Review: Braid

David Shaw, 5:45 am 1st July 2009
Posted under: Reviews

It took me a while due to my sporadic play schedule, but I finally finished Braid yesterday. I know I am extremely late to the party with Braid, what with me waiting for the Mac port, but as one of the big indie game names it’s something I had to play for a game design focused mini-review.

Braid is a 2D puzzle platformer, a genre where the challenge lies more in figuring out how to solve a problem rather than on twitch reactions (although there’s a bit of that in the game). The main theme of Braid’s puzzles are different variations on time manipulation, such as reversing time, replaying time, slowing time down, or variable time dependent on the movement of the player. The objective of all these puzzles is to collect puzzle pieces, which combine to form material for a rather surreal backstory (more on that later).

Screenshot of Braid

The time puzzles were, for the most part, extremely well done. They were at the right amount of difficulty to be rather challenging but not so much so that I felt permanently stuck. The variations on time manipulation were clever and led to great puzzle variations while still being tied to the same overall theme. The ability to reverse time to get out of deaths made many of the twitch puzzles and jumping less about reactions and muscle memory and more of a thought exercise.

There were however a few puzzles that were too frustrating, all of which involved a component that removed the inability to rewind time to reverse the mistake. The classic example would be in the scenarios where time direction depends on horizontal position and you are offered two doors leading to the same puzzle piece with a key that is unaffected by time. If you pick the wrong door, your movement will reverse time back to when the door was closed – and you’ve now lost your hard earned key and have to start allll the way back from the beginning again.

I also liked how the actions and interactions with the game were very clearly shown in the game. As shown in the screenshot (which also shows how pretty Braid is; very nice painterly style to the levels), the early tutorial levels make it very obvious how you are meant to interact with objects in the game. I think this style of tutorial is extremely good and something to learn from.

The main criticism I would have with the game is the story. The story is told mostly through books which display text on the screen, but also through the imagery in the jigsaw puzzles and through events in the last level. But it was all extremely surreal and I never put all the pieces together. Strangely, some of the story text is also a hidden secret that you have to work at to decipher – and even then it’s all still very confusing.

It seems designed that you have to work rather hard to piece together the story in Braid, and I’m not sure if it’s worth the effort. I wouldn’t mind so much if the story was just subtext, something you could happily ignore if you wanted to focus on the puzzles. However the game is called “Braid” – an entirely story related term – and the story elements seem to be treated as extremely important – but not important enough to be clear to the player. Unfortunately the impression I’ve got from Braid’s story was that it was trying too hard to be clever in structure rather than wanting to convey its message to me directly.

Braid is definitely worth picking up, especially if you’re a developer with an interest in puzzle games, platformers or both.

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