Braid Xbox 360 review

Ryan's favourite Xbox 360 game of the year isn't one you can buy in a shop. Ladies and gentlemen, meet the genius of Braid...

Braid: a downloadable beauty

Who’d have thought, in a year that has already seen some spectacular games, that the most captivating, original and emotionally involving games of 2008 would be a download from Xbox Live Arcade?

Despite its eyebrow-raising cost (1200 MS points – about 500 more than most other XBLA games), Braid is a miniature masterpiece, with memorable experiences not seen in even the most hyped summer releases.

Braid introduces Tim, an unassuming everyman in a suit and side-parting, who embarks on a quest to find his missing Princess. The gameplay itself boils down to an apparently simplistic 2D levels-and-ladders platform game, with items to collect and feral animals to bounce on. If this sounds uncannily like Super Mario Bros, that’s because Braid plays like a love letter to Nintendo’s finest, with knowing references peppered throughout; there’s an ascending flag to greet you at the end of every level, while one screen subtly recalls Donkey Kong in a way guaranteed to bring a smile of recognition to any retro game fan’s face.

Like Mario, Braid‘s gameplay comprises six worlds, which are in turn broken down into bite-size levels. While it’s possible to storm through much of the game in a few minutes, that would be missing Braid‘s central objective; numerous jigsaw puzzle pieces are scattered through each world, and collecting each one requires considerable skill and a lot of head scratching – which brings us neatly on to the game’s masterstroke – time control.

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At its simplest, this allows you to ‘rewind’ your actions and tackle tricky jumps to your heart’s content. This may sound like a gimmick, but it isn’t; it’s an integral part of the game, and Braid playfully explores every possibility that the system suggests in its array of increasingly complex puzzles.

The initial levels act as a tutorial, gently introducing what soon becomes a mind-bendingly intricate system. Each screen is a puzzle that can only be solved by observing how time behaves in that particular area –  there are certain magical objects – keys, switches, doors, even enemies – that emit a green glow and cannot be manipulated by your powers. Sometimes, you’ll have to seemingly commit suicide to retrieve a key trapped in a spiked pit, and rewind time to revive yourself with the key still in your hand. At others, you’ll have to use your temporal powers to slow time down so that an otherwise impassable stream of cannon fire can be safely crossed.

In lesser hands, the game would be a frustrating mess, a futile exercise in trial and error – and it’s to lone programmer Jonathan Blow that Braid is anything but. The puzzles are difficult but always logical, and there’s far less frustration involved in solving them than, say, Super Mario Galaxy in its more sadistic moments.

As sublime as Jonathan Blow’s game is to play, it wouldn’t be the same without David Hellman’s stunning artwork. Hellman has created a genuinely beautiful gouache world of subtle hues, full of verdant pasture and clear blue skies. The opening shot alone, where the protagonist is seen silhouetted against a crimson sunset, could be framed and placed on a wall.

Braid‘s soothing, varied soundtrack also deserves a mention – an eclectic mix of celtic, classical and jazz, it complements the visual atmosphere perfectly. Anyone who has played Braid for any length of time will probably have at least one of portion of the theme stuck in their head, and I only hope that Braid will be commercially successful enough to prompt Magnatune to release the soundtrack as an album.

In an age when games have become vast, sprawling affairs that outstay their welcome long before the final level is reached, it’s refreshing to play a game that engages from start to finish. Not since 2001’s ICO have I played a game with such a palpable sense of place.

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You’ll want to complete Braid – collect every piece of jigsaw puzzle, seek out every hidden star – not just because it’s rewarding to play, but because you’ll enjoy spending time in the game’s strange parallel world. Braid is surely one of the most atmospheric and inscrutable games ever created, a genuine five star game that deserves every ounce of praise that has already been heaped upon it.

Until a few weeks ago, many would have predicted that GTA IV would be crowned the game of the year come December, but I have a sneaking suspicion that this little matchbox sized game may have just stolen that crown from under Rockstar’s nose.

5 out of 5

Rating:

5 out of 5