Braid Xbox 360, PC (reviewed), Playstation 3 Made by Jonathan Blow Released in 2008
I definitely messed up my planning here. You see, when I was putting together the schedule for Indie Month I was mostly concerned with the length of each game. I wanted to make sure that I wouldn’t get two long games in the same week, but what I didn’t notice is that I put Limbo and Braid back-to-back. Now last Thursday I mentioned not liking Limbo much despite its critical acclaim. Braid, which garnered even more saliva from the press and gamers alike, I absolutely, completely loathe. This is easily one of my most hated games of all time and I worry that roasting two highly popular indie games in a row may give the impression that I am trying to tear indie developers a new one. Apologies for that oversight.
Tim is a man in search of his princess, or at least that is what we are being told. Tim’s house is separated in a few rooms, each containing big puzzles that look like paintings. The doors besides these puzzles take Tim to a world of clouds from where you can enter the game’s actual levels. These cloud worlds are littered with books that provide you paragraphs explaining who Tim is and what he did preceding the events of the game. After all, the game starts you off on level 2 and has you work towards unlocking level 1, where the truth is finally revealed
The books contain stories about a princess with who Tim shared his life. He then made a mistake and decided to leave the princess to go on a journey of self-discovery. Having returned from that, he now wishes to find her again. There is a major twist in this story that I am not going to spoil because it’s honestly pretty clever, I’ll admit that much.
What I will say is that the story is lazily delivered considering how interwoven its meaning is with the game’s mechanics. The cloud worlds where Tim goes before the missions are a straight corridor with a number of books that open up as you walk past. They barf a paragraph of text unto the screen that loads slowly and to get the whole plot you need to stop by all of them and read. There is no music, no finesse to it, just read the darn plot. It has all the appeal of just looking it all up on the wikia site. There is not a shred of character to it and the writing is bland and utterly dull.
Furthermore, the story only gets really interesting if you manage to get the secret, which not a great many people will want to do for reasons that will become apparent in the extras section. Does a somewhat neat twist at the end excuse the terrible delivery of a boring plot? Obviously not.
Story score: 2/10
Time travel currently in beta format
Braid is a 2-dimensional puzzle platformer whose mechanics are all about time travel. By pushing shift you rewind time and by clicking up and down you accelerate or decelerate this process or wind forward again. Using this central mechanic you solve puzzles based around collecting puzzle pieces dotted around a series of small maps. You proceed to the next map by entering the door at the end of each map and at the end you’ll be back in Tim’s house and you assemble puzzle on his wall.
There are plenty of twists that make these time-based puzzles fun to think about. You’ll encounter objects that are immune to time travel or areas where your control is taken away. Each new mechanic is skillfully introduced before it throws more difficult puzzles utilizing that mechanic at you, assuring that you’ll never be unprepared.
While I commend the puzzle design in general, there are several ones I am particularly grump about. Jonthan Blow, the lead designer behind Braid, famously posted an official walkthrough that from the second chapter onward only features pleas to not use a guide and figure it out yourself. “All the puzzles in Braid are reasonable. They don’t require you to do anything random; they don’t require guessing. They don’t require trial and error.” While I agree they don’t require anything outright random, there most certainly is guesswork involved and there sure as heck is trial and error on display here. A good example of a puzzle that I have seen pointed out before is one where you have two doors and one key that is immune to your time travel. One door opens and leads to a puzzle piece, the other breaks it. There is no way to know which to take and there are no doors in regular gameplay that won’t open up when you use a key. Hence, the puzzle is bogus.
Adding to that, the game’s puzzles are often a bother to solve because of just how slow the game is. Tim moves like molasses and his jumping abilities are only slightly better than those of the kid from Limbo. The framerate doesn’t just struggle to maintain 60, it actually has trouble keeping 40 and often dips to 20, making the game stutter and slow down unexpectedly, as well as making the sheer task of moving from left to right take forever. Puzzles often take multiple tries to get right or even become unsolvable at a moment’s notice, forcing you to rewind large portions again and again. It’s very tiresome and doesn’t create a fun environment for the player to solve puzzles in, especially since the pieces all begin to wander while you are trying to take everything in.
Enemies and spikes are sure to hit you from time to time and while you can immediately rewind to recover, it adds another layer of frustration when you just want to get the job done. I honestly wish enemies were used exclusively as a puzzle element instead of a threat for the game to spam at you. Overall, I can’t say I had a good time here.
Gameplay score: 3/10
While Limbo attempted to go the artsy route by pioneering a bold new art-style, Braid tries to imitate a watercolor painting and has colorful landscapes in the background while generic sad music plays. I could almost envision this as a Mr. Bean sketch where he sits in front of a gigantic painting with this kind of music and tries to act cultured. That comparison may be unflattering, but it really doesn’t appeal to me.
What it lacks for me is a sense of genuine artistic vision. The watercolor and music seem thrown in to sell Braid to the “games are art!” market rather than saying something about the game itself. As you play the game you’ll no doubt notice that many design elements openly imitate Super Mario, with Goombas and Piranha Plants appearing as mainstay puzzle elements and each level ends with a castle where a cute mascot greets you. Throw in some other fun-looking characters and the vibrant colors and I feel Braid would have thrived equally well, if not better, with a less flashy art-style and some different music. Jon’s more recent game, The Witness, appealed to me a lot more for exactly this reason.
Is it strange to ask a game to look less distinct in this day and age of generic, grey & brown shooters? Kind of, but since the style and music are so unfitting and have no correlation to the light-hearted puzzle platforming going on I don’t feel it’s memorable at all. It makes the game stand out at a glance, but after installing it I found that my first reaction was “oh yeah, that’s what this looked like.”. To compare it to Limbo again, there the art and music are so deliberated and fit the game perfectly, that is a style and presentation I will never forget.
Even so, I will admit that it at least looks fancy and if you scrapped the foreground out of the picture I wouldn’t mind framing it for decoration.
Presentation score: 2/10
No I do not want to replay Braid and no I do not recommend trying to 100% it. I find the game unpleasantly designed and it runs terribly on a fairly modern computer, so even if the story telling an art appealed to me I wouldn’t bother revisiting it. Getting all the stars in the game which unlocks the true, final ending is just needlessly tedious to the point that it’s not even clever or funny. The most famous of these requires you to wait with the game running for a whole 2 hours without alt-tabbing out and another will be lost forever if you just play the game normally. Knowing that these are some of the simpler ones to get should clue you in on how obnoxious of a task this is. Just don’t bother, leaving your computer running for 2 hours for this is a waste of electricity.
Extras score: 1/10
Yes I am salty, mostly because I hate it when good games are ignored in favor of something shallow. Braid shares its release year with underappreciated classics like No More Heroes, Disgaea 3, two Penumbra games, Okami for the Wii, Valkyria Chronicles, but no, everyone had to play the crappy puzzle game with the sad music. Braid is not as smart as it wants people to think it is and looking back on it years after the “games are art!” hype that has become more apparent than ever before.