“Indie Gaming at its Finest”
“Braid” is the brain-child of independent developer, Jonathan Blow, and his company, Number None, Inc. “Braid” has been long-delayed on the PlayStation 3, for reasons that are unclear. The game debuted worldwide on the Xbox 360 in August 2008, followed 8 months later by a release on PC. I was expecting “Braid’s” PS3 release to follow soon after that, but was shocked and appalled when the game was released on Mac OS at the end of May, 2009 but not on PS3. I began to think that I would be denied the experience of playing “Braid” altogether (not owning a 360 or Mac and disliking the thought of playing a platformer on PC). Finally, after a year-and-a-quarter of waiting, “Braid” hit the PlayStation Network in November, 2009 for the high-for-an-indie-game price of $15. “Braid” was briefly available at a significant discount, but that sale has unfortunately ended. So, after over a year of anticipation and a missed sale, I found myself wondering if “Braid” was still worth getting excited about.
“Braid” is a gorgeous game. It is the first 2D high-definition game that I have had the opportunity to play on a true HDTV. As such, I was blown away by how good the sprites look. Granted, “Braid” also looks incredible on lower-end TVs, but the way it looks in 1080p is incomparable. Each hand-drawn level backdrop features ambient animation that looks just as impressive moving forwards or backwards (which is important, as a significant portion of the game is played in ‘rewind’). The animation for characters is simple and basic compared to the backgrounds, but is clean, smooth, and gets the job done. Colors are vibrant and lighting is used effectively to set the mood in certain areas. “Braid” proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that 2D games will always look better (not more realistic, “better”) than 3D games.
The sound effects in “Braid” are minimal and basic. Some of them are decidedly retro, such as the sound of the main character bouncing off of an enemy’s head. They are well-implemented and suitable to their situations. There is no voiceacting or narration, which is neither good nor bad.
The soundtrack for “Braid” uses, appropriately, licensed music from the indie music label, Magnatune. It’s nice to see independent artists from the separate worlds of games and music working together. It not only leads credence to the ‘games as art’ movement, it provides ample proof that small, independent companies can collaborate to make something wonderful; that overgrown corporations and bloated budgets aren’t the only way to make a good game. The tracks used in “Braid” come from three separate musicians and are well-suited for their environments. There isn’t a single bad track to be found in “Braid,” which is a rarity in videogames.
“Braid” has a much deeper story than most games in the platformer genre. The story is so important to understanding and enjoying the game that I would argue that “Braid” is just as story-driven as it is puzzle-driven.
Each World features a hub area within “the clouds,” which is home to a number of books on pedestals and the doors that lead to the individual levels. As the main character, Tim, walks in front of these books, they open and story text is displayed in the clouds. This story text directly relates to the type of gameplay mechanics that will be encountered within that World, with the single overarching theme of second chances. Most of the story text is highly interpretive and presented in an out-of-order fashion that works well with the time-manipulation mechanics of the gameplay. The quality of this writing is good and lends itself to the type of literary analysis that is popular in academic circles. It also features quotes and references that only the most well-read individuals will catch.
All of the story text within the first 5 worlds (which are actually Worlds 2-6) seem to form a narrative, yet completely clash with the Epilogue in World 1. This is the only real problem I have with “Braid’s” story. I was enjoying the narrative and the final level seemed to form a perfect capstone on the story of a failed relationship between the man called Tim and the woman with braided hair (hence the game’s title) called Princess. The epilogue throws all of this out in favor of a more symbolic interpretation of the story, which only makes sense in context with the game’s incredibly-hard-to-get secret ending.
“Braid” draws inspiration from its venerable platformer forefathers but adds completely new and original time-control mechanics. Each of the 6 Worlds introduces a new time-manipulation trick, many of which are cumulative throughout the rest of the game. World 2 introduces the game’s simple controls: move with the d-buttons or left analog stick, jump with X, and rewind time with Square. One of the most interesting consequences of being able to rewind time is that Tim only has one life. If he dies, he falls to the bottom of the screen and the game stops until the player rewinds to a point before Tim suffered the fatal injury. World 3 introduces timeless items which sparkle with a green light and are unaffected by rewinding. World 4 features an odd mechanic that causes time to move forward when Tim walks right and rewind when Tim walks left. World 5 features ghostly replays, which allow Tim to record a short series of actions, rewind, and watch as a ghost of himself (and ghosts of enemies and sparkling purple objects) performs those actions. World 6 introduces the ability to drop/pick-up a ring by pressing Triangle that slows-down time in a certain radius around itself. Finally, in World 1, time runs backwards, so rewinding actually moves time forward.
The level selection hub in “Braid” is Tim’s house. In each room, there is a door that leads to a World in the clouds and a picture frame. Each of “Braid’s” Worlds contain a number of puzzle pieces, most of which are in plain sight, that the player must collect and assemble in the picture frames. These puzzles are incredibly easy jigsaws, and completing each one unlocks a segment of a ladder that leads to Tim’s attic and the door to World 1. The challenge comes about in actually collecting these puzzle pieces. Each one is situated in such a way that a specific series of actions is required to reach it. Some of the solutions to claiming puzzle pieces are devilishly difficult, but all of them are cleverly designed and interesting to play-through.
The only negative thing I have to say about “Braid’s” gameplay is that the secrets are TOO well-hidden. After finishing the game, I looked at the “Cheats” section of GameFAQs, as I usually do upon completing a game, to see if I missed anything, only to learn that there are a number of hidden Stars scattered throughout the game that, when gathered, unlock a secret ending. I didn’t see even one of these Stars, nor see any indication of their existence aside from a constellation on what functions as the title screen. It would have been nice if one of the stars was easy to get and would alert the player to the presence of other stars. This kind of obscure secret hinders my ability to enjoy a game, as it absolutely requires collaboration with others to figure it out. It would have been nice if there was a hint, perhaps at the end of the credits, to indicate where to look for the Stars and what finding them would accomplish.
One other minor issue I must point out about “Braid” is that the game is fairly short. The length isn’t really an ‘issue’ per se, as it prevents the game from wearing out its welcome. But, on the other hand, additional gameplay time can help justify cost. While hunting for hidden Stars does significantly increase play time, it’s not in a positive way (at least I don’t enjoy searching for impossible-to-find McGuffins that I don’t even know exist).
“Braid” is an amazing experience and a shining example of the kind of creativity that can come from indie developers who aren’t beholden to stockholders and status quos. “Braid” is truly a work of art, visually, aurally, and literarily, that must be experienced. Even at full-price, “Braid” is worth it. I recommend “Braid” to platformer fans and anyone who is interested in supporting indie game development as an alternative to the overhyped, overwrought, big-budget swill produced by modern mainstream developers.
Overall (not an average): 9/10