Just watch it. If what you see there doesn't interest you, I'll gnaw my arm off. I'm serious, just watch it before moving onto the next paragraph.
Howdy. I find it extremely difficult to talk about Braid. As I've rightfully garnered a reputation as something of an "indiefag" here at Destructoid, seemingly lauding every independently-developed piece of software I touch until my face turns blue, most people find it difficult to take me seriously when I get really, really excited about an indie title. When I say things like "the preview build of Braid comprises one of the most interesting, satisfying, beautiful game experiences I've ever had," people assume I'm being stupid, pretentious, or hyperbolic.
So I won't say that.
I technically only played a "preview build" of Braid, but outside of 360 achievements, some small fixes or tweaks and some slowdown issues, I was basically playing a completed version. All six worlds were present and accounted for. I say this because I'm here to assure you that I have played all of Braid, and, my God, it is all incredibly good.
From top to bottom, the design philosophies behind Braid are brilliant. The game has one main gameplay mechanic -- time manipulation -- which is full of nuance and depth, while all others in the game are completely straightforward. Braid looks and plays just like your average Mario game; you hope around on platforms, you bounce on enemies (of which there are only two types) to kill them, and if you run straight into those enemies, you die. It's a simple, obvious framework we're all familiar with.
With these accessible gameplay mechanics in place, Braid introduces, stage by stage, new aspects of the main time manipulation mechanic. Since everything else in the game is totally simple and self-explanatory, the player is able to spend the entire time examining and experimenting with the different time manipulations. In the same way Portal was just about making portals with some really straightforward, recognizable FPS convention as a frame, Braid is just about time manipulation with a platformer framework.
Braid is composed of six levels, each containing about twelve individual puzzles. Each world uses the time mechanic in an entirely different way, simultaneously teaching the player skills and changing things up so the game never feels boring or repetitive.
For instance, the first world only uses the rewind mechanic. Some of the platforming jumps the player is asked to make would be ridiculously difficult in a standard platformer, but are made much more interesting and rewarding thanks to the game's infinite rewind: if you miss a jump, you can rewind back to where you jumped from, or even where the level started, without any penalty whatsoever. Death is nothing but a learning experience. You might think this makes the whole game completely inconsequential and boring, but you'd be wrong: not having to arbitrarily worry about dying every few seconds and replaying a whole level frees up the player to experiment and explore. The lack of consequential death actually makes the game more fun.
But anyway, the first world is just about using infinite rewind to perfect near-impossible jumps and such. The second world introduces "time-exempt" characters and objects, forcing the player to both use all the knowledge they gained from the first world, and reassess it in the face of these new time manipulation rules. The game progresses like this, constantly showing the player new things, constantly feeling fresh and incredibly satisfying. If you saw my GDC writeup on The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom and thought it looked interesting, then you'll definitely love the parallel universe world in Braid (Jonathan Blow, Braid's designer, consulted on Winterbottom).
Every single world is imaginative and fun, and there were some moments of puzzle-solving when I literally yelled, "That's brilliant!" at the screen. Maybe I'm just a huge douchebag, but it's a testament to Braid's design that it kept consistently impressing me from start to finish. I can't talk about the final world, but damn. Just...damn. You'll understand what I mean when you play it for yourself.
Also, the game is really gorgeous, and has exceptionally beautiful audio. It's also got a cool, heavily metaphorical story which, though it can be ignored by those who are just looking for some wonky time-based platforming, will be incredibly rewarding for those who endeavor to figure it out.
I have to stop myself before I write a balls-out review of the damn game, but let it be known that, from what I played, Braid is a fun, thoughtful, imaginative, fantastic title and should be well worth the 800 Microsoft Points, and however many bucks for PC, when it (hopefully) comes out this spring.
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