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Braid turns simplicity into mind-melting puzzles. Setting your face to finish this game may take some time, but is well worth it.
XBLA is a great place to fund unusual and interesting games. After the fresh momentum based platforming of N+, Braid looks like any other platform game but has an intriguing trick: time-travel.
Platform games task you with getting from point A to point B. The world you journey through is usually based on different levels, and populated with enemies, switches and lifts to be negotiated. As you work through each level you pick up various collectibles that accrue score, special abilities and access to hidden areas.
Braid brings one simple concept to the platforming table - the ability to rewind (and fast forward) time. Simply put, this means that if you die all you do is rewind the clock to the moment before you came a cropper. Not only that but all those exacting pixel perfect jumps you need to make, you can here retry them as many times as you need to get the right. All sorts of ingenious challenges are built around this novel play mechanic that make this a genuinely unique experience.
But things are not left at that, each world has an additional twist on the time-shifting formula. Sometimes there are items in the world that are immune to time - meaning even if you rewind they stay where they are. Another world links time's passing with your left/right movement - walk right and time moves forward, walk left and it moves backwards. Each twist adds its own challenges and abilities, and is carefully balanced so as not to undo the central time travelling concept.
Playing Braid is like watching the Matrix for the first time. There is a real thrill as you discover the implications of your exacting control over the space-time universe. But after this buzz has subsided and your time travelling abilities have become everyday there remains an experience as compelling as it is attractive.
The different elements, from the old style hand painted visuals to the haunting orchestral score, make it clear that this is a unique product. Made, as they say on jars of Jam and Marmalade, with love.
Braid's levels are small enough to get through in a few minutes. But to actually complete them you must collect all the pieces of the puzzle, something that will have you scratching your gray stuff for hours. This takes the initially short levels and turns them into extended labyrinths that can take up to an hour to play.
The nature of the time rewinding and exacting controls make this a game to stretch Dad's gray matter rather than something for the younger members of the family to play. It is however, the sort of experience that appeals across a wide audience and is as much fun to watch as it is to play.
We have spent many happy evenings with the older members of the household (including grand parents) all chipping in with their ideas for solving a level. It's apt that you collect and arrange puzzle pieces in the game as it creates an experience that has a lot in common with rainy days huddled around the dining room table pointing out which piece should go where.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
Our columnists each focus on a particular perspective and fall into one of the following types of gamers: