"Beer, it's the best damn drink in the world." – Jack Nicholson
I really did not want to review Braid. I am in no way prepared or properly able to define what this game is, or what it means to me. As I will often comment on; I am a huge supporter of the “games are art” idea and Braid really helps make that notion easier to defend. The graphics are absolutely stunning, the music is haunting and the story is probably one of the best written in the genre, ever. Braid itself is a metaphor for a very tricky subject and is one I am honestly surprised was written about in the first place. I will do my best to pretend to be a real journalist and tell you why you need to play this game.
Jonathan Blow really hit the ball out of the park with Braid. The use of visuals, music and storytelling are unmatched and I have something to say about all three. Visually alone Braid is a work of art and showcases a beautiful world made with 2D graphics that look like they stepped out of a painting. The art style reminds me of the afterlife that Robin William’s character experienced in the movie What Dreams May Come (and if you havent seen it, stop reading and go watch it). The characters and the background ripple almost as if the paint has not yet dried on this canvas we call a game. It really is achingly beautiful. This beauty was all hand-drawn by David Hellman (www.davidhellman.net/), and his attention to detail took over a year to create.
What makes the graphics truly special though is how alive they feel. The characters are all extremely well animated and exhibit lifelike little touches that most developers would not have time for. The first time I saw the protagonist Tim’s hair flip in the wind I nearly giggled with appreciation. Braid to me is in the same art class as Bastion. Both use 2D to paint haunting images but in colorful ways that at the same time delight and horrify. Braid, like Bastion is worth watching someone else play- your eyes will never tire of what they are greeted with.
Your ears will also be delighted because the music in Braid is fantastic as well. Each of the six worlds have their own theme that appropriately correspond with the feeling behind the stage. As the time-mechanics (more on those later) get more intense and complicated the music gets darker and more brooding. If you get a chance you really should invest in a copy of the soundtrack. If you have not yet played the game, buy it from http://braid-game.com/ and you get a DRM-free game and a copy of the soundtrack. Plus the developer gets more money and everyone wins!
In the final stage (spoiler alert!) I was disappointed that the music just sounded too strange to me. I figured it was playing in reverse but I honestly was a little perturbed that the game would take such an awesome turn with the plot and then give it music that takes you out of the moment. It was only at the end of the stage did I realize that the music playing in reverse was very intentional and once I rewound time everything changed. This moment was as good as any plot twist from any movie I had seen. The sheer brilliance of this stage has haunted me and I am so happy that it happened the way it did. I appreciate the developer let me figure this out myself and did not treat me like a child.
Braid in fact never once treated me like I was new to games. It assumed I knew what I was doing and every gameplay change or new control method was discovered firsthand by me. To learn how to play the game I simply had to play it, and this natural way of teaching the rules was completely fair and never caused an ounce of frustration. Most people who will play Braid are probably experienced gamers and this was a game truly made for them. Better yet though is the endgame is reserved only for those who finish Braid to 100% completion. Normally this kind of system bugs the hell out of me (Jet Force Gemini I am still mad at you) but this works well for Braid. You can blow (HA!) through all of the levels in less than an hour, but going back to get all the puzzle pieces to see the end can take you quite a few hours more.
Investing this kind of time is well worth it though, because the entire point of the game has nothing to do with a princess at all. Spoilers are ahead, but this game has been out long enough you probably know what is coming: the “princess” is actually nuclear technology and Tim is a scientist who helped create it. The creation of the Atom Bomb will forever go down in history as the best and worst decision we ever made as humans. We took a technology that could (and does) power the world but we weaponized it and used it to kill millions of people. We lost control over this technology and we have been forever hurt by it- an idea Braid really wants you to think about.
The desire for the gamer to question the bigger issues holds strong in the story and gameplay of Braid and it is all the better for it. We do not simply have a game here- we have a message. When I finished Beyond Good & Evil for the first time I knew I played and experienced a great story, but it was nothing more than a story. Sure you can argue that governments should be transparent and freedom of press and speech should never be taken away, but BG&E really did not push those themes too hard. Braid though was more than a story, Braid wanted you to think hard about your actions and the choices humanity has made.
I did not want to review Braid because I knew I could not do the storytelling justice. I am not a journalist yet, I just do this on my free time. My opinion really should not matter here, nor should you take it as definitive. Please know though that Braid is a masterpiece of gaming and really changed what games are for me. This “Mario-style” platformer is a true evolution in the genre and the industry as a whole and I feel so lucky to have been able to play it.
You owe it to yourself to play it too. You also owe it to yourself to question the meaning behind it. Did we make a mistake when we made the nuke? Can we really control things or can we simply just contain them? Finally- are we truly safe from ourselves and our creations? Braid asks these questions bravely and challenges the player to figure out the answers by themselves. And this is what males Braid amazing- the adventure is best when experienced and interpreted by the player. Hopefully storytelling can be more dynamic like this in gaming, but the rarity of this quality of narrative really is what makes Braid great.
Final Score: 5/5
What I Loved: Rich storytelling, great music and a hell of an end-game twist.
What I Hated: Too easy to simply run through some of the levels and skip the story.
Drink Pairing: Green Flash Brewery West Coast IPA (Balanced, refreshing, heavy on the hops but not on the citrus)