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Review: Braid (PC)

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It took Braid about 2 hours to convince me it wasn’t just pretty, but also pretty awesome. Essentially Braid is an indie side-scroller that adds only one button to the obvious WASD and jump: the ability to rewind your actions. It seems simple enough at first as you make your way through the levels collecting puzzle pieces, avoiding obstacles, and seeking the damsel. Simple, yet compelling thanks to some great all-around art direction that gets the melancholic and reflective themes of the game across beautifully. However, the complexity of the game compounds as the player progresses, and the ability to move in either direction through time makes consequences, narrative, and the game’s inherently linear quality complicated and thought provoking. Part side-scroller, part action-arcade, part puzzle game, Braid is an amalgam of genres, and a little bit of something new.

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The premise of Braid is familiar – you are trying to save a kidnapped princess from a monster. Such references to classic games abound in fact, in both plot elements, and level design. You actually search castles for the princess, often informed that she is not there by a talking dinosaur. (Thanks, Mario Bros.) As lighthearted and farcical as that sounds, such tributes to games of the past serve as stark counterpoint to the rather serious tone of the game. Via unlocked prose, we gather that the protagonist and the princess have an ambiguous relationship. There is something we, the protagonist, are sorry for, maybe working to undo, and a sense of conflicted emotions.

The melodic soundtrack not only compliments the messy and impressionistic visual art style adding to the pensive tone of the game, but also reinforces the gameplay mechanics: it plays in reverse whenever you shift and move backward through time.

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I don’t feel I should go into further detail about the puzzles, problems, or even concepts that the player encounters, because adapting to the rules posed by each different world, and the ways you can and cannot move through them and affect time and space are the biggest hurdles facing the player. Learning new ways to break the changing rules is basically the challenge facing you. I do feel justified offering some advice to those who haven’t played yet: While most of the solutions to puzzles or problems are very elegant in their paradigm-shifting simplicity, a few are downright dirty. Some requiring either awkward and seeming misuse of game elements, others require really difficult feats of arcade timing (tempered slightly by the fact that trying something a nearly infinite number of times is easy when you aren’t bound by linear time). This game only has a few cons for me, and those are a couple of them.

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I felt that the unlocked narrative text sequences and the jigsaw puzzle mini-games slowed the tempo a little too much, and that while the poetic nature of the story is appealing, the lack of a clear linear storyline as you progress detached me somewhat from the character (even if it is consistent with the themes).

Bottom line though: it’s really great. The developer not only made an enjoyable game to play thanks to new and interesting mechanics and pleasing puzzles, but weaves together something like an art piece meant to convey something. About staying out of our own way when trying to learn from our mistakes? About hiding in the past by reliving it? About avoiding rabid pink bunnies? I don’t know. In any case, I’m left feeling like I’ve been playing with something fun and meaningful, even if never explicit.

Scores

- Graphics: 9
The game is beautiful. The shifting layers of beautifully painted backdrops are particularly nice. I actually found myself running back and forth at first in several levels just to watch the paint-like imagery shift in perspective.

- Storyline: 8
It might have been more compelling, at least at the beginning if the story was a little less reflective poetry and more…shall we say story-like? But as you get hooked by this game, the well-woven mood makes up for the ambiguous plot, which is left open to interpretation.

- Gameplay: 9
It’s fun, it’s difficult, surprising and gratifying.

- Controls: 8
Pretty standard. Easy enough to get used to.

- Lasting Appeal: 6
It isn’t a game that’s nearly the same a second time through. Once you get through it all, you will want a second look to see everything you missed -  the things that make the game a piece of art. But after that, it will probably be over.

Overall: 8  Olives

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