I’m kind of late to this one given that it was a pretty big cult hit late last year, but the game that kept me from finishing Resident Evil 5 over the long Easter weekend wasn’t some big budget AAA title but World of Goo: a physics-based puzzle game developed by a team of two guys. Having been a darling of the independent gaming community for a while, it got released for WiiWare and has subsequently come out for various operating systems, and it was its inclusion in this year’s MacHeist that finally got me to play it.
At the time of writing my profile reckons I’ve been playing for around seven and a half hours, and that’s almost entirely been over the long weekend, a quick dabble with the demo when it was getting a lot of positive buzz aside. To my shame I brushed it off then, so consider this post my atonement.
I absolutely adore this game. It’s typical of the best indie games in the way that it’s built fun gameplay around a simple, strong central concept, and everything else from the sharp, detailed graphics with bags of personality to the jaunty, Elfman-esque soundtrack (free download here) has a couple of really great pieces. Even the writing, largely coming through the unseen ‘Sign Writer’, is often clever and loaded with in-jokes.
One moment that stuck with me was the beginning of the fourth world, the Information Superhighway. Whereas all previous levels had been similarly themed, here things are thrown into the green and black digital world, and even the gameplay changes to match the new design. New mechanics like the ability to ‘infect’ pieces to give them different properties and the use of gravity to curve shots around a planetoid are a complete switch from the basic bridge and tower building that made up the previous three worlds. That’s not to say the rest of it isn’t inventive, because it certainly is, but I think it speaks volumes about how much invention is in here that it can be so suddenly switched around.
Now I know how long this has been out so it’s quite likely that people have played it, but I also know what proportion of the players actually paid for it – so much for the ‘we only pirate because of DRM’ story, eh? Trust me: it’s more than worth the $20.
To say that this one came out of nowhere is an understatement. I’d barely heard of it before I showed up on Live Arcade, a trail of impressive reviews in its wake and podcasts and blogs across the land erupting in praise and talk of ‘symbolism’, again bringing up that godforsaken ‘are games art?’ debate.
I may not know art, but I know that I like this. While it may be short, it’s a completely ingenious game, with such incredibly well-designed puzzles that there’s nothing in there that a day or two off and a return with a fresh mind won’t cure. If you’re trying to collect a piece with great feats of complicated dexterity and precision jumping prowess, chances are you’re doing it wrong.
Every world had its own gimmick that was completely different from every other and could turn the gameplay on its head, and yet it all seemed to fit together into a cohesive hole.
I wasn’t a huge fan of the much-lauded art style, but I loved the choices of music and, most of all, the story. Tim’s quest for his princess made no sense at all for five of the six worlds, and even in the final one an explanation remained elusive until the final sequence, which is still one of gaming’s few great rug pulls. I encourage you to experience it for yourself, but failing that check it out here.
Considering how long the game had spent showing off its ability to warp time around you in creative ways, seeing it do it one last time remained the most shocking of all.
Man, you wait ages for a good XBLA game and then two come along at once…
So how do you reconcile the fact that, at first glance, Braid looks like any other quick and dirty XBLA platformer with the frankly daunting 1,200 point (£10.20) price? Obviously the reviews help, as does the fact that this isn’t PSN and so a free demo is a given, but I still think it’s quite a big psychological barrier for people to overcome. Maybe it shouldn’t be, but it is.
If you’re finding yourself hovering over the download button, biting your lip, I implore you to take the plunge. This is one of the best indie games I’ve played in a while, and although it might still be on the pricey side, it’s a brilliant little game, full of neat touches and homages, as well as some great ideas of its own.
The influences that Braid carries most overtly is certainly Mario, and not just in the way that it’s ‘inspired’ every platform game ever. There are moments like this, which becomes an amusing running gag, a Donkey Kong sequence, and early enemies that are in no way Goombas, but the structure of the game allows it to switch from one idea to another at a moment’s notice, and it’s done in a way that allows you to skip a more challenging puzzle and come back to it when you want, never blocking your A-to-B progress. Continue reading Braid