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The GoodThe best a review for Braid can do is convince the tiny faction of players who shied away from the superficially simplistic platform style of the game to finally play it. Let me try that by dropping all the fake "objectivity" and be upfront about it: I adore this game. I wholeheartedly agree with its status as the most shining example for "games as art" and see no good reason for anyone to come to a different conclusion. I don't feel like a fanboy, either. It just comes naturally.
Braid is more than a jump & run. It is more than a puzzle game. Even more than a time-rewinding brain teaser. It is a milestone in its decade's game design and development process, the point where the hugely popular mainstream blockbusters and the innovative indie scene (that emerged out of the frustration about the bland landscape of mainstream gaming) merge into one of gaming's first, big "art game". Like a Darren Aronofsky film that, despite being far off the Hollywood mainstream, unites people who would normally never get close to that kind of film with the underground audience of movie-buffs. Simply because it is that good. There is no discussion about taste or personal preferences. Everybody can look at it and agree: If it's not to your taste it's worth changing your taste for it.
I could go on now and describe the artwork and sceneries that, thanks to a vivid use of particle effects and a structure that doesn't follow the boxy tile-set aesthetics of usual platformers, feel like a Van Gogh painting coming to life. I could praise the melancholic violin score that sets the mood and atmosphere so perfectly. I could try to explain the time-rewinding feature that turns this game from an ordinary platformer into an intelligent puzzle game. How it uses even the most obscure applications of the time-bending mechanics to squeeze every last drop of gameplay out of it. But it is all useless anyway, since not even a screenshots or video footage could explain what it feels like to play this game-- most importantly, to play it through. It's a ride.
The cogs in your brain are running hot while trying to solve the most difficult puzzles, yet you can, literally, run through most levels without touching a thing. Time and chronology mean nothing. The game starts in chapter 2, ends in chapter 1, and that is only the easiest route. Just when you're exhausted of gaming-equivalents of Mensa-application tests, the game throws you in an empty room with a number of open books, each containing a passage of what reads like a novelized diary. Personal tales of leaving home, meeting a girl, success and failure. A reality check in a perfect fantasy, like a real-world slap in the face right in the middle of pure, escapist gaming bliss. Of course, the story doesn't come to a conclusion, starts to spin into a violent loop and, even beyond the finale, allows a million ways of interpretation. The game never makes it easier for the player than it absolutely has to, keeping you at your toes from the introduction to the end, somehow without ever getting frustrating.
The BadAre there things to criticize? Who am I to tell. I honestly think that Jonathan Blow knows more about what makes a game work than every game reviewer out there combined. Even the ones I like, whose blogs I read and whose opinion I usually value. They can't do more than give it a 10/10 and shake their heads in confusion about what they just experienced. And neither can I.
I can't even say that this would be "the best game" in any category. It isn't. Or at least it would feel cheesy to give it that title. Braid doesn't need that. It doesn't need top-10 or best-of lists. It's beyond that. Smaller, bigger... out of that loop.
The Bottom LineIt seems as if there is a new trend of rediscovering pure, unadulterated gameplay and using it as an inspiration for storytelling. The result is a symbiosis of the two rather than a two-pronged approach.
World of Goo, even Portal could fall into one category with Braid here. All are popular games that take a single idea, put it into a recursive loop until even the last bit of potential gameplay is discovered and then use the new-found gaming mechanics in a metaphorical way to embed them in a surreal story. A story that could not be told in any other medium, a wonderful world of meta: The sign painter in World of Goo, the training levels being turned into story elements in Portal and Braid's ponderings of rewinding time in the real world... it is a new, fresh pattern that rises out of the boring same-old in mainstream gaming and somehow manages to get wide-spread popularity and pop-culture appeal. You find Braid coverage next to Call of Duty 4 ads and previews of World of Warcraft expansion packs. And yet there is no way even the biggest studios out there could mimic this style by throwing expensive decoration on top of uninnovative gameplay.
Braid, for me, is like a "missing link" between mainstream and indie gaming, a chance for the independent to finally make a living and gather well-deserved respect from the masses. The game is just an example for a trend, but what a perfect example it is. If you call yourself a gamer there is no way around it.