The thinking man's Mario
Don't you just love games that go above and beyond not just in gameplay, but also in art and sound direction? Braid is one of those games that not only plays well, but also looks inspiring and sounds pretty *bleep*ing artsy, managing to combine together to create one of the most atmospherically artistic games out there, right next to Ico and Shadow Of The Colossus. Couple of issues, but other than that, this game was awesome and well worth the money.
The story is that Tim is in love with the princess of the land, and has to rescue her from an evil knight or some shit. However, that's the bare essentials, and if that was it, this game wouldn't be as awesome as it is. In the books presented to you in the clouds before the levels, you'll read a whole lot of stuff, and at first, it's quite confusing, for it's fairly vague and confusing, but as you read on, you'll be able to interpret it in many, many ways - the internet community is living proof of this. With such a good way of leaving the story well open to interpretation, it's no wonder this game ended up so excellent! It's extremely artistic, which goes hand in hand with the soundtrack and graphics, and for that, I commend Braid! If the game wasn't artsy or anything, this would actually piss me off, and I'd probably bitch about it until the sun came down, but... well, the graphics and music are all artistic and the puzzles require a fair bit of thinking, so why should the story not require all of that, too?
Speaking of graphics, Braid has a very nice looking hand painted look, with lush colors and detailed landscapes. It definitely feels like it was brushed together by a talented artist from a time so far from now, that if there were real paintings, you'd see them in a museum! The sprites are also well crafted with animations that flow seamlessly, so that's an A+ for them too, though if I was to nitpick a bit, I'd say that there isn't a variety of enemy sprites... all there are are hairy goombas, carnivorous plants and killer bunnies, although since this game isn't about killing enemies, it's forgiven. The time effects look pretty spiffy, managing to give you that feel of going through time, and they manage to blend in with the gameplay graphics quite well too. Honestly, to complain about the way this game looks is to look like a simpleton, and you don't want to look like a simpleton, don't you? Exactly...
The soundtrack has that subtle feel, like it adds a significant amount of flavor and atmosphere to the game. There's a melancholic violin for one world, a beautiful piece played via piano for another, an epic choir for another, and even something out of those twinkletoes *bleep*ing dancing boxes for another level. Either way, it's very much inspired by the softer and often more melancholic classical pieces of music throughout the ages, and by god, these pieces are so well orchestrated, that it enhances the beauty of this game tenfold.
The way Braid is set up is that it's like a platformer, but with puzzle elements. It's simple to learn how to play - just move with the pad or stick, use a button to jump, and use another button to rewind time - but to master it takes a fair amount of skill, especially if you're not exactly a genius.
The aim of each level is to go from left to right, or from one door to another, but that's not fun! No, what you'll want to do is collect all of the puzzle pieces. But it's not nearly as simple as jumping some platforms and getting to the next door. As you progress, you'll need to deal with different time manipulation elements, such as rewinding, progressing, slowing down and even working with time in order to get all of the puzzle pieces. The first two worlds are quite simple, though the seco-- err, sorry, "third" world builds upon the foundations of the "second" world by having unrewindable parts, which will have a green glow around them. There's a lot to consider with each level, and the pacing is fairly refreshing - each world starts with puzzles even an idiot can do to warm you up, but as you progress through the world, the puzzles get harder, and at the end of each world, you'll be busting your balls, trying to figure out how to get those last pieces. Experimentation and common sense become your best friends in this regard, because you'll need them in order to figure out how to get those pieces you're missing!
Getting these later pieces can be a *bleep*ing pain in the ballsack if your mind isn't into it. You'll be required to use time, platforms, enemies, and green glows to get to them, and simply looking at them backwards won't be enough to get some of the later pieces of each world - experimentation is what you need. Screwing about with your options is really all you can do. This is an excellent way to engage the player's brain, and force them to think logically. Unfortunately, some puzzles are just *bleep*ing bullshit, like when you're presented with one key and two doors, and you open that one door. Guess it's time to rewind... what's this, the key doesn't come back? FFFUUUUU--
Okay, now that I've regained some of my sanity, it's worth noting that these puzzles are just stupid. It can be remedied by merely starting the level over again - don't worry, all the pieces you would've gotten on that level don't need to be re-obtained, meaning you can focus all of your attention on what you didn't get. But still, rather than a cleverly thought out puzzle, you sometimes get one that's based on luck... well, I suppose there is a bit of a hint via colored glows around the keys and doors, but at first, you won't get it, and unlike with the story where you can think of it as something else, that's just going to piss you off!
Now, the length of the game isn't one to be concerned with. Yes, it's only six levels long, and time is measured by skill - if you suck at puzzle games, you'll be spending quite a while, whereas if you're a *bleep*ing genius, you'll destroy this in no time - but given the content and play style, six levels is enough. Any more, and it'd overstay its welcome. However, there isn't much incentive to play a second time beyond some speed run thing for that one last *bleep*ing achievement you can't get without accessing the Speed Run option on the main menu. The appreciation of the art style and the music wears itself thin upon subsequent visits, because typically, you're more concerned to just play through it again... So really, while the length of the game itself isn't anything to get all pissy about, the lifespan is a completely different story.
Braid is that little title that manages to pull out all the stops. When given such an artistic edge over the competition, it's little wonder that the Xbox Live Arcade and Playstation Network start pulling off their own little artistic, cartoony and even retro-looking games; because Braid practically paved the way for them! Creative usage of time, tough as nails puzzles and excellent production values make this a must-buy... just don't expect it to last all that long.