By Duncan Voice
Whenever I let The Missus test her wits on the Xbox, I must admit, I do get a bit frustrated. Watching over her shoulder, trying to resist the temptation to grab the controller back off her as she neglects to shoot the red barrel which five enemies have handily stood next to, or unloads a sniper clip into an enemy’s leg rather than take the head clean off at the neck.
There’s something that all gamers of relative experience tend to share, this knowledge of gaming conventions, our hidden weapon against even the hardest of modes. Yes, that Brute has twice the amount of health, and a questionably sized hammer, but I know exactly the right point at which I need to throw this plasma grenade to give him a new face-hole…
I’ve been a gamer since before I developed an unhealthy addiction to Wham bars, with my earliest memories playing Adventure on my brother’s Atari 2600, or Repton on the BBC Acorn. I’m by no means an expert at any game (although I did once hold the highest score in the country in Tony Hawks Pro Skater 3!) but I know when to shoot, how far I need to jump and that the keycard I need is going to be as far away as possible. I understand games, and approach each new one with a hefty level of confidence.
However, I no longer have this confidence in my abilities thanks to the sublime Braid, the award-winning game by indie developer Jonathon Blow. Jonathon Blow had become frustrated with the under utilized time reversal systems in games such as Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, and took it upon himself to create a game with this as its core mechanic, rather than a tacked on feature with limited use.
Blow wanted to show the consequences of rewinding time. As a result, I can only regard the developer as some sort of evil genius. There are different mechanics for each world, of which I won’t describe in any further detail. This is because the moments you finally understand them are genuine moments of complete satisfaction, something of which I rarely feel with most releases these days.
I do feel like a lesser gamer now, as the time manipulation creates some devilish puzzles, and I’d often have to go away for a few hours and stew them over, when in most games it’d just take me a few attempts. I have no shame in admitting I did have to look up a walkthrough for some of the puzzles, when usually if I stare long enough at the screen the puzzle slaps me in the face. I just don’t think I have the cognitive capacity to get my head round the concept of time reversal.
Braid pushes the envelope for not only platform games, but also for exploring mature themes. No, I don’t mean mature in the sense that Gears of War is a colourful language fest, but rather that it explores metaphorical themes of relationships, forgiveness, betrayal, and possibly even the atomic bomb. Everything is open to interpretation, but the story is evocative enough to make it just as integral a part of the gameplay as the time manipulation feature.
The artwork created by webcomic artist David Wellman looks like a moving oil painting, and the design of the lead character Tim, as an average man rather than some musclebound hero, adds weight to the seemingly simple story of him trying to rescue his girlfriend from a monster. Sumptuous is one word to sum up the art.
The score I have awarded the game isn’t to say it isn’t beyond improvement, as I struggle to believe anything is perfect. It does however represent a game which is of outstanding quality, something every gamer should experience. It provides mensa-level challenges, and a compelling, mature story. It should also be used as a point of reference to champion indie games and to show what is possible on a low-budget. It is one of those rare pieces of software that escalate beyond its format of being just a game. It’s a mature, educational, beautiful work of art.
10 OUT OF 10
Alternative Viewpoint By Marty Mulrooney
I couldn’t agree with Duncan’s sentiments more. Perhaps I could agree a little less, but that would just be me being picky! I played through the game via the PC version recently (courtesy of our friends at GamersGate.co.uk) to ensure that I could not only successfully edit Duncan’s review, but experience what he so obviously loved and enjoyed before making my own decision.
For those who are curious, the PC version is a direct port of the Xbox Live Arcade version from 2008. The graphics are still great, and even though they might not go to as high a resolution as I would have liked, it matters little once you start to play this letterboxed beauty. It looks stunning! I also made sure to play with my keyboard to contrast with Duncan’s time with the game on his Xbox360 controller. (The game doesn’t use the mouse at all, apart from for some jigsaw puzzles, which can also be done with the keyboard anyway.)
Thankfully, even with a keyboard the fantastic gameplay stays intact, and gamers always have the option to use a gamepad if they wish to do so! The story is amazing, you think it is all so very simple, but in reality it is anything but. I only had one problem where the game would not fit my screen properly, but right clicking the properties of the game shortcut and selecting “run in 640×480 screen resolution” soon got things back on track.
This music is lovely and relaxing, and the whole game just feels like Super Mario Bros for grownups. I loved being told at the end of the first level by a dinosaur that the princess was in another castle! The look and feel really is like being part of a moving painting, it’s fantastic.
Braid is a beautiful, challenging PC game that I wish all the success in world to. Overall, I don’t see why any gamer shouldn’t give this little gem a go. It is even coming out on the PSN (PS3 Network) later this week! A wholehearted recommendation from Alternative Magazine Online then. Gotta love those Indie devs!