When it comes to ticking all the indie boxes, someone at intriguingly named developer Quantum Astrophysicists Guild seems to have had a long old list to run through when it comes to The Bridge. From furnishing the game with a black and white pencil sketch art style, via allowing you to fast-rewind time with a simple button press, through to a haunting and unimposing soundtrack that is as pretty as it is despairing - this one has all the core components laid out. It even features obscure and apparently profound phrases as a reward for completion of each level.
The only problem is that this purposeful pretentiousness falls a little flat at times, and flatness is not supposed to be part of the game’s nature. The Bridge puts you in charge of a fellow who is just trying to explore his own house. Through each main room in the property, lies a corridor. Each corridor contains a series of doors. Behind each of those doors lies a single-screen puzzle inspired by the perspective-based works of Dutch graphic artist M.C. Esher.
Each puzzle has a relatively simple goal: Get to the exit door without falling off the structure of the level, letting a key component fall off the structure of the level, or being flattened or killed by an enemy which is shaped like a ball. The main character can walk left and right of course, but can’t jump, so you need to rotate the world around him (using the trigger buttons) in order to allow him to navigate his way through the course. As you do this, gravity takes its toll. A required key on a chain mocks you by swinging out of reach as you tilt the world to be able to get anywhere near it. A switch becomes unusable thanks to the one thing that could activate it falling into in a vortex and being locked there. A sliding barrier falls into place and stops you from getting to where you want to go. Certain levels contain “veils”, which freeze the character in place whilst you rotate the world around him as you see fit. Others contain inversion points which, when activated, turn you into an inverted version of yourself and spin the world around so that you’re working with the exact opposite gravitational pull that you were as the standard character. Objects that are dark react to the gravity that the original character was fighting against. Objects that are white now react to the same gravity that you do. It’s all very clever when you think about it, and it’s hard not to impress yourself with your obvious mental acuity as you progress through the levels.
That is until you get properly stuck and can’t see how you can possibly get the first key as the normal guy, hit an inversion point to turn into the inverted character, reach the second key, spin the world so the white ball hits the switch to turn off the vortex without you falling off into nothing, hit an inversion point to turn back into the regular fellow, and then get to the door without being crushed by the dark ball that's now rolling around the level. You’ll stare. You’ll wrack your brain. You’ll die a million deaths and rewind, rewind, rewind until your thumb is worn out. And then you’ll start trying things at random.
Disappointingly, this will usually work sooner or later, and that’s where The Bridge starts to crumble. A puzzle game of this nature should require you to think and plan what your next move is, otherwise it isn't rewarding at all when you finally succeed. As we say, that feeling is around and in full effect during the early going, but the second you reach that point where you can’t immediately see what you need to do, it disappears thanks to you eventually giving up and hoping that Lady Luck is smiling down. More often than not, she isn't just smiling. She’s beaming widely and her shoulders are shaking from holding in a laugh that threatens to knock down walls. “Fine. The guy can’t walk to the right without falling off. OK. We’ll send him left and spin the world right instead…oh…level complete.”
For this to occur once would be something of a let-down. For it to occur on seemingly every level is a bit of a killer. Its akin to someone letting you take a golf swing in the rough over and over again without counting a shot every time you miss the ball. You still eventually play the shot, but is it particularly rewarding knowing that you've been adjudged to have scored a bogey, when you should have registered twelve over?
The Bridge does a lot of things right. The aesthetics are charming, for starters. The concept is a good one, too. The problem is simply that once you realise that you can pretty much fluke your way through the tough levels, there’s not a great deal of it to be had. You’ll have seen all that The Bridge has to offer in a couple of hours and there are a fair few titles available for the same price on XBLA that will either hold your attention for a heck of a lot longer than that, or provide more entertainment in the same timespan.
Nice review, Ken! Slightly interested in checking this out when I free up a bit. I dig the visual presentation.
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