than a gimmick, Braid shows us that 2D gaming still has a lot of life to it.
At first glance it's easy to dismiss Braid as a simple platformer with a gimmick, reversing time to escape death in a similar vein to what Prince of Persia: Sands of Time used a few years back. However, the time manipulation in Braid goes much further than simply escaping death, and while it's impossible to "die" in Braid, the challenge comes from collecting the puzzle pieces that allow the player to unlock more of the story that partially reveals what the protagonist, Tim, is trying to achieve.
Sure, there's a lot of homage to old school 2D platforming here, particularly stuff in the Super Mario universe. You'll encounter slightly skewed versions of Goombas, Piranha Plants, and even a bit of fence climbing similar to Super Mario World. Jonathan Blow, the creator of Braid, has an obvious respect for one of the founding genres of the gaming world, and it shows in every level of Braid, even to the point of certain stages being identical to classic platformers.
However, Braid isn't simply an exercise in paying homage to old games. The time manipulating element is usually brought to the forefront, and you won't simply hop and bop your way out of most of the puzzles or stages. If you're looking to just blow thru every level, you won't get a whole lot out of the game. Going from door to door (the way you move between stages) is fairly simple and doesn't involve much of a challenge. Instead, the focus is on figuring out the puzzle elements that will allow you to reach the puzzle pieces, scattered about each stage within five different worlds.
The story of Braid is definitely open for interpretation, and there's subtext aplenty for players who want to debate what the story could possibly mean. It's definitely ahead of the curve for most videogame plots, but it's not integral to actually enjoying the game either. You won't be hit over the head with lengthy cutscenes or melodramatic dialogue, instead most of the tale is written in books that you'll encounter after entering a new world for the first time, and none of these story bits are particularly lengthy, so they manage to not come off as long winded or boring.
The challenge of figuring out the various puzzles in each stage increases as you advance from world to world, with the earliest stages definitely acting as a primer to get you a bit more in line with what Braid expects out of you. Like I mentioned before, the game is less about precise timing and making difficult platform to platform jumps, but instead has you playing back and forth with not only the time manipulating element, but also the other tools and game mechanics that are introduced later on. Needless to say, you won't simply be reversing and fast forwarding time to unlock the paths to acquire various pieces, but instead you'll need to pay close attention to your environment, including the enemies scattered about on each board, most of which will play a role in getting you where you need to go.
While the art style of Braid isn't quite the "norm" for most 2D platforming titles, it definitely helps to make the title stand out in the crowd, and the beautifully painted backgrounds mesh well with the various tracks that have been selected to make up the soundtrack of the game, and they blend together with the not only the main character but the enemies and platforms that inhabit the foreground. The soundtrack itself is fantastic as well, using various tracks from different artists that Blow selected, instead of having new music composed strictly for the game. It's also interesting to note that your actions in the game affect everything, including the soundtrack, so when you manipulate time back and forth you're also rewinding and fast-forwarding the music itself. It's a neat little thing that helps make all of the visual and audio pieces meld together quite well.
Braid is definitely worth picking up from the XBLA library, and has a lot going for it that should appeal to just about every gaming enthusiast out there. The nice little nods to the history of the genre will appeal to long-standing fans, and the updated visuals and music should definitely bring in the younger crowd. However, both sides will find a lot to love with the inventive puzzles and various ways of overcoming them, and those of you who like to dig a bit deeper into the story will be rewarded as well.