Home Reviews 4.5/5 Review Braid, Anniversary Edition Review

Braid, Anniversary Edition Review

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You know that you’ve made something important when ‘are games art?’ conversations start. Back in April 2008, fifteen years ago, it was precisely the reaction to Jonathan Blow’s Braid. A little platformer had dared to arrive on the Xbox Live Arcade – home of Uno, Marble Blast Ultra and Geometry Wars – loaded with post-Portal mind bending puzzles, dreamy visuals and an existential story. The camps of ‘art’ and ‘not art’ began arguing with each other, and the rest of us wondered if all indie games could be this good from now on.

It’s not a huge leap to say that Braid opened the door for games like Fez, Limbo, Journey, To the Moon and Bastion. Small teams and smaller budgets could produce important games that say important things. It seemed to send a wave of confidence across the indie development scene, and Xbox Live Arcade in particular was a huge beneficiary.

Which is all to say that it’s good to have you back, Braid, Anniversary Edition. This is a victory lap for one of Xbox’s most significant games, and a chance to play it again in the context of the games it influenced. Even better, it has arrived with a graphical sprucing and is humble enough to be influenced by other games. It borrows a little from Digital Eclipse’s Making Of series, baking a ‘director’s commentary’ directly into the game.

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Is she now?

On a personal note, playing Braid, Anniversary Edition was an eye-opener. I clearly played Braid when it first launched – I have the 100% to prove it – but I’m damned if I can remember much of it. The past fifteen years must have left me a husk. So, playing Braid, Anniversary Edition was a mixture of surprises and ‘oh, I remember that’s.

I didn’t remember how optional everything was. The levels in Braid are little prompts led by jigsaw pieces. You can try to grab these pieces, but getting to them requires a mastery of everything the game has thrown at you up to that point: time-reversal, shadow twins, a left-to-right flow of time. But you don’t actually have to do any of the puzzles. You can just traipse across the level and open the door, moving onto the next. When there are ongoing conversations about whether games like Elden Ring should have a story mode, it’s fascinating to see a game this old making such a progressive step.

I remembered being confounded by the puzzles, but I don’t remember being this confounded. I’ve got a new respect for my younger self, who must have hunted down every jigsaw piece. Because Braid goes beyond difficult: it finds puzzles in a whole new space. Basically, it finds its puzzle ideas outside of the natural order of things. Levels shouldn’t play backwards; enemies shouldn’t come to life when you stomp on them. Even the concepts baked my brain, so having to use them, and manipulate them is a whole new level of baked. There are precious few recent games – Teslagrad 2 and Horace, perhaps – who can mine similar veins. Braid, Anniversary Edition is like being given an exam by an alien.

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Braid finds puzzles in a new space

On the more negative side, I remember being affected by the story more than I was during the replay. Braid was celebrated for how its narrative echoed the new mechanics. It feels unfair to ruin that narrative now that it’s getting a second wind, but let’s just say that the time reversal themes feed into the superficially Mario-like story. But while I was wowed fifteen years ago, I was left cold today. The story feels overwrought and pretentious now. Perhaps, in a post-Inside world, I’ve come to expect poignant storytelling from my indies, so the surprise has gone. Perhaps I’ve just become less patient for flowery storytelling. Either way, it didn’t hit as hard this time round.

The final surprise was the length. I didn’t remember Braid being this short. There are only fifty or so levels here, and they are as optional as previously mentioned. Non-completionists can be done with it in less than an hour; completionists will be slow-cooked for many more hours than that. Which is not a criticism – in fact, it veers more towards a compliment. Braid invites you to take what you want from it.

Bolstering the offer are some reimagined graphics and a director’s commentary. The graphics manage to make the game feel richer by focusing on the backdrops. Very little in the foreground has changed: the main character is still nattily done up in his suit, and the enemies are still goombas with Bob Ross haircuts. The charm is retained. But there’s a depth to the levels through some equally Bob Ross-like paintings. The effect is to make it feel more like a world and less like a series of manufactured puzzles, and it’s more than welcome. 

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The memories

The real winners, though, are the commentaries. Integrated into the levels via levers and doors (and sometimes as cheekily out-of-reach as the jigsaw pieces) are voiced snippets from Jonathan Blow. These aren’t just anecdotes as you might expect: these are deep-dives into every aspect of game and puzzle development. Design, programming, art, audio and more are interrogated with actual materials used to create the game and often layering onto the game itself. It’s stupefying, and anyone with a modicum of interest in how games are made will be enthralled. It’s not an afterthought, either: it’s all thoroughly embedded, and you wonder whether it’s the true reason for the Braid, Anniversary Edition release.

Playing Braid, Anniversary Edition is like opening the time capsule of a museum curator. The sheer love and care that is gone into filling that capsule is breathtaking. And for those who have never experienced Braid, you’re in for a treat. As Portal did with space, Braid does with time. 

Braid, Anniversary Edition is just as relevant now as it was fifteen years ago. Not bad for an old-timer.

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