Ty Tyler and Mario Castaneda’s The Bridge looks to get our heads spinning with its rotating worlds and M.C. Escher-like structures. Is it a puzzler worth trying to comprehend, though?
The Bridge begins with a man asleep under a tree. Unable to move him because he’s in his doze, you soon discover you can control the world around him by tipping the ground back and forth until an apple drops from the tree. Do this some more and eventually an apple will land on his head and he will wake up. From the start, then, The Bridge evokes the foundation myths of Newtonian physics. But that’s only the first reference point as you head into his house, enter a door inside and into Maurits Cornelis Escher’s world of impossible objects, where the game begins proper.
In the build up to its release, The Bridge has been described as not only a puzzle game but also a puzzle-platformer. The world created by Mario Castaneda’s beautiful, intricate, black and white artwork is highly distinctive, and evokes Braid with its semi-cartoonish pictorial style, the use of doors at the title menu and the oversized locks and keys. These influences aren’t limited to just the artwork, either. The Bridge allows you to reverse time whenever you make a mistake, get yourself killed or fall off a platform.
The one aspect that distinguishes it from Braid – and also the thing that, I would suggest, means it can’t be considered a puzzle-plaformer - is the fact that you can’t jump. Your options are limited to walking from side to side or rotating the world in order to make your way to each level’s exit. You can also interact with objects occasionally, but this is almost entirely limited to the doors when you have completed a level or want to enter a new one.
There are enemies too: dark, circular “menaces” (again not entirely dissimilar to the enemies in Braid). But because you can’t jump, there’s no possibility of any kind of offensive move, so, if you come into contact with one of these, it’s game over (well, it’s not really, you just have to reverse time for a couple of seconds).
So, in a sense, The Bridge is really a pure puzzle game in which your only task is to master rotating and manipulating the gravity in each stage in order to avoid obstacles and navigate your way to the door at the end. Given that the platforming element had largely been removed, I was expecting the puzzles themselves to be more logic based. I hoped they would require you to think totally outside the box to understand them, as Antichamber did. Often, though, it was just a question of working out where the tipping points were and tapping a key very softly to steadily rotate the world and navigate through.
As such, many of the puzzles felt more like ball-bearing games rather than actual logic puzzles, something that seemed at odds with the elegant visual design. Earlier levels could have been far more challenging and mind-bending if the MC Escher-inspired physical impossibilities had been introduced sooner. As it stands, the difficulty gradient is rather sporadic, with several easy levels often placed in a row to hammer home one particular mechanic before the sudden introduction of something complex.
With its refusal to play like a puzzle-platformer too, some challenges can get a little frustrating. Your character has a tendency to be helpless in certain situations, as he agonisingly slides off a platform you’ve subtly rotated and into his death. You either have to reset the puzzle or use the turn back time feature to bring him back, neither of which feel entirely satisfactory as ways out of a game design dead end.
Yet, Castaneda’s hand-drawn artwork is so stunning you can almost overlook the games’ flaws for it alone. The Bridge has a all the ingredients to be a classic if it had just been a little better paced and the absence of traditional platforming mechanics wasn’t so irritating when trying progress at times. It certainly isn’t a bad game by any means, but its frustrating because you can see there’s a great puzzler in there struggling to be visualised.
The Bridge, by The Quantum Astrophysicists Guild and Ty Tyler and Mario Castaneda, is available now for PC.