When the “Summer of Arcade” was first announced for the Xbox 360, the only game I scoffed at was Braid, an unknown platformer being developed by an unknown developer. After watching some footage I became interested in the game’s unique take on the genre, and when it was released I decided to take the decidedly deep plunge and buy the $15 Xbox Live Arcade game. As debates roared on questioning the downloadable price point, I began working my way through the game. Now, it has worked its way over to the PlayStation Network, bringing the strange platformer to Sony's system.
Braid is a game without a real plot, instead relying on a series of morals and themes to push the player further. Each world is preceded by a series of books, telling the story about the protagonist as he searches for a princess, kidnapped by an evil monster. Each of these books uncovers a little more of the story, slowly unraveling the game’s true brilliance. Memories, regrets, childhood, and maturity are all brought to the forefront, and while the game uses these themes to explain and justify the story of Braid, their actual intent is to make you think about your own life.
In his quest to rescue the princess he eventually begins to doubt her existence, but prays that she must be real, and hopes that finding her will allow for the rest of his life to fall together. His trip is a symbolic one, the enemies he defeats nonexistent. At the end of every world a dinosaur walks out of the castle, reciting a nostalgia inducing “I’m sorry, your princess is in another castle.” This isn’t just meant to give a chuckle at the expense of Nintendo, but to add another layer to the game’s morals.
The visuals are beautiful in their two-dimensional glory, amounting to what I'd call a high resolution Super Nintendo title. It reminds me, in a way, of Yoshi’s Story, in terms of style, but much cleaner. Braid's score (detailed here) is perfectly suited to the game's atmosphere, and sounds like it belongs to a Hollywood soundtrack, not a $15 game. Starting on World 2 (and ending on World 1), Braid brings you through a series of levels, each with a different theme, usually involving time manipulation. Holding X moves time backwards with no limit, and tapping the left and right bumpers control the speed at which it moves. Certain modifiers, such as glowing green objects unaffected by time, add depth to the experience, and the game’s puzzles, which appropriately award you with puzzle pieces (used not only to solve some of the game’s puzzles, but also as literal jigsaw puzzles), are consistently impressive.
There is never a time where you need to backtrack after gaining a new ability, nearly every puzzle piece is accessible the moment you see it. There are some that are insanely difficult, some remarkably easy, and others that seem impossible. They never are, though, and the sense of accomplishment upon figuring out the correct path to take is intensely satisfying. At times, backtracking is required, but it's done in such wonderful ways that it's impossible to be upset.
When it came out on the Xbox 360, Braid was one of the best downloadable games on the console. Little has changed. It's an experience every gamer should enjoy, and is a game cut from the same cloth as BioShock and Portal, erasing videogame norms and reimagining the way we look at the medium. It does things with gaming that are usually reserved for novels and films, while also adding elements that would be impossible in any other form. It’s is a game that makes you think about your own life as much as it does about gaming. The level design is inspired and expertly crafted in a way that would make Shigeru Miyamoto blush, the pacing brilliant, and the gameplay as classic as it is progressive. When I reviewed Super Mario Galaxy I called it a bookend of the platformer; a signal of the death of a genre, taking it as far as it could go and ending it. Braid took it a few feet farther, while rewinding to it’s beginning and starting it anew.