Braid, Best Puzzle Game Since Portal
Braid is a side scrolling puzzle game developed by Jonathan Blow and released earlier this month for the Xbox 360. The game is available for download via the Xbox Live Arcade.
The gameplay has its roots with Super Mario Brothers. The game even features piranha plants that emerge from pipes in the ground. You run, you jump, and you land on enemy's heads.
With these familiar elements, Blow proceeds to create something unique. Over seven worlds, Braid presents the player with a number of challenging puzzles solved through a time reversal mechanic. Each successive world adds its own unique twist to this mechanic, but the game never feels confusing. Simplicity is one of Braid's design triumphs.
Unlike Prince of Persia where time powers basically serve as a limited continue system or Timeshift which becomes a series of press X to win scenarios, Braid's time manipulation is constant and unlimited Through it's use, any mistake can be quickly erased. If you know what to do, then doing it will be no problem. The challenge then lies is your ability to reason, not your twitch skills. The only true platforming challenges in Braid come in its final chapter.
Visually, the game is quite impressive. The visual designer David Hellman achieves this through good old-fashioned artwork rather than bleeding edge technology. Hellman's style is not only beautiful but also intricate, leaving no part of the screen without its own unique features. Graphical effects convey game concepts such as the passage of time or unique game elements efficiently, never intruding on the overall design.
Braid's hand-painted aesthetic sets a surrealistic tone. This supports Blow's poetic approach to storytelling from merely appearing vague.
The story centers on Tim's quest to save a princess. This, again, harkens back to Mario. However, Blow again does something special within a familiar framework. The gameplay itself is metaphorical and in the end, the player will find the story ambiguous but intriguing.
Braid is one of a very few games which invite me to discuss its storyline with other players as I would a poem. On the other hand, Braid allows the player to ignore the storyline if they choose. Many self-important developers refuse to allow this option, a frustrating trend.
While Braid is excellent, it is not perfect. The two boss battles seemed to conflict with the game's overall design, and each featured the same foe only under different circumstances. Its use of time travel in a new way, but it is simply not as groundbreaking as Portal was. As a puzzle game, it also lacks much replay value.
While it is not for the hardcore FPS and action game crowds, I recommend Braid to fans of puzzle games or anyone who enjoys quality game design. It is a fine example of independent game design and it is certainly my favorite Xbox Live Arcade game I give it a 90%.