The Top 7... prettiest games of 2008

Often dubbed “this year’s Portal,” Braid is indeed worthy of high praise. Its time-altering puzzles stumped the GR office for a good long while, but not in the typically frustrating manner most platform-puzzlers employ. The fuzzy, dreamlike graphics and soothing tunes lulled us into a state of permanent ease, perfect for calmly playing through the world and absorbing just how ornate the visuals really are.

Just about any screen you pull from Braid is fit for framing, literally pretty as a picture. Creator Jonathon Blow sacrificed three years and nearly $200,000 of his own money to make the game what it is. We appreciate every last cent, second and sweat drop he put into it.

It’s not just the visuals that amaze – the gameplay concept, the story and the intentionally ambiguous ending all evoke powerful responses from just about anyone who touched it (evenSoulja Boy, though maybe he kind of missed the point). To put it concisely, Braid’s beauty extends beyond the visual and into, dare we say it, the spiritual, letting you plug in whatever larger meaning you might attribute to Tim’s adventure through Braid’s picturesque world. Or maybe it’s just a dude with a tie running around trying to be a time-traveling Mario. Your call.

Need more creative indie gaming? Give PixelJunk Eden’s fluidic full-spectrum universe a spin. We daresay you won’t have more fun spiraling out of control while collecting pollen and sprouting flowers anywhere else.

We mentioned this game last weekas something you’ll probably let slip past your radar. This is us saying it again, but for a different reason – Valkyria Chronicles is perhaps the prettiest game on the PS3, boasting sweeping landscapes peppered with blazing sunsets and clear blue bodies of water. The proprietary engine, called CANVAS, makes the whole game look like it’s, well, painted on a canvas, and in our collective opinion outdoes Okami in the “looks like watercolors” category. It’s truly brilliant, something that even these screens may not fully capture:

As with Braid, Valk’s stature doesn’t rely solely on its nearly unrivaled looks – the little touches, like characters who walk and talk like genuine people and have motivations beyond “grrrrr it’s time for war!” Early on there’s a point where the main hero, Welkin, stops just to sketch some fish swimming upstream. It’s those tiny moments, like fleshing out the world and its inhabitants that make Valk’s appeal transcend the superficial. We assure you, as much are you’re turned off by the phrase “PS3-exclusive action/strategy role-playing game,” extend it a moment of your time.

The opening movie for a taste of its overall look and feel:

Don’t have a PS3? Xbox 360-exclusive Tales of Vesperia has a lot going for it too, so any potential graphics whores should pop it in just to reacquaint themselves with a world that isn’t comprised of blacks, browns and grays.