Poor puzzles, poor story and poor references, but hey, it's artsy so we have to like it.
The backgrounds in this game are very beautiful, every single one of them is hand-drawn and the aesthetic is very original. Braid focuses mostly on looking beautiful and I'll be damned if it doesn't pull that off very well. The art-style for the backgrounds also fits really well with the level-design and the style is consistently present, while also varying enough to stay interesting.
Likewise, the spriting is also done very excellently. I want you to jump on one of the basic enemies and then slowly reverse time, you will see the expression on the sprite change slowly instead of an instant-transition, that's pretty cool. Like with the backgrounds, the sprites fit really well with the overall aesthetic and this all creates a sense of atmosphere that I personally found quite endearing.
Like with "Banjo & Tooie" this game has you assembling puzzles, this time around in order to finish a level off entirely. I actually really enjoy this, I like making puzzles and when done virtually I don't end up with a million boxes and missing pieces.
The story in this game is very poorly implemented, to the point of it been a few steps back in video game storytelling. Remember how I said that in "Bastion" the gameplay and story are perfectly put together? Braid does the complete opposite and gameplay and story are kept miles away from each other. Before you start each level there are a few books on pedestals that you can read, each containing an entire paragraph of ambiguous text that is supposed to form the story. Some call this poetry, but I call it retarded. I am not saying that a 2D platformer can't have a story, but when we have to go out of our way to read a load of text before we get to play, then that is clearly a failure. As for the content: I am underwhelmed. Every level just turns around the same thing: Tim is a whiny idiot, he is looking for a princess and the game can't go for a single level without referencing the atomic bomb.
On the gameplay side of things there is nothing groundbreaking to be found either, in fact, the gameplay feels very out of place. The story and atmosphere set the game up as a very dark or at least a dramatic experience, but once gameplay starts you are jumping around with cute creatures while cheerful music plays in the background. At first glance the first level appears to be doing a Mario reference, but you quickly realize that the entire game is a Mario reference. Every single level uses the piranha plants coming out of green pipes, goomba-like enemies walking straightforward until they hit something and weird-looking creatures at the end of levels telling you the princess is somewhere else. The entire game is like this, so I consider myself justified in saying that it's just Super Mario with puzzles and artsy bullcrap thrown into the mix.
Unlike what the creators claim, the puzzles in this game border on the horrendous. Their official strategy guide says that all the puzzles are fair and never involve guessing, but in the very first level I was confronted with a puzzle that demanded that I grew bored and started fucking around with the scenery (turned out you could move the picture frame, thanks for hinting at that, that clearly didn't leave me guessing for random solutions). There are plenty of examples all around and one of the most mind-bending of them is a puzzle where there are two doors and only one key, one door opens and the other breaks the key and forces you to repeat the entire stage. That is a returning puzzle, ladies and gentlemen!
In fact, there are quite a lot of stages that demand you reset everything if you make even one mistake. One annoying example was early on in a level where certain elements were immune to your time-reversing abilities. The only puzzle here was that two platforms were moving towards each other at exactly the right timing, but one was immune and the other wasn't, so in order to prevent a conflict I just had to wait... next to three enemies with varying attack patterns.
Also unfair about the puzzles is that they are incredibly overwhelming. Many stages contain various dynamic objects that start working the second you enter, this creates the problem that the player can never get his bearings before diving into the actual puzzle. Imagine if you're playing Banjo & Kazooie and once you enter Mumbo's mountain you don't start off on top of that hill without enemies, but next to that monkey throwing fruit at you and with no way to escape. As the game is normally, you can observe the monkey from a distance, but in this scenario (which is what Braid does) you are just going to run around in circles because you can't grasp what is happening around you. What Braid does can be done right, like in Ocarina of Time where you enter that icy room with the timer, it gives you a quick adrenaline-kick and forces you to think faster than usual, but when the entire game is like that...
The Bottom Line
Many people praise Braid because it shows that "games are mature" and "games are art", but personally I can only see a poorly-assembled mess of a game. I do believe that some games are mature and I most certainly believe that games art, however I also believe that you don't need to throw in pointless references or ambiguous paragraphs of text to achieve it. I think Bastion is a piece of art, the same can be said about The Path, "art" is not some kind of official stamp that government employees hold meetings over, it's an opinion that varies from person to person. I think Psychonauts is a piece of art, but on the other side I don't care for modern paintings.
If you hang out on websites like The Escapist were any game that a reviewer calls art is immediately consider to be 100% flawless, then this title should definitely be on your to-play list. Besides that, I can only recommend this game to the so-called "hipsters".