We live in a cynical world. I don’t think there’s any hiding that fact; everywhere you turn, cynicism is available in bulk. There’s very little that can impress people these days.
I’ve always been the type of person that I would imagine is a cynic’s worst nightmare. I like everything. I always find something to like; there are very few things in life that I legitimately dislike for any reason. In the realm of reviewing games, I tend to be more favorable and generous with review scores because my philosophy is if a game was able to land a publisher, there’s something it’s doing right. Even if there’s only one thing it does right, at least it did that one, tiny thing.
My reviews tend to feature a lot of “This game is awesome, the graphics are gorgeous, etc.” Looking through my repertoire of reviews, it seems that it doesn’t take much to impress me. That’s simply not true. I’m actually quite picky when it comes to games, and very few things in the past few years have legitimately impressed me and knocked my socks off. Here is one that came out of nowhere and gave me one of the most amazing gaming experiences off my life.
To say that I was impressed by The Bridge is a massive understatement; I haven’t been this positively surprised since the first time I played Braid. It’s clear that The Bridge was made by people who love games. That’s not the sort of feeling I get when I play a Call of Duty game, you know? There, I feel I’m playing a cash cow; a really fun cash cow, but a cash cow nonetheless.
It’s hard to describe what type of puzzle game The Bridge is. The best way I can think of is by comparing it to the classic game Labyrinth. Remember that game, where you had to move a silver ball through wooden box and avoid holes along the way? You had a handle on one side which tilts the box from side to side, and another handle which would tilt the box up and down. By using these handles you would have to guide the ball to the end of the maze.
The Bridge follows a similar concept, but here, you move the maze around the “ball”, not the other way around. It is described as “Isaac Newton meets M.C. Escher,” and I could not have thought of a better way to describe the game. The game plays like the hotel hallway scene form Inception; it’s blisteringly difficult, and loads of fun.
The Bridge was created by a massive team of two people. Ty Taylor and Mark Castaneda created this game by themselves in a true labor of love. What started as a project for Ty’s Master of Science Computer Science degree turned into a massive undertaking to create one of the best indie titles seen in a long while. As far as working with such a small team of two, Ty says:
“I’m not sure I’d have it any other way. I’ve worked on much larger teams, and there’s such an overhead of delegating the work between people to almost make it not worth it for an indie project. For The Bridge, I did 100% of the design and 100% of the programming, and Mario did 100% of the art. There was no overlap whatsoever and we were perfectly efficient. I also am glad I was both the programmer and designer, because there’s no loss due to communication between me designing something and actually implementing it (where such loss would exist if there were two people handling design and programming). I can definitely see my next game being built with the exact same team setup.”
The game itself plays about as simplistically as one can expect. You move your character around with the left stick…and that’s it. You don’t jump, you don’t slide, and you have no attacks. Your character also does not move with a speed and fluidity that you might except from a platformer. He shuffles about at a deliberate pace, which is very fitting considering the character you play seems to be a middle aged man. No backflips here.
When I mentioned earlier that The Bridge had a M.C. Escher quality to it, I wasn’t kidding. Are you familiar with the Escher masterpiece Relativity? Maybe Drawing Hands? That’s the feeling that you get when playing The Bridge. The concept of what’s up and what’s down doesn’t matter anymore because at any given moment, up will be down, down will be up, or neither will be the case as up could very well be left or right as well.
Each level in The Bridge is very simple; you start at a given point and must reach the door to signify the end of the level. Sometimes it’s just getting to the door, other times you need to find a key to unlock the door. Some stages have giant evil balls that must be dealt with, other stages have swirling vortexes that act as black holes. Ty Taylor clearly wants to make your head explode, because on more than one occasion, I said some words that I don’t ever want to hear my daughter repeating.
With each of the triggers on a controller, you can spin the entire world either to the left or right. Gravity still plays a central role here, so as you’re spinning, your character, along with anything else that isn’t fixed, will fall according to the laws of gravity. So if you’re standing on the ground and you start to spin the room, your character will start to slide and eventually fall. Maybe you’re faced with a situation where, you need to move the room around to guide the key to a specific location. Maybe you just need to move a ball out of the way so you don’t get crushed. Maybe you need to pop a key into a vortex so you’re free to move other objects around, and then later step on a switch to stop the vortex and return the key to you.
The experimentation in each level is so glorious.
The best part is, there is a rewind feature. Some puzzle game masochists may balk at the thought of a rewind feature, but for me, it actually made me more adventurous. I was more willing to try crazy ideas since I knew that the penalty would not be as severe as starting an entire stage over. I’m all for an unforgiving experience, but these puzzles are HARD, and constantly having to do them over and over from scratch could potentially lead to many a rage quit. What Ty Taylor has done here is encourage players to take risks. Can’t think of a solution, but have an absolutely crazy, “surely this can’t possibly work” idea stuck in your mind? Give it a whirl!
Other than the brilliant gameplay, perhaps the one thing that is the most noticeable right off the bat is the art style. Everything is hand drawn. Let that sink in for a moment. This isn’t some art design decision to use something like 3ds Max to give the impression of a hand drawn style; this is full on, 100% hand drawn.
“Every single level and every single animation frame is completely hand-drawn in 2D. We wanted it to literally look like an M. C. Escher drawing has come to life, and so we wanted it to be as authentic as possible. Each animation frame for the player, menace, door, etc. is individually drawn to give an authentic shaded feel, and all of the levels (even though they’re in perspective) are actually 2D. We just use several images per level (sometimes dozens) to create the illusions and perspective tricks that we do.”
If you still need convincing that this is one of the most perfect puzzles games out there, then consider the fact that once you complete the game, and alternate version is unlocked, complete with different version of each of the 24 main puzzles, and a new ending.
I don’t tend to give out perfect scores too often. Many games come close, but there’s always a little something that holds them back. You’ll see a lot of 9 and 9.5s, but 10s are far and few in between. The Bridge deserves a perfect score. In the realm of puzzle games, I have rarely encountered something as brilliantly mind-bending as this game. Everything from the unique art style to the positively frustrating puzzles make this a must buy for fans of the genre.