Games Braid Review
posted by August 11 at 13:39 PMon
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.