The Bridge

The Bridge

Written by Randy Kalista on 12/4/2013 for 360  
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Stepping into the penny loafers and tweed suit of an aged sir, The Bridge’s silent, unnamed protagonist is a dignified and thoughtful fellow. In the opening scene he sleeps under a tree. An apple falls and hits him on the head, a la Isaac Newton. The man stands up and discovers he can now manipulate gravity, or rather, he can tilt the earth in any direction he wants. Gravity, so far, still obeys its most basic laws, but our hero starts turning uphills into downhills, walls into slopes, ceilings into floors.

He is hand drawn into the beginning of every 2D puzzle, and every puzzle is visually inspired by the drawings of mid 20th century artist, M.C. Escher. Escher is most famous for his surrealist drawings featuring impossible architecture. His Relativity piece was made up of staircases heading in every possible direction, with people ascending and descending the stairs with no central point of gravity. Another famous work of Escher’s is Waterfall, which shows water travelling up an aqueduct and over a waterfall and seemingly back up the aqueduct in perpetual motion.

These are the sketchy, psychologically jacked inspirations for The Bridge’s puzzles. Not only can the protagonist spin puzzles clockwise and counterclockwise, but he can traverse front and back over planes that aren’t necessarily logical in their construction. The puzzles adhere to enough rules, however, to keep the guessing game under control. In other words, the puzzles are fair, despite the fantastical twists and turns of each drawing.

The Bridge slowly introduces new elements into each chapter. There are the rolling menaces that literally erase the main character from the screen. There are the impossible triangles -- another Escher contribution -- that flip puzzles’ gravity from push to pull. There are the shower curtains (?) that pause the hero's movements but keep the rest of the world spinning around him. Then there’s the plain old problem of sliding right off the surface and falling off the screen.

The point A and point B of every puzzle is straightforward: reach the exit. Most times there's a key to collect to unlock the door. Sometimes there are multiple keys to unlock multiple locks on a single door. Grab the key -- which may be sliding along the sloping ground or dangling from a gravity-succumbing chain -- and it soars across the puzzle to the door and, click-clack, turns the lock.

You can reverse time. There’s no limit to the amount of time you can reverse. You can theoretically play a single puzzle for an indefinite length of time, then hit the rewind button until you’re back to the starting point. This reverse-time mechanic is similar to the one in 2008’s Braid, but here, in The Bridge, reversing time isn’t used to solve puzzles, but merely to save you. Save you from death, or from a bad move. It doesn’t matter. It’s more like a racing game’s rewind button rather than Braid’s, actually.

The Bridge is just about as indie as it gets. It was built by a three-man team: Ty Taylor handled the puzzle programming, Mario Castenada wielded his mighty Escher-esque pencil, and Kevin MacLeod lent a sparse, competent musical score to slide under and behind the lonely, sometimes-haunted puzzlescapes.

The Bridge’s story is intentionally obtuse, unfolding slowly in a non-grandiose fashion through small framed paintings and post-level text projecting on the wall above classically sculptured busts. It’s a story of partnership, discovery, loss, and loneliness, but sidesteps much of the arty and exaggerated bluster some indie games fall prey to.

Even if you’re an average puzzle game player (and I certainly consider myself below average) then there are plenty of times when puzzle solutions will simply pop into your brain, and times when solutions will elude you to no end. More than once, I had to do the walk-away-from-the-game-for-ten-minutes-and-then-come-back-with-the-solution thing. Sometimes you’ll need to take a simple breather like that. Other times, it’s great to have a second set of eyes on the screen, helping you solve puzzles. That’s what I did. I sat my wife, who’s decidedly a non-gamer, on the couch next to me for certain stretches. Her inputs, more often than not, helped get the key into the lock. Not to say she’s smarter than me (though she is), and not to say I suck at puzzle games (though I do), but sometimes having one more brain firing synapses at the same puzzles can expedite a solution.

I didn’t solve every puzzle consciously. Sometimes it just happened as my eyes glazed over and I spun the room in circles until, miraculously, the puzzle solution fell into place. It happened sometimes. Other times, I had to draw upon all my mental faculties just to draw the line I’d walk from one end of the architecture to the other. Again, The Bridge is painstakingly crafted to gradually ramp up the difficulty level, and then lower it back down as you step into each new chapter and are introduced to each new puzzle-solving mechanic.

The backdrops silently contribute to the story as well, though more in the sense of conveying mood rather than plot. There are Victorian backdrops and naturalistic ones. There are mountainous, mathematical terraces offset by Alice in Wonderland-like breakups of reality. And all the while, the solo piano plunks dreamy, spaced-apart melodies into your ear.

It’s only too bad The Bridge doesn’t try to tell a more poignant story. The story thread is vague and left open to interpretation, going easy on the drama, leaving alone comedy, and manufacturing a dry, waterless environment for the part of our mind that hungers for storytelling. It can be hard to return to The Bridge for pure puzzling's sake, because the dramatic tension is built into the puzzles and not into the story, making the reward of solving puzzles feel blunt.

Otherwise, The Bridge is immaculate in its craftsmanship, fair in its rule-building, gorgeous in its presentation, and unique enough -- relatively speaking -- in its 360-degree approach to puzzle solving. That’s not saying hitting the gravity button hasn’t been done before, but it’s commitment from beginning to end deserves commendation, and its execution, looking at each room from every angle, is done with an engineer’s eye for detail.

2D platformers are a dime a dozen, and 2D puzzlers aren’t far behind. But The Bridge takes a unique, focused approach and sees it through from every angle. The Newtonian inspiration is, on occasion, a mathematical and engineering marvel; the M.C. Escher aesthetic is sometimes scintillating in its brilliance; and the combination of the two is so seamlessly inspired it’s a wonder I haven’t seen it before now. A thin and purposely slow-moving story might very well be the only drawback to crossing The Bridge.

Rating: 8 Good

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

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About Author

Randy gravitates toward anything open world, open ended, or open to interpretation. He prefers strategy over shooting, introspection over action, and stealth and survival over looting and grinding. He's been a gamer since 1982, and writing critically about video games for over 15 years. A few of his favorites are Skyrim, Elite Dangerous, and Red Dead Redemption. He lives with his wife and daughter in Oregon.

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