Xbox Live Arcade is host to plenty of great, simple games. From Worms to Pac-Man Championship Edition, gamers of all stripes are almost guaranteed to find something they like. Hell, in August alone, we're getting Castle Crashers, Bionic Commando Rearmed and Galaga Legions (not to mention Geometry Wars 2, which was released earlier this month). These games pull on our nostalgia and give our trigger fingers an outlet, making them obvious choices. But what about Braid, an original and creative platformer with no explosions and no nostalgia to sell?
Why should we care about Braid? It's simple. Braid is a gem and it should be played. That's it. Read on to find out why.
Purely from an artistic standpoint, Braid is beautiful. Every character, every background is infused with color and life. The game world is pulled straight from an impressionist painting and flows with subtle animation. It's gorgeous and lush, adjectives usually not leveled at XBLA titles. From the moment the game begins, Braid creates an atmosphere that rivals (and in many cases exceeds) most big budget retail games.
It's easy to overlook something as simple as the way a game controls. It's easy to overlook good controls, but it's nearly impossible to overlook bad controls.
Many of Braid's puzzles require proper timing and reasonable platforming skills, so controls are paramount. Properly timing jumps and falls while simultaneously controlling time (and in one instance even coordinating with your own shadow) can be tricky. Thankfully, Braid's controls are spot on, which means you are always free to focus on the task at hand.
Given the nonlinear nature of Braid's gameplay, it's not too surprising to discover that the story shares this nonlinearity.
The story is told through text fragments between levels and also through paintings. The puzzle pieces collected in each level must be assembled into a painting once collected, and each painting gives a glimpse into the story of one man's quest for "the princess." The story deals with the effects this quest has on his relationships and, strangely enough, whether or not the princess actually exists. It's well-written, nearly poetic stuff, especially for an XBLA title.
The ending, by the way, is something you will never forget.
Of course, none of Braid's finer points would count for much without excellent gameplay to back them up. The core game of Braid is made up of logic puzzles. The twist is that the puzzles involve the manipulation of time. Make no mistake, this isn't Prince of Persia in 2D (if anything, it's more akin to the excellent Portal). Whereas time control in Prince of Persia is used primarily to correct mistakes, it is absolutely integral to solving the puzzles in Braid.
Calling them "logic" puzzles is actually somewhat misleading, as many of the solutions seem to defy logic at first. That is until you learn to play by Braid's particular brand of logic. Every game world forces the player to come to grips with a new mechanic. In one world, for example, walking to the right causes time to move forward, while walking to the left causes it to move backward. In other levels, certain items and enemies are immune to your time powers, throwing another baffling mechanic into the mix.
It's definitely confusing, but everything follows the same rules once they are established. Thus, every solution makes sense according to the game's logic, even if your brain screams that it can't be true.
Trust us when we say that solving Braid's puzzles is a rewarding experience.
And there it is, the elephant in the room: Braid costs 1200 Microsoft Points. That's 15 Earth Dollars. That's damned expensive for an Xbox Live Arcade game. On top of that, Braid isn't especially long, clocking in at around six hours, give or take a few depending on how quickly you "get" the various time mechanics. ( For what it's worth, there are also speed runs to extend the life of the game somewhat.)
For most, the price is the only real barrier, so let's break it down. $15 dollars is not a lot of money. Six hours of fun for $15 is a pretty good deal. There are plenty of retail games out there that offer less entertainment for four times the price. The fact that Braid is one of the best gaming experiences to come along in quite some time only makes it better.
Games like Braid don't come out often. At $15, it's a steal.