16 Oct 2011

REVIEW: The Bridge

The Bridge is a bit of a looker. That was my initial thought as I was prompted to play an active part in the introduction of our slumbering protagonist. The hand drawn visual style is an obvious look for an indie platformer, but it works beautifully here. On instruction, I shook the world around our unnamed hero, presumed to be M.C. Escher, and a piece of fruit soon fell from the tree bows above his head. It was a rude awakening, and an instant introduction to the game’s foremost mechanic - the perception and control of gravity.

Making references to previous titles as points of comparison can be both lazy and insulting, but I do feel it important in recommending this title. Braid, And Yet It Moves and Limbo are the most obvious direct links to how this game looks, plays and feels thematically. The artistic design and the smarts required to solve some of the obstacles you'll come across exhibit echoes of all of these games. And The Bridge’s world maintains the same dreamlike quality that hints at something sinister beneath the cutesy surface.

You might not know exactly what it is you're getting yourself into when you make your first foray into the highly illogical environments presented by the game, but I'm going to be intentionally light on the specifics of how puzzles are solved. A good deal of the thrill in beating The Bridge is learning its rules for yourself and then going about bending them to your own advantage.

An Xbox controller is recommended, but not essential. The game tempers its pacing enough that rash moves are rarely required and if you're losing repeatedly because of pixel perfect jumps or close encounters with grinning boulders then you're likely being too aggressive in your puzzle solving.

And let’s remind ourselves of the aforementioned influence here - the work of M. C. Escher. That needs little explanation and from the screenshots you’ll see on this page, I defy you not to be itching to involve yourself in this world, to experiment with its limitations. Here, up becomes down, left becomes right, down becomes both left and right and... well, you get the picture, but in spite of how confusing this could be to someone who just wants the ground to stay wherever the hell they left it, the game does a great job of not becoming a confusing mess of directional woes. It manages to avoid being obtuse to the point of frustration.

There's little narrative to speak of so there's no ultimate goal from the outset, but the world is fully realised in that it provides an evolving hub from which to visit the different levels of play and you’ll realise as you explore and increase your abilities just how to make the most out of your surroundings. You’re not out to rescue the princess here, you exist to progress.

That's not to say that there isn't an overriding theme. The character you play is inherently spectral; he is drawn into the lands he explores, and the periodic messages that drift onto the screen provide a kind of poetic justification of your actions within the world.

Playing through the main body of the game will likely not take you longer than a couple of hours, but there are a couple of additions to keep you coming back once you've hit the end screen. Firstly, there are achievements to be had, if you happen to like having your successes verified by pop-up text. Secondly, once completed, you'll gain access to beefier versions of the original mind-bending levels. Believe me when I say that these will keep you scratching your head for a good deal longer, although I felt they didn’t quite match the purity of the original experience.

The Bridge is good, solid indie fare. Having an eye for the abstract and a brain for the patently absurd is not essential, but you will need a modicum of patience if you're new to this kind of puzzler. That said, it's forgiving enough for those who just wish to relax into a game which does so many things right in portraying exactly what it is that makes Escher's work so incredibly absorbing.

The Bridge has not yet been given a solid release date, but is likely to hit the PC early next year. Pricing has also not yet been confirmed.

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