The Bridge - Brutal Backlog

February 18, 2019
Also on: PS4, Xbox One, Switch

Brutal Backlog is a semi-regular feature where the JDR team play through some of the unplayed games on their shelves (both digital and physical), disregarding their age or the technical limitations of their era. Only the very best titles will stand up to scrutiny today.

I’m a sucker for an arty game cover, especially when it’s advertising a mysterious indie puzzle title I’ve never heard of before. So when I spotted The Bridge in a Steam sale three years ago, dripping with monochrome delight from the storefront, I snapped it up... and immediately forgot about it. But after my brain was recently taxed by The Unlikely Legend of Rusty Pup, I decided to keep the mental cogs greased and dig it out of my library to see if my initial instincts were correct.

And if not, well, I’d only wasted a quid.

Two Minutes In

An unnamed protagonist who looks like Krieger from Archer is snoring under a tree. Why? Who is he? I have no idea. However, by using the cursor keys I can tilt the screen left and right, thereby shaking some apples onto his head to wake him. It seems that I can also move him left and right with the A and D keys. This combination of character movement and screen rotation results in a symbiotic control system which is both unique and instinctive to use. This could be interesting.

Things start easy enough. Right?

Ominous oboe music accompanies my trip with him to a house, at which point I’m transported into a twisting environment where the aim appears to be to get Krieger to the door of each level. As puzzle games go, this seems simple enough to begin with but I am under no illusions that things will get trickier.

Ten Minutes In

The simple tutorial didn’t last long. Keys have now been introduced which I need to collect to unlock padlocks on the door. One of the aspects I’ve enjoyed most so far is stemming the urge to make Krieger do everything. On some levels I just need to manipulate the world around him and let gravity take its course, whether that means throwing him around loops or dropping keys onto him. There’s an element of movement required, certainly, but it often takes a back seat to the manipulation of the entire environment.

Each level is self-contained on a single screen, but that doesn't make it easier.

I mentioned the aesthetic was one of the things that drew me into The Bridge and it is certainly a highlight. Every level looks like it’s been sketched in charcoal; indeed, Krieger begins as a series of lines which are filled in at the start of a puzzle, while the Escher-like backgrounds and their notable interactive elements are pointed out to you. The Dutch artist is an obvious inspiration, not just for the visuals but the headache-inducing perspective shifts which are required to proceed. Following the path of a set of stairs or a balcony requires spatial awareness and forward planning which may frustrate some. Personally, I’m loving it.

Forty Minutes In

I’ve finished two chapters of tricky, but not overly taxing levels. There is very little in the way of story, but some hazards make recurring appearances, such as a boulder thing called a Menace which looks a bit like Wizball and causes instant death if it rolls onto you. If you get stuck or die — such as by either plummeting out of the level or causing a key item to get lost in a similar manner — you simply need to hold down the spacebar, Braid-style, to rewind time to a point where you can reassess the situation. However, I’ve found that it’s been more convenient just to restart the level in a lot of cases unless I’ve only made a minor error.

If those dreams involve killer boulders, count me out.

Each time you get squished by the boulder, a shadow of Krieger is left burned onto the environment’s wall like the aftermath of a nuclear blast. There is a disappointing lack of refrigerators, alas, but it does give you a visual signpost of what you’ve tried before. The levels are tightly designed but there are occasional quirks, such as the time one of the keys I needed wedged itself horizontally in a gap and I couldn’t shake it free. My spacebar is going to get some serious use.

Two Hours In

The difficulty has spiked. As well as rolling Menaces around like I’m playing Screwball Scramble, I’m also having to contend with inverted versions of Krieger who can only open doors and collect keys if they are on the same plane as him. Furthermore, there are multiple buttons on some levels which let him flit between the two planes at different junctures, which has caused my brain to melt into a spaghetti-like gloop. I am going for a lie down.

Four Hours In

I have no idea how someone came up with these puzzles. There are probably simple mathematical formulae which helped plan the intricate routes you need to take in order to get specific objects (well, you and the Menace in most cases) into specific positions, all while activating switches at the appropriate time. But I’m not a mathematician and the last two challenges of the fourth and final chapter must have taken me a good hour and a half between them alone. Such is the gulf in difficulty between these last levels and the rest of the game, it seems almost unfair to throw them at a player.

Switching planes adds another layer of complexity.

A new feature introduced at the start of the chapter — a veil which freezes you in place and allows you to rotate the room — offered a slight (ahem) twist on proceedings, but not really enough to wow. Like Samsara, the incremental changes increase the difficulty but not the reward. The satisfaction of getting to a door six times before being offered a fragment of a quote doesn’t really feel worthwhile. That said, The Bridge knows when it’s reached its end and after that horrific last level I’m now walking along the eponymous structure and presumably about to hit the final credits and some sort of satisfying explanation for the whole thing.

Four Hours and Five Minutes In

I was wrong on both counts. The explanation was pretentious nonsense which really didn’t feel like a fair return for my effort, and there are twenty-four more levels.

They are variations on the first set, but in a mirrored universe.

Sod that.

Final Verdict

I’ve enjoyed The Bridge, but not quite as much as I’d hoped. I wouldn’t say the time investment was wasted, the game is just unlikely to stay in my memory for more than a day or so afterwards, and I’m not feeling compelled to go through the whole thing again with a few tweaks as incentive. Puzzle fanatics will get a kick out of it though, I’m sure.

Wastelands' thrilling finale means it's a step up from Rules, but it makes a few missteps in its handling of the brothers’ relationship to get there.
Worth playing? MAYBE - if there's nothing better on your shelf.

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Rob Kershaw

I've been gaming since the days of the Amstrad. Huge RPG fan. Planescape: Torment tops my list, but if a game tells a good story, I'm interested. Absolutely not a fanboy of any specific console or PC - the proof is in the gaming pudding. Also, I like cake.