When Nintendo announced the graphical style for their new Zelda game at E3, I immediately fell in love with its impressionist portrait effect and naturally my brain dived into overdrive debating wether or not games can be art. Shame I hadn’t even realised that there was a game that WAS art just under my nose. I discovered a little indie game called Braid.
I’m reviewing Braid now, not only because its creator has another new game out later this year, but because it’s super cheap on Steam. Should you put aside £3 or whatever to purchase it? I’d put it in your shopping basket or download queue right now if I were you. Braid is, for lack of a better term, magical. It’s the story of Tim, an ordinary person (complete with an adorable red tie) wanting his princess back, whose been kidnapped by an evil monster, whilst wanting to erase his past. The telling through story books before each stage combined with some really beautiful orchestrated folky fantasy music give the game this beautiful fairy tale feel to it, which just feels so perfectly executed and gorgeous that despite the games actually quite sad storyline, it keeps you in this upbeat sense of wonder throughout the entire game. And the games charm is obviously kept alive by its Charles Monet inspired graphical style that looks beautiful, like a living portrait.
Obviously the game needs some form of gameplay, I think it’s time we touched upon that and it’s probably best we did, because it’s just sublime. The game is essentially a puzzle platformer, you have to get from one side of the level to the other, whilst collecting Jigsaw pieces that get fitted into puzzles at the hub…WAIT! I’ve heard this before…Not that I mind, Braid’s one of those self aware platform games and it wears its influences on its shoulder. Not only do we have a Banjo Kazooie reference there, we have goomba like enemies who die from being jumped on, a section not dis-similar to Donkey Kong and being told “I’m sorry, but your princess is in another castle” to be honest, if this game was just a straight platformer with all that, I would be so happy, but it’s not, it’s so much more.
What makes Braid truly special is just how it’s platforming works. The game is all based around time, but instead of relying on clichés of old, it completely deconstructs it. Tim can rewind time and save himself from death, reach further platforms, obtain different puzzle pieces and potentially complete the level, but this comes at a price, when you rewind time, you also bring back enemies, respawn a boss’ hit points, walk in front of a fireball, etc. The skill is really simple to pull off but difficult to perfect and every new world adds a new twist to it. Whilst it does mean that you’ll have to keep on your toes and think of new ways to solve puzzles, the kind of creativity is just mind boggling. But of course, what happens the game main strength is also it’s downfall, the game has no difficulty curve, it’s difficulty fluctuates rapidly throughout the game, which makes it a bit of a pain at times, but it at least gives the player a sense of accomplishment when they finally get a puzzle piece they’ve been trying to get for hours. The game is also very short, I’ve had most of it done in about 4 or so hours, but to be honest, that’s only a problem if you’re paying for it on the XBLA or Playstation Network, unless they’ve dropped prices since launch 3 years ago and if you’re paying the scant amount that Steam are currently asking, it’s a great bargain.
Braid is a wonderful experience, if you want an example of video games as an art, this is it. It looks stunning, it’s story is wonderful and the music is just so beautiful, everything just works. Yes, difficulty is an issue, but when it’s this much fun, who cares? I know I don’t.