I was teased a bit by certain people (person) for wanting to play Portal, and Portal alone, when it was first announced. Narbacular Drop was a great tech demo, and I had high hopes for the full game, even though Gabe Newell said it was only a short puzzle quest, and I knew nothing of the story or humor we would later fall in love with. What we eventually got was the most fun I had gaming for all of 2007, as brief as the session may have been. While it may be a little too early to put this in stone, Braid on XBox Live Arcade is this year's Portal for me.
While Braid doesn't have the humor found in Valve's Portal, playing Braid was a very similar experience to me. The game is short (all puzzles solved in about 6 hours), pretty (great hand painted appearance), has a great overall mechanic (rewind time to solve puzzles), wonderful music (like a tour through Irish fields), strange hidden secrets (super secret stars do nothing?) but more than anything else, Braid left me wanting more.
It took me roughly 4 hours to get through the 5 main worlds, getting 60 of the game's 72 puzzle pieces. To complete the game, you must find all 72 puzzle pieces, and once all of the level's puzzles are complete, the final World 1 opens up to explore. Those final 12 pieces took me about 2-3 hours alone, because Braid gets very challenging, and makes you think very far outside the box, using each world's unique mechanics in a way that is both brilliant and frustrating. Kill your own cloned shadow just to scavenge the key he was carrying? Reverse time to make the unreversable cloud appear below your feet? You will have to use your imagination to completely solve this game.
The story is unique as well, written like an epic poem, told through short paragraphs at the beginning of each world. The story starts with Tim searching for the Princess that has left him. We are told that "this happened because Tim made a mistake." It is not until you complete the very end of the final world, that you can fully appreciate the simple story. While not a "twist" per say, the ending to the game is very satisfying, and worth the journey to get all 72 puzzle pieces, and uses the game's time mechanic to reveal the truth.
At $15, a lot of people have been turned away from the game simply for the price, which is rediculous. I have paid a full $50 for games that lasted as long, and brought nowhere near the level of satisfaction that Braid brings. If you want something to last forever, then get GTA4 and Madden. If you want to have the most fun in a game all summer, then get Braid. The demo is free on XBLA, a PC version is on its way, and if you come over to my place (or where ever I move to) you can play my version. Just play this game already, smile, and thank me later.
Image courtesy http://braid-game.com/