music (tasteful classical and Irish folk). It’s a fiercely independent game—coded almost entirely by one guy—and while that helps, the game’s stumbles seem to come from a lack of group review. There’s no instruction manual—seems at first like “learn by playing” design. But some of the challenge just comes from answering the question of how the game works. A basic instruction set would actually answer a few hard puzzles, and once you realize that, they’re less satisfying. This isn’t a dominant flaw, but since the game’s short (I’ll get to that), offenders stand out and feel cheap.

Also, for all this game does to blow away the Mario standard, it still adheres to it. Braid has lots—and I mean LOTS—of precise jump challenges. Personally, I think the “rewind” feature makes this okay. But if you’re not a fan of pixel-perfect jumps and pogo-hops off of enemies’ backs, like in super-hard NES games of old, then prepare to get needlessly pissed.

And, yeah, the price—$15 for roughly four hours of play. That’s about a week and a half of a game rental, but to be fair, it’s also five bucks cheaper and two hours less than the best game of 2007, Portal. Is Braid in the same league as Portal? Close. The aforementioned cheapo challenges are a drag, and the plot isn’t as magically crafted as fanboys have been saying. Portal’s better—more accessible, superior pacing, more emotional response with its dark humor.

But when Braid gets things right, its puzzle/plot combo delivers an intangible level of satisfaction that you don’t often find in the stimulus-response world of most boring video games. At the very least, get the demo. Think about it.

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It's the opinion held 'round the Slog:
Sam Machkovech is too stupid to play video games, much less write about them

Posted by Tollbooth | August 11, 2008 1:55 PM

Speak for yourself, @1. As a once-in-a-great-while gamer (and roommate of a regular gamer), I always appreciate Sam's posts. I've been watching my roommate play Braid and wanting to check it out myself. Thanks for giving me more reasons to do so . . .

Posted by Levislade | August 11, 2008 3:03 PM

@2: STOP WATCHING YOUR ROOMMATE PLAY. You're gonna spoil half the fun of figuring the puzzles out.

Oh, and thank you.

Posted by Sam M. | August 11, 2008 3:47 PM

@3 - Point taken, will refrain from watching. Although so far I don't think I've understood enough of what I've seen to spoil anything.

Posted by Levislade | August 11, 2008 4:03 PM

@1: Chill. Sam is writing about games from the POV of a non-gamer.

Posted by gametimer | August 11, 2008 5:11 PM

@5: What? Sam is a gamer, and I haven't really seen him writing from any other POV.

@1: He does a good job covering this area of nerd-dom, and is usually quicker to cover new releases than some other sloggers are to cover the current events in their respective areas.

Posted by Jason Petersen | August 11, 2008 9:03 PM

To be fair, I doubt you took the time to collect the secret stars in the game and wonder if you revealed the hidden text as well. Even though it constitutes replaying the game I still consider that to expand it's life by a great deal, especially since collecting the stars reveals something startling. Also I think story wise it deserves just as much credit as it's been given, there has been no other game in a long time that really racks my brain like this. I just view the plot and gameplay the same way - deceptively simple but with grander schemes involved over time.

Anyway fair review and there is definitely room for the game to expand and be even better, those are just my different opinions about the quality. I'll have to try that Portal game out and see what it's about.

Posted by William Hart | August 14, 2008 5:45 PM

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