Gaming pundits are a bit prone to hyperbole.
Don't act like I'm blowing the lid off of Watergate here, you all know it to be true. From Yahtzee crucifying games you used to enjoy, to all those reviewers who actually managed to fellate their copy of Grand Theft Auto 4, this biz is chock full of people whose entire gimmick hinges on bending the idea of the simile enough to make Oscar Wilde puke blood.
Of course, I'm a Nikki-Blonsky-sized hypocrite. I only began this review of Braid with that impromptu look into games journalism so that I'd seem more self-aware when I describe the game. Words like "sublime" and "intoxicating" (and even completely made up words like "scrumtrulescent") are the first things that leap to mind when I think of Jonathan Blow's indie platform/puzzler, and I wanted to make sure you all understand that even though it sounds like I'm being overly generous; the game deserves every fictionalized adverb I can manifest.
"Dracanublian," for instance.
On the surface, Braid is a fairly standard platformer. Tim, the unassuming hero, scampers through whimsical landscapes, crushing adorable enemies underfoot and eventually reaching a flag. Had I replaced "Tim" with a certain Mediterranean moniker, none of you would have even blinked.
Things start getting complex when you factor in Braid's quirks. First, Tim can't die - not really, anyway. Every time you fall to your death, instead of losing a life, you're given the option to rewind time until you're no longer about to be impaled or burned alive.
Soon after the first few deaths, you realize that this time-manipulation mechanic (and the additional powers you gain throughout the course of the game) can also be utilized within other parts of the game to solve puzzles. This too has its quirks as not everything is affected by Tim bitchslapping Einsteinian Special Relativity. Tim and his adorable enemies are always pushed back through time, but certain environmental objects remain unaffected.
Quirks upon quirks: The enemies that are affected can carry items that aren't affected! Yes, it's one Robert Patrick away from totally blowing your mind.
All of that before you realize that each World in Braid has its own entirely optional jigsaw puzzle to be found and assembled.
As you can imagine this limits the game's possible puzzle permutations to three short of infinity. Sadly, that's my biggest issue with the game: For what it could be, it's too short. It should come as high praise that I wanted only more Braid on beating it -- and the design of Braid lends itself extremely well to future add-ons -- but like a beautiful woman, by making the game so excellent, Blow only succeeded in turning up the longing felt when away from Braid's loving embrace.
Still, the game is only $15 on the Xbox Live Marketplace. That's not even half a tank of gas anymore, and Braid doesn't carry the risk of horrific automobile-related mangling and death.
Want a good comparison for Braid Remember Portal? Remember how it was only two hours long, yet that was the most meaningful two hours you spent with a game last year?
Braid is exactly the same way. It's a bit short, but in the small time you spend with it, the game manages to present a compelling gameplay mechanism, slather it with a near-ethereal, emotionally affecting narrative, encase that in a thick crème of multi-planar, neo-post-impressionist graphics (complemented by seemingly nonsensical, but always stunningly adorable sound effects), and then Blow serves the whole thing up for a very palatable price point.
After all this build up, I fully expect you to doubt me, but that's the trick here: I hope enough of you are angered by the seeming pretension I've assigned to this masterpiece of 1s and 0s that you at least pick up the demo so you can verbally lambaste me in the comments.
Go ahead. I dare you.
I'll be waiting here when you come back to thank me.
Bottom Line: Braid is the finest game available on the Xbox Live Arcade, though add-on content could make it even better.
Recommendation: Buy it. Now. Stop reading and buy it. You shouldn't have even read that last sentence.
Earnest Cavalli is still searching for The Princess with help from Steven Patrick Morrissey, Ian Curtis and an abundance of eyeliner.