Monday, August 25, 2008

Braid: Praise and damnation

Photo courtesy of IGN. As if you couldn't tell from the watermark.

The praise online for Braid – the Xbox Live Arcade game that is part platformer, part puzzler, and part short story – has spread like wildfire. The game’s $15 price point clearly has not been a detractor, and the critical acclaim – a 93 rating on MetaCritic, the eighth best Xbox 360 to date – has rolled in.

I have it. I like it. I want to love it – but there’s something holding me back: the game itself.

There’s difficulty, and then there’s difficulty. Braid is not a controller-throwing, how-much-is-the-game-cheating game in the mold of a Ninja Gaiden or a Bionic Commando, games that require pin-point precision and have brutal standards that gamers struggle to meet.

Braid, though, is almost too cerebral, too spacey for its own good. It doesn’t preclude that its player is dumb – which, while better than hand-holding and too low a level of difficulty, steers in my opinion too far the other way. The game doesn’t hint nearly enough at the way to complete too many of its puzzles. My good friend and gaming colleague, Nick, insists I can complete this; apparently, the game’s creator, Jonathan Blow, has a taunt to players on a game guide that says, in short, “you don’t need a guide to finish this game.” And an integral part of the game’s control structure, the rewind button, takes the last-gen Prince of Persia’s “rewind button as small eraser” concept to its inevitable conclusion, even integrating it into a few different puzzles.

But I still get incredibly frustrated most every time I turn the game on. I’ve gone through every level by now – well, barring World 1 – and I’m still stuck on far too many puzzles. World 4, 5 and 6 all still are baffling.

Maybe I’m focusing too much on the negative, feeling too cynical about my gaming abilities. I just wish Braid left a few more hints about how to untie its knots, instead of standing there with arms crossed looking down at me.

It's a masterpiece - I just wish it wasn't so condescending.

1 comment:

Nick Cummings said...

Come back to it in a week after PAX. I'm not the smartest guy out there when it comes to time/space puzzles, but I managed to get through Braid in one protracted sitting. Granted it was about four or five hours.

This game is all about your mental attitude. You can look at a puzzle and say "I have no idea how to solve this" and then you'll feel useless, or you can realize that the game is extremely careful in giving you just the right clues and abilities for every situation. There are only so many ways you can approach a puzzle; process of elimination is the way to go.