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Braid


Let me unravel it for you.
Braid is a puzzle-based platformer for the Xbox Live Arcade. It uses a fairy tale style of narration about the journey of a young man named Tim. Tim is a small fellow with bouncing red hair and a cute little black suit. He uses time-based manipulation to control his environment and collect large puzzle pieces that paint pictures of Timís life. Braid is easily one of the more unique titles to hit Xbox Live as of late. Itís definitely for folks that enjoying using their cranium for extensive problem solving.

Story

At first glance, it seems Tim is on a tireless search for his princess across a variety of colorful lands. A deeper look at the narrative shows us that the princess may represent something other than a damsel in distress. To accomplish this method of storytelling, Braidís tale is purposely filled with disconnected imagery, endless metaphors and pages of confusing writing.

Braidís ending is foreshadowed by the artwork created on each level. Itís a bit transparent and the twist isnít hard to figure out if you are paying attention. It still provides a welcome shock to the system though. Unfortunately the pretentious epilogue leaves players scratching their heads and searching message boards for convoluted theories about atomic bombs, rape victims, idealism, schizophrenia and time travel. The cryptic, David Lynchian jumble is completely open to wild interpretations. I havenít seen this much confusion about an ending since the release of Donnie Darko.

Intellectual content in video games is a fantastic thing. Bioshock is a perfect example of a game successfully weaving intellectual concepts into an entertaining story. Braid, however, is not. Braid haphazardly throws vague concepts at the player and specifically hides the necessary context at the expense of angering the consumer. Itís a rude form of intellectual elitism that disappoints, confuses and insults the majority of players expecting closure at the end of what started as a promising, melancholy fairy tale.

Gameplay

The core of the game is built around jumping from platform to platform with the A button. Similar to a Mario title, enemies can be dispatched with a jump attack. There are keys placed strategically around the levels for unlocking doors and often Tim has to utilize an enemy to grab keys. The time-traveling aspect of Timís journey is activated by pressing the blue X button. Tim can completely avoid death from errant jumps or the multitude of enemies by simply reversing time. The player can also speed up time reversal by hitting the left bumper. There are several puzzles that require Tim to speedily reverse time for lever activation.

Each world offers a variety of objects that relate to Timís time traveling ability. The green sparkling objects are immune to time travel and can pass that ability on to Tim. For instance a green sparkling key can be picked up and carried through time reversal. Tim can create a shadow version of himself in another world. The shadow doppelganger can unlock doors, hit levers and even kill regular enemies. This is excellent for opening time release doors or accessing rooms behind a couple locked doors. Another world allows Tim to use a golden ring to slow down time with a rippling effect. The ring is great for slowing down cannon fire or sliding doors.

As mentioned earlier, puzzle pieces litter the landscape. There are 12 puzzle pieces on each world. The puzzles can be solved on the interior of the world or outside in Timís house. The pieces may seem tough to reach, but a bit of trial and error is key. Thereís an ingenious piece hidden on one world that requires the use of two pieces further in the level. I was extremely impressed with that twist on the game mechanics.

There are two mini-bosses along Timís journey and neither is particularly tough to kill. They fire four rounds of fireballs at Tim while he dangles on the grating overhead. Assuming the player understands the rules of Timís time traveling abilities, the boss fights end far too quickly. The developer should have made the battles more challenging.

Perhaps paying homage to the fat red plumber, the developer included eight yellow stars to find around the various landscapes. They are not required to pass a level. The stars are in extreme portions of the level, typically in far corners or above the map. One of the more annoying stars involves a cloud ride that takes more than two hours of playtime. Collecting all eight stars offers a sliver of extra story elements to the end of the game. I found star collection to largely be a waste of time and fairly pointless on the overall outcome.

The achievements are heavily geared toward the casual gaming audience. In fact the majority of the achievements can be knocked out on the first run. Sadly the distribution of gamerscore points is detrimental to the already short replay value. The speed run achievement should have been worth more gamerscore and strangely there's no yellow star achievement.

There are no multi-player modes to be found in Braid. This seems like a perfect game for a co-operative mode. There are online leaderboards to compare your progress against friends.

Graphics and Audio

Braid is the epitome of graphical beauty. The scrolling, pastel watercolor backgrounds are absolutely gorgeous and the character design is painstakingly detailed. While the design is ultimately 2-D, the multi-layered levels sell the disguise of a three dimensional world. The swirling backdrops have the feel of an Edvard Munch painting and each section of every level offers a unique design to the platforming environment. This is the new standard of graphical quality on Xbox Live Arcade.

The musical score is a haunting mixture and certainly has an adventurous feel. The tunes also work in conjunction with the time reversal tool. The sound effects are more of the typical platforming fare. I found the meow of the cat-bunny getting a bit grating as the game progressed.

Conclusion

Itís easy to see why the gaming paparazzi are enthralled with Braid. The stunning visuals and naturally evolving gameplay are more innovative than any title currently on Xbox Live Arcade. Itís a shame that more developers arenít putting this type of polish on arcade releases. I just wish Jonathan Blow put more time into developing a cohesive story, tougher achievements and increasing the amount of content in Braid.

Similar to the recently released Penny-Arcade Adventures, Braid suffers from a price point thatís obviously too high for the provided content. Players are looking at about three to four hours of puzzle solving to complete the game. Itís unfortunate that the $15 hurdle effectively hamstrings the number of people that try Braid. The market saturation is ultimately diminished by the high price and low replay value.

Die-hard fanatics of platformers should download the demo of Braid and check it out before pulling the 1200 point trigger. The rest of the gaming population needs to wait for Microsoft to reduce the price or find some Marketplace points on sale before purchasing Braid.