Braid Review

Braid

Platform: Xbox 360

Developer: Number None Inc.

Link: http://braid-game.com/

Reviewed by Ryan Price

Lately I have been having more success finding an enthralling game to play on the Xbox Live Arcade than on the shelves of my local retail giant. This time I decided to take advantage of Microsoft’s new, “Deal of the Week” feature, and download Braid for the cost of a large pizza… That’s $10(US) for those of you who are not poor college kids. After finishing the game, I was left wanting more – just as if I had ordered a pizza! How weird is that? Perhaps not so weird after you finish this review.

Braid is a platform puzzler that pays homage to many of the early video game greats. You’ll immediately feel familiar with the simple run and jump-on-enemies mechanics that Mario made popular so many years ago. You’ll even get to raise a flag in front of a castle at the end of various stages. However, the nostalgia that this game generates is not what makes Braid fun to play. It’s what Braid does uniquely that makes it a terrific title. If ever there was a question about games being art, Braid is the answer. View the trailer

From the very outset, the game impresses with visuals that immerse the player in the game world. The art style is such that you would find in a painting by Monet; imaginative, free-flowing, and oh so pleasing! I especially liked that this painted world was not stationary or solid, but that the colors and designs softly shifted about, giving life and frivolity to this flat 2D game world. As I played through the game I found this painted art style to have a kind of soothing effect. It was quite pleasant, especially when the puzzles got harder to solve.

The puzzles in Braid utilize the ability to manipulate the flow of time, in order to collect puzzle pieces that form a painting. Each painting represents a world – another tribute to Mario – in which the game’s protagonist, Tim, must use a thematic time control device. For example, in World 2, Tim must use the ability to rewind to reach certain puzzle pieces. My particular favorite was World 6, where Tim had to use a ring that slowed time around it in order to reach the scattered puzzle pieces.

The puzzles are very well executed. As you progress through the game, the puzzles do not necessarily become more difficult. Instead, reaching each puzzle piece challenges the player to think differently about how to apply the current time control theme. Each time I was able to reach a puzzle piece I felt like I had actually accomplished something, and I was eager to see the next challenge. As I traversed through the different worlds, I couldn’t help but wish Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time had used time manipulation in its puzzles as well as Braid.

Braid draws another similarity to the Persian Prince’s 3D debut game. Say that line three times fast! The two games share a common story telling technique. Both use a narrative that feels reminiscent, almost like looking back through a dream. Although I think that the Sands of Time told its story better. The story in Braid is read on screen by running past books. The writing is good, and almost Zen-like. Yet, as I muddled through these philosophical ponderings, I felt like a young Padowan trying to find the wisdom from one of Master Yoda’s parables. In other words, it was interesting to read, but I just didn’t get it.

Overall, Braid is an exceptional platform puzzler. The developer did a fantastic job of molding soothing art, fun game play, and ingenious time manipulation puzzles into a game that leaves its players wishing they too could rewind, and experience the game for the first time again. For me, this game was the “Deal of the Week”, but for you, it’s a deal any week.

Meal Most Like: Spring salad with jasmine flower vinaigrette — The name might throw you off, but this game is beautiful to look at. Scintillating and sophisticated, it’s also light and airy and will leave you wanting more.

Castle Crashers Review

Castle Crashers

Platform: Xbox 360

Developer: The Behemoth

Publisher: The Behemoth

Link: http://www.castlecrashers.com/

Reviewed by Ryan Price

What do you do when you’re up late and incredibly bored? You could (and probably should) look for new games on the Xbox Live Arcade. In the past, I have shied away from the XBLA because of its clunky interface that turned finding a game into a treasure hunt at your local garbage dump – Dreadful, scary, and likely to give you a rash. On this particular occasion, the ease of the New Xbox Experience gave me a renewed sense of adventure and I decided to delve into the XBLA.

Thankfully, Microsoft finally gave players some tools to help dig through the mangled mass of games. These tools are lists that group new releases, most popular titles, and winners of some unheard of never ending contest. The last one is not important. Players can also sort games alphabetically, and search for them by name. Being new to the arcade, I submitted to conformity and began my treasure hunt in the “Most Popular” list. It was there that I found a gem amidst the rubble. A zany little action adventure game with goofy cover art called Castle Crashers.

Castle Crashers is an Xbox Live Arcade game that puts many full priced retail games to shame. From the outset, the player is greeted with a unique comedic art style, simple game play, and many in game moments that will make you laugh out loud.

As the game began, I was immediately taken back to the glory days of action adventure gaming because Castle Crashers draws much of its influence from many great classics like Golden Axe, Gauntlet Legends, and even a bit of Earthworm Jim. The player begins by selecting one of four colorful knights that are differentiated by their magical abilities: Poison, Fire, Ice, and Lightning. With my blue ice knight selected, I was treated to a creative introductory cut-scene that made me chuckle as I watched my knight rock out like he was at a Grateful Dead concert to music that was quirky, but fitting. There is not much in the way of a tutorial to this game, it took me 30 seconds to talk to a few characters and learn the basics of combat, magic, and my inventory.

The premise of the game is not unique. A magical crystal has been stolen by a villainous wizard and four princesses were captured along the way. It’s up to you and your colorful knight to retrieve the crystal and rescue the princesses. Along the way, the vile wizard will dispatch varied and comical minions to stop you in your tracks. View the trailer

At once, players familiar with 2D side scrolling adventure games will feel at home. The player enters in from the left onto a stage occupied by baddies and butt-kicking commences. As you kill off your enemies, you are instructed by an animated finger to go right and the screen slides to the next stage — nearly identical to the old Sega Genesis title, Golden Axe. What makes this title even better, and for me, made it fresh and enjoyable, was the designers’ sense of humor. Every stage is unique and full of subtle nuances to look for that will make you smile. As I played through the varied stages, I felt like I was on a treasure hunt as I kept an eye on the background to see events that foreshadowed an upcoming boss fight, or were outrageously funny.

Combat is simple. Melee attacks are made using the X and Y buttons for “quick” and “strong” weapon strikes. Hitting X and Y in different combinations will unleash combo attacks that leave your enemies stunned or without a head. Holding the right trigger and pressing Y will unleash a splash magic attack, you’ll gain new spells if you choose to level up your magic skill. B is reserved for your inventory. Items can be switched out on the fly by using the right and left bumpers. Overall, I found the controls easy to learn and unleashing combos and magic both fluid, and natural. However, this type of combat can be repetitive and even arduous if the game flows like the last bit of ketchup in a glass bottle. Fortunately, this was not the case.

The action is well paced. Combat is broken up into small manageable bites by short 15 second cut-scenes that seem more like comedy skits. Stages are ended by defeating cleverly designed boss fights. What I really appreciated was how the game kept things new by varying the bosses, and the way the boss fights played out. Each boss fight presents its own comedy and challenges that require a little creative thinking, and some skill on the player’s part. One of my favorite boss fights played out like a volley-ball match as we hit a giant beach ball back and forth until one side scored ten points. I never felt like any of the levels were re-hashed, instead I felt compelled to keep playing and find out what came next.

By purchasing the full version of the title you can also expect loads of un-lockable content, achievements, and a mini game called, “All You Can Quaff”. Couple that with multiplayer for up to four players either locally or over Xbox Live and you have the best 1200 Microsoft points you ever spent!

If I keep finding great titles like Castle Crashers on XBLA, I just might quit shelling out $60 (US) for retail games altogether. If you haven’t downloaded the demo already, quit reading this and get to it already!

Meal Most Like: mint chocolate chip ice cream cake — the game’s cartoony fun is best enjoyed with friends, but long exposure will make you sick.