Braid is a fairly new indie title, falling under the categories of Artsy, Puzzle-Platformer. It's available for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360.

The story (that I can tell you without giving too much away) centers around Tim the small hero of the story, and his journey through various levels in an attempt to rescue his princess.

As to what has happened to the Princess, who she is etc. I can't say. . . Not because I want to avoid spoiling the story, but because there is so much speculation as to who she is that there doesn't seem to be one absolute correct answer.

The reason for this is simple, the story makes next to no sense and is given to the player in small chunks of text picked up from books at the start of a new world.

Braid is a very artsy game which looks like the graphics have been painted onto the screen with water colour paints with very detailed lush backgrounds that have some mild animation and overall it looks more like you are playing a work of art rather than a game.
however, don't let that fool you, despite being an arty game it is one that will really test your thinking muscles, but more on that later.

The animation in the game while fairly simplistic is also done very well and looks very well polished overall, granted there are only 3 main enemy types and they all work in essentially the same way, but that doesn't matter, they look very well done and just little touches to the animation really add something special to the title.

You'd be forgiven for thinking that the gameplay looks familiar, looks a little bit Mario-ish, because it is,

this plays very much like a tribute title, but with an added difference, you cannot die in Braid.
While you can get hit and this will cause a brief death animation (including a shocked look on Tim's face) with the press of a button, you can rewind time and right your mistakes.

And this is where Braid comes into its own. For those of you who played the Prince of Persia Sands of Time Trilogy, you'll be well versed in rewinding time to right a mistake. Unlike the PoP series though, Braid will allow you to rewind time right back to the start of the section you were playing. In most cases the ability to rewind time will be essential to clear certain areas of the game.

In order to complete the levels (and eventually the whole game) Tim must collect 12 puzzle pieces per level. There are a total of 60 puzzle pieces dotted about in the levels with each completed puzzle opening up a section of pathway leading to the final level.

Each world in Braid has a different skill to teach, while time can be rewound in all levels, in each world there is also an added skill or trick to get around, for example in one world, whenever you rewind time, Tims' Shadow will leave his body and complete the task that Tim did prior to the rewind, while this sounds confusing, it works very well and Shadow-Tim can be useful for hitting levers or switches so that Tim can get through the next section.

There is very little of this to speak about, the background music is a classical piece on a loop, which is alright for a while but will eventually get on your nerves. Tim himself makes no noise except for the occasional grunt when he "dies". Aside from that there are the usual boings and bouncing noises expected from a Mario style game. Despite this, the sounds that have been portrayed work very well and the minimalist approach works for the title rather than against it.

With the exception of 1, it is possible to get every trophy on a single run, the only ones available here are bronzes and silvers, there are no golds and as expected from a download title, there is no platinum.

So with all the trophies being available in one run, it shouldn't be that long a game right?
WRONG! While it's true the whole game can be run through in about 45 minutes (If you can complete the speed run challenge) The main story is only part of the game as a whole.

At the start of the game Tim sees a series of 8 stars in the sky making up a constellation, however, the stars are missing, they are in fact hidden in the levels, not only can looking for those stars take a while, but in one case at least getting to the star will swallow up at least an 2 hours of your time. (It should also be stated that there is at least one star that you only have one chance to get, miss it and start over)

Overall this provides a decent challenge and the player is rewarded with a change to the ending for collecting each of the stars.

Finally there is then the option of the speed runs, available once the game has been finished (stars not required) in order to complete the challenge you will need to enter each world, collect every puzzle piece and complete the puzzles themselves within 45 minutes (60 minutes for PC and 360 Owners) nothing else is unlocked from this aside from the usual trophy/achievement,
so really it's for bragging rights only.

That being said the amount of time that would need to be invested in order to speed run the game would more than make up for the price of the title and allow the player to feel that their money was well spent.

Final Thoughts
Overall Braid is a well put together title that suffers slightly from a lack of original thought when it comes to level design, the reason for this is that on later stages, you'll find that the level is the same as one played earlier but the skills required to complete the level have changed and require a re-think.
At the price being asked for it, it may seem a little pricey and unless you plan on getting everything done within the game then you may feel that you haven't gotten your moneys worth as on a first play-through (without worrying about collecting stars etc) it can be a very short game.

A very pretty though pricey, quirky platformer, well worth a look if you loved both the Mario and Prince of Persia franchises.
May not be for everyone so use caution when buying.

Demon's Souls

Demon's Souls; a title not currently out in the UK, is it worth the import cost?

The basic premise behind demon's souls is your fairly usual end of the world, in fact it has a similar premise to the recent Prince of Persia, a big bad God has been sealed away after nearly destroying the world and the ruler of Boletaria decided to throw caution to the wind, use the powers that shouldn't have been used and released the big bad once more, people die lots of screaming wailing and perhaps even some gnashing of teeth and then you come along, the last great hope for the people of Boletaria. That pretty much is the story of the game, yes it's a weak story but that appears to be the only bad thing about the game so far.

The game starts with the usual character customisation and allows you to select from various classes from thief to a member of the royal family. The choice of character has no effect on the story it merely sets your skill points at certain levels.

once all that is done, the game starts. . .

And now a warning Demon's Souls is not a game for everyone, it is an action RPG, it has been likened to an updated Blood Omen or an adult version of Zelda, that said the game is hard, not hard as in "Why can't I get past this bit?" but hard as in "What the hell just happened I'm dead. . . . Again!" make no mistake you will die a lot in this game, but it's not such a bad thing, in fact at the end of the tutorial section the game actually starts with your death.

Upon death you lose your physical form, your health stats are halved and your soul is taken to a place called the Nexus, this is where the original people sealed off the big bad and you discover that you are now trapped in it, no big deal you can still go out and fight in an effort to reclaim your physical form and progress through the game.


Graphically, this game isn't too shabby, there are some very nice visuals and moments where your jaw will drop, this is most likely to happen during boss battles, especially when you realise the scale of the characters you're fighting. Here, as a perfect example, is a shot of one of the bosses, the little guy that's been highlighted? Yeah that's you.

So as you can see, there are moments when you will feel totally over-whelmed by the odds against you.

Everything in the game seems to have this really nice polish to it, the graphics do a wonderful job of setting the scene and in some cases really help the gameplay along as well. While it's a very dark game, the use of colour has been put to very good effect, quite a few titles on the PS3 have this washed-out effect or haze to the graphics, Demon's Souls doesn't rely on that, it uses the colours to set the atmosphere and it does it very well.

The first thing that a lot of people have said about this game in a negative manner (aside from the lack of a story) is that there is no music, to a certain extent this is true, the only music in the game comes from the opening titles and boss battles, during the actual levels themselves music is practically non-existent. But in this case it is not a bad thing, just like the graphics, the sound (or lack of it) is used to set the scene and again it does a fantastic job, the musical score is a very rich classical style and would easily sound at home in a high production movie or even being played in a concert, it's well written, well paced and not over-powering, if you happen to buy the collectors edition you'll get the soundtrack CD with the game and that can be worth the extra price alone.
Other sounds within the game are the usual fare, footsteps, grunts, swords clanging and dead things groaning, all of which are used well and don't feel overdone.

Simple controls are used for everything and they feel very intuitive, walking with the left stick, camera with the right and so on.
Combat however is a little different, you have a choice of weapons and as such a choice of attacks, R1 does a basic attack, R2 a stronger attack, L1 blocks with your shield (if you have one) and L2 does a sweeping move with a shield that will allow you to push an enemy away. If you get your timing right that sweep will leave the enemy exposed and allow for a quick riposte with your sword either killing your opponent instantly or leaving them weakened to the point where a kill is easy.

You can also switch from one handed attacks to two handed with a simple button press, this allows for stronger attacks but limits your defence, so it does mean it's always a difficult choice opting to go for a two handed attack.
You can also change weapons on the fly, either for different shields or even switching from a sword to a bow or crossbow, this can all be done by a simple tap on the d-pad and again works very well for the player.
The problem arises however if you need to switch out more than that, so for example you have a bow, a crossbow, a sword and a wand, you have your sword equipped with the bow ready, but you come across an enemy that is immune to physical attacks, at that point you have to go into the equip screen and switch out for the wand, however the game does not pause while you do this so you need to be in a safe area before making the all important switch.

Firstly it should be pointed out that the currency used in game to improve your weapons, armour and buy supplies are the souls of those that you kill, there is no money, no bartering and no other option, you need the souls of the fallen to aid you in your quest this is important as without their souls, you cannot buy new weapons, repair or improve your old ones, buy new spells or even build up your skills.

Now comes the real meat of the game, how it actually plays, this is not a game you could pick up casually, Demon's Souls is a punishing game, it's not unfair, it's not cruel but it is very demanding, if you try to do something which you shouldn't be able to do (like walk into a group of 5 enemies when starting out) you will die, no ifs no buts, just a "you are dead" screen and you're back to the last checkpoint you hit with all of your souls dropped.

But the game does have ways in which it can help you out and aid you in avoiding the dreaded death screen, firstly when you die a pool of your blood is left on the floor, if you reach that you can reclaim all of the souls you just lost, it's a nice feature and allows you to get back into the game without getting too depressed about dying a lot.

Secondly if you happen to be signed in to your PSN account while playing you'll notice a few other changes to the game, there are other blood pools on the floor, touching one of these blood pools will give you a brief recording of the last ten seconds before that player died, but it only shows their body movements, not what killed them, therefore some of it is left to guesswork on your part.

Another interesting feature is the ability to leave notes on the floor for other players, these notes are compiled from a series of pre-created sentences (to avoid rude words) to allow players to leave hints, however the notes can also be misleading, meaning that you run into certain death thinking you were going to be safe.

Playing while online also allows for you as a player to summon other players to aid you, this is with the aid of a rare item and will allow teamwork on some of the harder areas within the game.

Finally there is the option to invade another player as a phantom, this again uses a rare item, but if you invade and succeed in defeating the other player you get your physical form back.

Overall it works very well and Demon's Souls is a very immersing title, unlike a lot of other action games, this one forces you to improve at every step and to think before you act, it's a refreshing change from the usual run and gun style of gameplay of late.

Demon's Souls has the now obligatory trophy support, but even this is done well, there aren't any of the silly "Well done you started a new game" trophies, the trophies on offer are given as a result of getting past some of the harder points in the game such as the bosses, this again adds to the overall sense of achievement for killing a boss, it could be that Demon's Souls is one of the first titles to get trophies right.

Negative Aspects
The game does have its flaws though, the first one, as already mentioned being the very poor story, which really lets the title down, such a well crafted piece of work needed a stronger story to it.
Combat has its own issues, notably the riposte move mentioned above, getting the timing right can be an absolute nightmare, however this makes it all the more satisfying when you get it right.
One of the drawbacks of a lot of games is that they hold your hand too much, without giving the player any choice as to where to go next, this game suffers from the opposite, you are thrown in at the deep end without any guidance as to where you should be going, this can lead to the player feeling like they are bashing their head against a brick wall.

As already said, Demon's Souls is not a game for everybody, it is without a doubt one of the hardest games on the PS3 (that I've played so far) and will challenge even the most die-hard RPG fans, it's challenging, punishing and in some cases downright evil, but it is definitely a game worth playing if you like a decent RPG with some challenge.
It does have a very steep learning curve that could be likened to a cliff face, but this also adds to the overall feeling of achievement when anything does go right during play.
There are debates at the moment as to which is the better title Demon's Souls or Dragon Age: Origins, I'll let you know when I get the chance.

A very tough, beautiful RPG with a steep learning curve and some very well implemented gameplay innovations,
it could be well worth the import cost for the EU, slightly let down by the lack of story and objectives.