There are three kinds of puzzle games in this world: ones that make you feel smart, ones that make you feel dumb before ultimately making you feel smart, and ones that make you want to smash your controller. With the Xbox LIVE Arcade release of The Bridge
, Ty Taylor and Mario Castaneda's game of PC origins, we finally get the chance to see if this game will make you feel more like Kierkegaard, Kardashian, or KHAAAN!
On the most basic front, The Bridge
takes heavy gameplay and aesthetic cues from Braid
. The controls are simple, the left thumbstick controls the character's movement and the "A" button opens doors or triggers plates. The two controls/mechanics that strive to make The Bridge
unique, however, are the "B" button which controls time reversal and the triggers which "Rotate Gravity" and make the level spin either clockwise or counter-clockwise.
The game does a good job of slowly layering on challenges, with the first set of levels introducing the basic mechanics of world turning, the need to acquire keys to unlock doors, "Menace Balls" (which roll around the level as you turn it and will soon become the bane of your existence), and the concept of falling out of/off of a level and/or losing the key, both of which trigger an instant fail. Failure is only temporary, though, as time can always be rewound by using the "B" button. If you're more of the type who prefers to start things over from scratch instead of rewinding, you may also reset the puzzle at any time from the pause menu. In many ways, the first set of levels do a great job of making you feel smart; the puzzles are relatively intuitive and require a minimum of mental dexterity to accomplish.
The second set of levels introduce more gameplay mechanics like vortexes which create miniature black holes and pressure plates which do various things like turning on and off vortexes and unlocking the final exit door. The vortices are especially devious, but can be manipulated through clever use of the rewind mechanic, which is essential for popping one specific achievement. The pressure plates add another element of challenge as they will occasionally require you to manipulate "Menace Balls" to stay on them while also finding ways to keys and exits. As the second set of levels progress in difficulty, the puzzles of The Bridge
begin to traipse the line between intuitive and head-scratching.
As you can imagine, the third set of levels introduces another new mechanic: inversion plates. By stepping behind these plates and activating them, the world will invert, flipping upside down, and your character will change from grey to white (which also dictates whether or not you can pass through the exit door). Furthermore, special fields will cause gravity to behave differently on objects such as keys and "Menace Balls". Finally, the level design takes another step up and becomes something that would make M.C. Escher blush. The labyrinthine designs will put knots in your brain and give you pause as you struggle to keep up.
Up to this point, The Bridge
was a puzzle game that bounced between making you feel smart and making you work for it. Upon entering the fourth set of levels, however, that line is crossed and replacement controllers may become necessary. In this "final" set of levels, "The Veil" is introduced. "The Veil" is a special spot in each level that causes the level to invert while holding your character still. While your character is inside "The Veil", you're able to rotate the level, but be immune to the effects of the rotation. This new addition, layered on top of the previously-mentioned mechanics, presents the moment where your inner Algernon will begin to show cracks and break down, and the game transitions from a fun dose of mental challenge into an exercise that will have you reaching for the Excedrin and possibly the comfort of a bottle. In my playthrough, it took me longer to finish the fourth set of levels than it did to complete the first three combined
Eagle-eyed readers might notice the mighty use of "quotes" around "final" in the last paragraph. This is because after passing through the arduous tests of the first four levels, you unlock the "Mirrored World" which gives the four sets of levels new life and new challenges. If you're the type of person who's just dying for another dose of mental punishment
exercise, they're all yours.
As a game with positively simple inputs, one would expect the controls to be tight and responsive. Unfortunately they are not. The central and important use of the rewind button feels incredibly unreliable and, at times, completely unresponsive. This makes the brain-cramping exercise all the more infuriating in later levels when you're not exactly sure what you're doing wrong, how to do things right, and why in the Sam-hill is this button not working!?
As was the case with Braid
, the aesthetics of The Bridge
are where it really shines. The pencil-drawn art style is visually striking and the wind, strings, and light percussion soundtrack leaves a haunting (and at times soothing) impression as you grind through the levels.
On the achievement front, The Bridge
will graciously reward you for your efforts and mental anguish. A full ten of the game's twenty achievements are unlocked by beating the "Standard" and "Mirrored" worlds, with the other ten being wrapped into level-specific challenges and acquiring all of the game's collectibles. To make matters better, each level is easily accessible from the main hub once it has been initially solved, making the process of doubling back to clean up achievements a breeze. For those who start the game but wish to tap out on the mental challenge like Roberto Durán saying, "No Mas" to Sugar Ray Leonard, the AMAZING TA community has already provided solutions to all of the essential achievements and the game's earlier presence on the PC platform has afforded a bevy of YouTube solutions, so completionists should be able to bag the full 400G without too much of an issue.
Puzzle games are always a tricky conundrum, they need to be challenging but not too challenging
. They need to empower you and make you feel smart, but you also need to earn it. While The Bridge
shines with great presentation and a novel concept, there is often too much frustration (especially in the "Mirrored" levels) and not enough payoff as later levels often require twitch reflexes and precise, miniscule adjustments to succeed. While hardcore puzzle game fans may enjoy this grueling exercise in mental gymnastics, The Bridge
is worth a pass for most gamers.The reviewer spent approximately six hours grinding through the game, beating all of the "Standard" levels and taking a good run at the "Mirrored" ones. Through the course of his time, he popped eleven of the game's twenty achievements, scared his dog fifteen times from frustrated outbursts, and invested stock in headache medicine. The copy of this game was provided for the purpose of the review.