The Bridge PC
The Bridge is a mind-bending, 2D, physics-based puzzle game that takes inspiration from the works of M. C. Escher and Isaac Newton in its level design. It was created by a team of just two students as a prototype for one of their university project requirements and they decided to continue further development after graduation, finally releasing a full-length indie title. It starts with your character (presumably Escher himself) asleep under a tree and has the player rocking the world back and forth, dropping an apple on his head to awaken him. That’s how you’re taught to use the main game mechanic – tilting the world’s gravity. You must then make your way across a garden by making your character walk forward and tilting the world as necessary to help him up steeper areas. Tilting and walking are really the only powers that you have and you’re taught them in mere seconds – a brilliantly minimalistic approach to teaching the player.
You soon come across a house that acts as a chapter select, although you are required to unlock chapters in order by completing the previous ones. Walking through a door, you enter a room that contains all of that chapter’s puzzle entrances, which also must be completed in order. This can be pretty annoying if you find yourself stuck on a particular puzzle as you aren’t allowed to move on and come back later – you are forced to be extremely linear. Each puzzle has the same, simple objective: exit through the door. This is made difficult by a number of traps and elements built to confuse and disorient the player. The first obstacle is the level design itself, as it is based on the impossible works of M. C. Escher that Echochrome players may find familiar. For example, there are often columns that stretch between two walls that players can either walk around or land on, depending on how they are approached. This has the player often discovering new and interesting ways to move around each platform and promotes an attitude that is unlike usual puzzle games, forcing you to think less about your next move and has you instead just trying everything.
Each chapter introduces a new unique twist that builds up as you progress, with the first introducing menaces and keys required to unlock the exit door. Menaces are creepy-looking spheres that roll about as you shift the gravity, most often crushing the player beneath them. Death is common but it doesn’t restart the puzzle, instead adopting a Braid-like time reversal function that lets you go back as much as you need. Having your character die looks great, as there is a smudge left where you died that looks like the character was rubbed out, sticking to the game’s sketched art style. The second chapter brings with it vortexes. These vortexes are inescapable spheres that warp their surroundings and have a good amount of gravity to suck in objects, including the player. They can sometimes be temporarily stopped via buttons that require the player or a menace to weigh down. Vortexes can occasionally be useful as they can trap objects that would kill the player or stop them from free-falling off the map. Both menaces and vortexes can be dangerous obstacles or useful mechanics, leaving it up to the player to learn how to cleverly manoeuvre around them and use them to their advantage.
The third chapter is where it gets more difficult by including a new inversion mechanic. Symbolised by a Penrose triangle at both sides of a platform, the player can invert the world by flipping the character through to the opposing side, which changes everything. Firstly, this alters the colour of the main character, which becomes more complicated as different colour keys, doors and menaces are included. The player can only collect keys and enter doors of the same colour. Menaces of the same colour follow the same gravitational angle as the protagonist, whereas opposite-coloured menaces and keys have their gravity reversed, shooting them to the top of their enclosures. This makes way for so many different combinations of puzzle elements that it can easily become troublesome to make your way around a stage. The final chapter comes with a veil, a place that can be stood on as the gravity is shifted so the player is not affected. This doesn’t simply have you moving around menaces and dropping keys onto stationary points – the change in gravity made when inside the veil continues once it is exited. This means that menaces that have been moved 90 degrees to the player will continue to be pulled by gravity at 90 degrees respective of the player’s position. When inversions and veils meet, the inverted menaces and keys are also affected by the veil, which has a huge amount of potential scenarios and will have you close to tears with confusion… But nothing feels better when you have the ‘eureka’ moment and finally solve a difficult puzzle.
There are a total of four chapters, each consisting of six stages. After completion, Mirror World is unlocked. By activating a tesseract that appears once all stages are cleared, the world is flipped, unlocking a further four chapters that once again hold six puzzles each, for a total of 48 stages. Personally, I dislike simple mirror worlds and see it as a cheap way to extend a game, but this is different. Each mirror stage is reversed – as expected – but also includes a number of extra obstacles that significantly change how each level is played. The difficulty spike is huge and a single puzzle can easily take 30+ minutes to figure out. It’s good for those who enjoyed the game and are looking for that extra challenge, but it’s probably not suited for those who only just made it through the first set of chapters. The difficulty is masochistic and it drove me insane just looking at some of the levels. Some real thought went into placing each new obstacle and it achieves its goal of extending the game, and then some.
Throughout the stages, there are also hidden wisps to find that each reveal part of a picture. They are well-hidden and I only managed to find two out of seven on my first playthrough. It wasn’t until looking online afterwards that I truly understood how difficult some are to find, with one even requiring the Konami Code to be input. Finding all the wisps doesn’t seem to make any worthwhile changes to the game and it seems they are just there for an extra touch of mystery, further perplexing the player.
The Bridge is in black and white and everything looks as if it has been sketched with a pencil – even the player starts every puzzle by being drawn into the world. It’s a good art style and suits the Escher vibe the gameplay upholds, but the main character can seem quite tame. All he does is walk around sluggishly and fall about. He could have done with some more fluid animations to keep him from looking plain boring. The story is almost non-existent and what little of it there is, is told through a poetic medium of one or two seemingly random sentences at a time, confusing the player with its cryptic nonsense. Having the chapters laid out in a house, with more areas becoming unlockable, and getting the story told through small chunks of mysterious text reminded me heavily of Braid. Although it definitely borrows from other games, it lives up to its name for unique mechanics and experimental level design.
Overall, The Bridge is a fun game that will constantly fascinate and simultaneously baffle players. It’s an experience that could only be achieved by an indie game, as it’s full of creativity and cares more about awing the player than just simply entertaining them. Although it may only appeal to puzzle game fans due to its sharp difficulty spike and confusing mechanics, the style and design of the game can be appreciated by anybody. It can be a fleeting or a drawn-out experience depending on the player, but more than likely if the mirror world is completed, it will take over five hours and may cause insanity if finished in one sitting. There is a lot of potential for even more brain-breaking puzzles and mechanic mix-ups that I hope to see in the future as downloadable content or even a full-fledged sequel. For a game that was created by just two students, it’s an accomplishment to be incredibly proud of and I know that I’ll be gifting a few of my friends this game throughout the year, even if it is only to drive them crazy with confusion too.