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Destructoid review: Braid

12:56 AM on 08.11.2008 // Jim Sterling

Braid is a game that has generated a lot of press before its Xbox Live Arcade release, be it for its unique mechanics, gorgeous watercolor graphics or controversial price point.

The brainchild of independent game developer Jonathan Blow, Braid won the "Innovation in Game Design" award at 2006's Independent Games Festival and has received almost unanimous praise from those who have had their hands on the platforming puzzler for the past year. 

Destructoid's review team has spent their time (no pun intended) putting Braid through its paces, and myself, Reverend Anthony and Chad Concelmo are here to deliver the official verdict. Is Braid worthy of undying love and attention, or is something dark and murky behind all that pretty artwork? Hit the jump to find out.

Braid (Xbox Live Arcade)
Developed by Number None, Inc.
Published by XBLA

Released on August 6, 2008


Jim Sterling:

Braid is all about a smartly dressed man named Tim who navigates a series of worlds affected in strange and unique ways by the flow of time. His Princess has been kidnapped by a monster, and his quest is, of course, to reclaim her. A very simple and well-worn premise, but story won't be your concern for the majority of the game.

If you play Braid simply to complete it, you're doing it wrong, and will find the experience ridiculously easy. The true aim of Braid is to "solve" each world by obtaining a variety of jigsaw puzzle pieces scattered across the game's six worlds. Once each world's nine pieces are claimed, putting them together will lead to that world being solved (with of course, an Achievement for your efforts.)

Claiming all the puzzle pieces is no easy task, however, and this is where Braid's devilish puzzles really show their teeth. Braid is all about the manipulation of time, a force that behaves differently in each world. The running mechanic is your ability to reverse time. Should you misjudge a jump or fall foul of an enemy, you can simply rewind and have another try. Sounds simple, but once you start needing this mechanic to solve some of Braid's mindteasers, you'll find that this challenge is far from a cakewalk.

During the course of the game, you will encounter environments and objects that act in bizarre ways relative to your actions. Green and sparkling objects, for instance, are immune to the reversal of time. An early puzzle involving a sparkling key has an enemy holding it inside a deep pit. In order to retrieve the key, you jump into the pit, dispatch the enemy and hold the key. Because the pit is too deep to jump back out of, you simply reverse time, undoing all your actions and returning to the top of the screen. Because the key is immune to reversal, it does not return to the enemy, instead staying with you. You're now out of the pit, and holding the key. Easy!

Naturally, it does not stay that simple, and soon you'll encounter worlds that only move forward in time when you move forward, and rewind if you turn around and head the other way, or worlds in which you can duplicate a past version of yourself who will perform all the actions you performed before you reversed time.

The puzzles on display in Braid are not only inventive and inspired, but also possess a logical sensibility that means they can all be solved if you put in the effort and think clearly. Sometimes the sense and logic are so subtle that you almost think they don't exist, and sometimes you will have to walk away from the game, lest frustration set in. However, upon your return to Braid's world, with a clearer mind and fresher perspective, you will likely see what you couldn't see before, and suddenly it will all make sense. Braid does this often, and makes you feel triumphant with every test passed.  

In keeping with the gameplay, Braid's aesthetic elements stand apart from the crowd and deliver something utterly unique. Tim and his enemies possess a style and charm all their own with an artistic quality that you simply don't see in other console games. The character animation is simplistic and minimal, but this is contrasted by the subtle animation of the world itself, the calm and slow shifting of color that makes Braid look as if it were a living painting. Although the sound effects are equally as minimilist as the character animations, the music is incredibly pleasurable. Like so much in Braid, the soundtrack arrives as an understated, inoffensive score that betrays some truly charming tunes.

Finding things to complain about in Braid is difficult indeed, as any time spent unhappily with the game is thanks only to my own inability to solve what Blow has laid before me. I do hate to bring up the price, but at 1200 MS points, I'm not sure that such a short game with very questionable replay value is worth everybody's cash. Also, the jumping can be a little hard to control and it's easy to misjudge one's safe landing on an enemy head. Honestly though, that's as harsh a criticism as I could dredge up.

Ultimately, Braid stands almost completely alone on Xbox Live Arcade. Jonathan Blow has humiliated nearly every XBLA title currently on sale, providing a beautiful and unquestionably clever experience that should cause the developers of cynical and shallow XBLA offerings to feel ashamed of themselves. Nothing looks like this on consoles, nothing plays like this on consoles. If you're a puzzle fan, or if you are a believer in the argument that videogames can be art, then you need this game on your 360's hard drive. No question. 

Score: 9.0 (Fantastic. Negligible flaws. Otherwise very, very good; a fine example of excellence in the genre.)

Chad Concelmo:


Honestly, that's all I want to type. "Wow" is the best way to describe how I feel after playing through Braid. I am worried that if I say more I could potentially ruin a game that thrives off the player not knowing what to expect.

For the sake of this non-one word review, though, I will try my best to explain what makes Braid such a breathtaking experience. I just hope and pray that what I say doesn't spoil anything for you. If it does, my face is yours for the punching.

Let me start with the basics: Visually, Braid is everything I could have ever hoped for in a game. Being a giant retro fan, I don't think I need to explain my reaction the first time I laid my eyes on Braid's visuals. A 2D puzzle platformer with stunning animation and gorgeous, hand painted, high-def graphics? Even Jesus himself could not come up with a better recipe for satiating my old-school-meets-new-technology hunger.

But visuals are only the start of what makes this game so beautiful. I think what impressed me the most about Braid is the way the game slowly and meticulously presents its emotionally complex world without ever really explaining what is going on. Yeah, I know that sounds confusing -- and it really is something you need to experience to fully understand -- but let me try to describe what I mean.

Braid just starts. There is no opening cutscene. No exposition. Instead, players are just thrust into the game's world with a basic assumption of what is going on. Once the brilliant (and I truly mean brilliant) time manipulation mechanics are introduced, they are done so in the context of the game, not as a side tutorial.

The levels in Braid are superbly designed. At first, each one offers a challenge that almost feels impossible. But as you organically work through the levels, the solutions to things just, well, come to you. If you play by the rules the world presents you, everything just falls into place in your mind. Conquering a complex challenge in Braid is dumbfounding at times, but is easily one of the most rewarding feelings you will ever have in a videogame.

It also helps that the levels are designed in a way that you can finish them in any order you want. Technically, you can run through every level without completing any of the puzzles, although doing that will not unlock the final section of the game, easily the greatest part (more on that in a second).

This nonlinear approach to a 2D game is very refreshing and adds a lot to Braid's dream-like atmosphere. As you wander in and out of each level, completing puzzle after puzzle, the world and its many ethereal mysteries start to slowly piece themselves together. As the game moves forward it feels like every creature, every item, every detail in the background is a part of something whole. Every single thing in Braid's world is there for a reason.

And this all leads up to, arguably, one of the greatest videogame endings of all time. I would never spoil the masterful conclusion for you in a million years, but it is hard to review Braid without at least mentioning it.

I am not going to lie: the first time I finished Braid I didn't necessarily understand what exactly happened. I am not telling you this as a spoiler; I am telling you this so you don't have an adverse reaction to the confusion you will most likely experience upon completing the game. But this confusion doesn't last long. In fact, "confusion" may be the wrong word. After I beat Braid, my mind entered a strange state. I have been emotionally affected by videogames in the past (many times, in fact), but nothing like this. Braid left me feeling sad, confounded, satisfied, jubilant, and scared all at the same time. Strangely enough, it seems all the people I have talked to who have also finished the game had similar reactions.

I cannot wrap my head around the multitude of people criticizing the game for having no replay value. The minute I finished Braid -- and had time for its powerful conclusion to sink in -- I played through it again. And then again. Sure, I knew how to complete most of the puzzles, but playing Braid is never about getting from point A to point B. It is all about the journey in between, one that gets better and more meaningful the more you experience it.

I can't recommend Braid enough. If anything, I selfishly want everyone to play it just so I have more people to talk about it with. It will truly affect you that much. You will want to discuss its meaning for hours.

Before I sat down, I thought this was going to be the hardest review I ever had to write. I had such a dramatic reaction to the events in the game that I was afraid my emotions would dictate my final verdict. The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized just how easy this review was going to be.

Braid is a masterpiece -- a true work of art. Simple as that.

I guess "wow" is the best way to describe it.

Score: 10 (Incredible. As close to perfection as we've yet seen in in the genre or gaming on the whole. A polished, unparalleled experience.)

Reverend Anthony:

Everything I could possibly say has either been said by Jim, Chad, my preview from way back when, or the eight reasons you need to buy the game.

The only thing I'd like to point out is that I honestly feel that whoever you are, you need to try Braid, at the very least. So long as you don't have incorrect expectations of what the game should be (it is a time-manipulation puzzler in platforming shoes, not vice versa -- like how Portal was a portal physics puzzler dressed up as an FPS), the game has something for everyone. There's an incredibly deep and metaphorical story, if you want to pay attention to it. Even if you don't, the game is still full of some of the most mind-bendingly clever puzzles ever designed: on my first time through, I actually found myself shouting "that's goddamn brilliant!" at the screen just purely by how every single puzzle shows the player a new and different aspect of a totally foreign method of time manipulation.

If you're worried about it being too short, just understand that it has not a single speck of filler -- it's at least four hours of nonstop, constantly impressive gameplay. If you're worried it has no replay value, consider the fact that the story is so nonlinear and metaphorical and deep that, by the time the game ends on your first playthrough, you might well be dying to go through again just to find more of the narrative clues and piece together your own interpretation of the story and themes.

As the first full-length art game ever made, and one of the most ingenious puzzle-based games ever devised, you owe it to yourself to buy Braid. It's worth fifteen dollars. It's worth fifty dollars. It's got too much new and intelligent and thoughtful stuff to be ignored simply because of a few hundred extra MS Points.

Score: 10 (Incredible. As close to perfection as we've yet seen in in the genre or gaming on the whole. A polished, unparalleled experience.)

Overall Score: 9.7


Braid - Reviewed by Jim Sterling
Entrancing - It's like magic, guys. Time disappears when this game and I are together, and I never want it to end. I'm not sure if this is a love that will last forever, but if it is, you'll get no complaints from me.

See more reviews or the Destructoid score guide.

Jim Sterling, Former Reviews Editor
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