Verisimilitude is such an easy thing. While the talent taken to create something in the image of our own world- or a rearranged version of it- and make such a striking simulacra that it’s hard to tell the difference between real and illusion is an admirable one, making something that’s never been seen before is a much more challenging task that opens doors to new worlds. Visually, Ty Taylor and Mario Castaneda’s The Bridge takes is a exercise of this latter skill, drawing heavily from M.C. Escher’s impossible architecture that doesn’t just shift around the elements of our reality, but moves them forward and back towards the viewer simultaneously. But more than just a treat for the eyes that creates an altered realm of pencil smears and lines, The Bridge is a puzzle game that asks players to explore that space.
The narrative premise of the game is scant in the exact way it should be. Players are put in the role of a professorial, bearded gentleman who is exploring the many doors of his house that lead to individual puzzle levels. What little story is there is explained through busts of other academic looking men when the character passes them and pop-up text appears on the screen. The enigmatic words lean more towards description where players are asked to infer instead of being spoon fed exposition. Both the tone and delivery of the game’s story is reminiscent of another 2D puzzle game with a hand made art direction: Braid; and the similarities don’t stop there.
The Bridge is broken up into self-contained stages. As mentioned before, each one is heavily inspired by M.C. Escher’s impossible architecture pieces that can be more easily illustrated by looking at this review’s included screenshots. The goal of each level is always the same: get the unnamed scholar to unlock the door, then exit through that door. While it sounds simple enough, The Bridge’s design philosophy is of what I call the ‘reverse funnel school’, where player abilities remain the same but the world’s complexity broadens, engaging the static abilities in new ways. Player skills are limited to moving their characters left and right with one set of keys, and rotating the world with another. This leads to shifting the world around and creating situations where what once was a pillar in the foreground now functions as the ground. Gravity remains constant for the scholar, which makes things complicated as the game introduces new elements.
An early one is an anthropomorphic sphere whose face indicates mad delight and is appropriately labeled ‘The Menace’ as any contact between it and the scholar results in the latter’s immediate demise. It rolls around the world according to whatever gravitational rules it’s following, forcing the player to consider not only how they will maneuver around, but how their maneuvering will affect the Menace. The keys that the player has to pick up to open the doors also move around the level, compounding the demand on planning in a satisfying, challenging way. Puzzles become exponentially more complex as the game goes on, when players are made to change color to pick up different colored keys, or when gravity isn’t uniform for all things in a level and suddenly deciphering how things are reacting is its own challenge. Thankfully, The Bridge ingeniously gives players the ability to rewind, which doesn’t work as a game mechanic, but allows for incremental reversal of mistakes that save gamers from having to reset the entirety of a byzantine puzzle.
I found the puzzles in the game a delight. Though the stages are quite small, navigating each one is such a joy that they could make up a game all by itself where an intentionally baffling world is the main attraction. The space-exploration-based premise of each puzzle is one that doesn’t receive the attention it deserves in game design (save for a few standout titles like Portal and Antichamber) and just on novelty alone the technique is appreciated. The game’s subtle visual cues that reveal each puzzle’s rules may be easy to miss, but have a simple, elegant, language to them that is easily readable when interpreted once. It’s difficult to discuss the difficulty of puzzles, as different people’s experiences and perspectives vary widely enough that one person’s mind-teaser is another’s bender. That said, The Bridge’s levels have been some of the most challenging ones I’ve experienced in games- and it’s most appreciated.
The Bridge is not without its problems though. If the game does adhere to the reverse-funnel school of design, it’s a funnel with convexes and concaves that create a stuttered experience. My complaint lies mostly in how quickly the game changes player expectations of control precision. While oftentimes I was allowed to move around and spin at my leisure, puzzles would sometimes suddenly demand either large movements or very tiny ones. In both cases, I felt as if the world was asking me to play more with its physics instead of its space. It was an unnerving sensation, especially considering that the game doesn’t present a path where the dynamic ramps up and teaches the player how to engage with it. The problem is even more egregious when the game mirrors all the levels and stacks on more of these physics dependent actions. Though not a big complaint, the uneven rhythm of the game is a directionless syncopation that adds cacophony to what would otherwise be wonderfully harmonious game.
Aesthetically, The Bridge has a lot going for it.The story is sparse, the art direction is unique and the game manages to use the visual as an integral part of its mechanics. The puzzles are great and tough enough to keep players occupied for a few hours (my own playthrough lasted about 5). While the sudden demand in player precision stains the whole experience, The Bridge is still a neat enough experience for those who enjoy spatial puzzle games to check out.
+ Fantastic visual art
+ Challenging puzzles
+ Quality Music
– Player control demands don’t flow with game
8 and 8.5 represent a game that is a good experience overall. While there may be some issues that prevent it from being fantastic, these scores are for games that you feel would easily be worth a purchase.
The Bridge was published by The Quantum Astrophysicists Guild and developed by Ty Taylor and Mario Castaneda. It was released on Februart 22nd, 2013, at the MSRP of $14.99. A copy was provided by the publisher to RipTen for the purposes of review.