Braid: Masterpiece or merely above-average
When Braid was first released on the Xbox in 2008, it received generous amounts of hype and critical acclaim. It wasn't that it was just a fun game: it was practically hailed as the Second Coming for gaming as a whole, due to it's unique gameplay, pretty graphics, and so-called "art" value as well. And while it looked fun, being Xbox-less at that time meant I would just have to sit it out until a PC version was released. A few days ago, I finally managed to get my hands on the full, complete version of "Braid". Was this the timeless masterpiece it was hailed as being? The short answer is no, but that doesn't make it a bad game at all.
Braid is a puzzle platform game. You control a charming little man in a suit and tie known as Tim. Like a certain, far more famous plumber, he is searching for the princess, and he will travel through field, rain, snow, and fire to get to her. While you can run, jump, climb, and bounce on enemies' heads, that will not help you progress. Instead, what you must do is collect puzzle pieces, which are scattered throughout the levels. However, your normal skills will not net you these pieces- this is where the uniqueness of Braid comes into play.
For you see, Tim has the ability to re-wind time backwards. The first time you fall into spikes or make contact with an enemy, the game will stop and tell you that you'll need to press the "shift" key in order to rewind time. Rewinding time is what allows you to solve the puzzles in the game. Miss a jump and fail to bounce off of the enemy properly to grab the piece? No problemo, just rewind and try it again. Need to reach a gate that is quickly closing? You can rewind it and do it again. You can never die in Braid, and because of this, the focus is put strictly on the game's challenging puzzles.
In each stage of the game, a new wrinkle is introduced. In one world, Tim's horizontal position reflects the flow of time. Running forwards will more it forward, stopping will stop it, and moving back will move it back. In another, much more frustrating area, when Tim rewinds, he makes a "recording" of himself that is able to do exactly what he just did. Figuring out how to use these powers effectively forms the core of the game.
Graphics and sounds are nice, if not particularly notable. The game is entirely in 2-D, with a sort of hand-painted look that is pleasant. The music has a vaguely Celtic or folksy feel about it. It's not exactly hummable, but playing the game for prolonged periods of time will make it stick, nonetheless. The sound , like the music, is pleasant, but not very distinctive or outstanding. You might chuckle when you hear the sounds get warped as you control time, but it gets old rather quickly.
While Braid is fundamentally sound, I still feel that it is overrated. You see, a lot of critics and people who played this game felt that it should be judged as an artistic experience, and that it tells a metaphorical story. The "story" is nothing more than a bunch of books which you can read before entering the levels. In these books are little blubs of text which try to sound verbose and serious when it comes across as nothing but pure pretentiousness. I'm here for the fun, not for "deeper meanings". The ending has been called one of the greatest of all time, so I was all amped up about it. What I got was, to be honest, a massive letdown, but a lot of people think that it makes the game "deep". There are some interesting interpretations of this game out there on the internet, but if that's really all you're interested in, you could probably skip playing the game and just go look them all up. Apparently, this makes Braid worthy of a 9-10 when in my book it's more of a 7-8. I just don't see that, however.
The Bottom Line
Don't get me wrong, I think that Braid is a FUN game. I think that it is worth playing, and you will be surprised just how clever some of the puzzles are. You might even enjoy the graphics and the music at times. But if you are expecting to be "blown away" by it, I think you should temper your expectations a little.