Developer: Number None, Inc. (designed by Jonathan Blow)
Released: August 6 2008 (XBox Live Arcade); various 2009 (other platforms)
Braid is a 2D puzzle-platformer with hand-drawn environments and characters. You play as Tim, a man who hopes to undo his mistakes in his quest to find the Princess. Time and perspective work differently for Tim than for others, and he has the ability to control and manipulate time to some extent. Tim's journey takes him through a variety of worlds and hazards as he searches for the Princess.
Critics almost unanimously loved Braid, resulting in average review scores just over 90% and making it the highest-rated XBox Live Arcade title and 10th highest XBox title at the time of its release. Critics loved the game's puzzles, calling them well-varied, elaborate, and formidable, forcing you to consider the non-linearity of your actions. They also enjoyed the art direction and music, as well as the mature story. On the other hand, some critics felt the game was too short and didn't offer any replayability.
There have been a couple of patches to fix some relatively minor issues. Braid released on other platforms post-launch, including Steam and PS3.
Puzzles & Puzzles
Braid's puzzles can be ridiculously intricate and complex. The time powers are used extremely well, and you really have to try to think non-linearly to solve them. Each world offers a new twist on time manipulation: simple forward/reverse, time progression based on horizontal movement, slow-time bubbles, time-power-immune enemies or objects, and plenty more.
The clues Tim finds in his search for the Princess are represented by literal puzzle pieces. When you've collected all the pieces in a world, you can put them together to reveal an image. It's neat to see the detective's "pieces of the puzzle" be exactly that.
I don't really like the way Tim is depicted (personal preference), but otherwise, everything looks great. I'm actually a big fan of how the animation is slightly choppy - it makes it look like stop-motion animation, which works very well with the hand-drawn approach.
I wasn't a huge fan of Braid's music - it's just not my style - but I can appreciate how it's distorted and altered to fit the time effects you use. It changes in different ways to match different effects, and the intensity of the alteration also varies depending on, for example, your proximity to a slow-time bubble.
The boss of each world tends to incorporate that world's time elements into the battle. Each boss is the same creature in the same room, but the battles play out differently because of the different time powers and immunities applied.
References and Homages
Braid pulls some influence from some other classic games - primarily the Mario mechanic of defeating enemies by jumping on their heads (which is explicitly referenced in one level). It also seems to pull the time elements from Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time - the rewind mechanic is similar, and the game's promotional artwork depicts a broken hourglass with sand spilling out of it.
But despite being influenced by, and borrowing mechanics from, some other major games, Braid manages to rethink them and make them its own.
Story & Final Level
The gameplay and story both question linearity and perspectives of time. There are some fairly deep philosophical musings presented throughout Tim's quest, which the gameplay does a good job of reinforcing. But the final level is where it all comes together. Let's just say that the game goes out of its way to show that Tim has a different perspective than most people, and that really pays off at the end.
Some of the puzzles are very tough. I used a walkthrough for some of them and don't feel like I cheated in the least. You may need to do the same, or at the very least take a break when you get frustrated, and come back with a fresh outlook.
Recommendation: play it.
Short review today. Braid is short and simple, and it works really well. The puzzles and time elements are excellent and reinforce the narrative and philosophy, and the last level is fantastic. It took me three and a half hours to beat, and costs $10 on Steam - that may not be the best time/money ratio for some, but I'd recommend it.