Maurits Cornelis Escher was a Dutch artist, born in 1898, who through various mediums created, amongst other things, mesmerising images of the impossible. A waterfall that’s its own source; stairs which lead nowhere and everywhere; straight ladders that curve; all achieved through mastery of geometry and perspective. He also made a wood engraving of two chameleons trapped inside a star, but we’ve all had days like that.
Sir Isaac Newton was an English physicist and mathematician, born in 1642, who is credited with the discovery of Gravity. We’re reliably informed Gravity existed before Newton discovered it, however without him we’d have no idea why our bodies are invariably pulled back to the ground when, say, diving out of a second-storey window.
There are many things these two men don’t have in common but one thing they do is The Bridge. The Bridge marries together Escher-inspired designs with Newton’s laws of gravity to create a beautiful and fiendish puzzler, a game that’s worth a prospective look alone if you’re a fan of the legacy and contribution to humanity these two men left behind. In fact, the game even starts with an apple falling on your head.
Before continuing, a brief summary of what The Bridge actually is instead of giving a rubbish history lesson. First released on the Xbox Live Arcade in 2013, 2015’s version of The Bridge is the same game but with crisper graphics and a boosted Gamerscore. A 2D logic puzzle game that revolves around physics and perspective, The Bridge markets itself as exemplifying ‘games as an art form’, ‘ designed from the ground-up to be both an accessible game and an intellectually stimulating experience.’ The game certainly makes ways to fulfilling these claims, both bold and almost contradictory, but whether or not it outright succeeds is debatable.
The Bridge starts with an apple falling on the character’s head though this isn’t necessarily the beginning: the first thing you’ll see when playing is a black screen accompanied to the sound of snoring. To quickly emphasise, the sound of snoring isn’t our own metaphorical dig but the throaty gasps of the main character slumbering beneath the apple tree. Not being sure of quite what to expect from the game’s puzzles it struck me as a somewhat inauspicious start and, though the conundrums never reduced me to forty-winks, there were instances where bafflement and the game’s hypnotic soundtrack proved to have a soporific effect.
After manipulating gravity using the controller’s left-trigger and right-trigger to forcibly shake the apple from the tree and wake the character up, you walk through black and white scenery to eventually reach your house. The game is broken into four chapters, represented by doors within your home, and each chapter holds six rooms through which the puzzles lie. After you’ve completed those 24 puzzles there’s a twist: you unlock a “Mirrored” world where each of those 24 puzzles can be played through again, their layout a mirror image of their “Standard” versions. It might seem like a lazy trick to artificially lengthen the play-time of the game but “Mirrored” puzzles have new obstacles and require different solutions to those you used the first time round, producing a satisfying twist on the familiar that leaves you happy to keep on playing. That’s so long as you’ve been enjoying the experience up to that point, mind.
It took about an hour and a half to play through the first three chapters and during this time I came across just about all of what to me are the positive and negative points of The Bridge. The design of the puzzle settings in the evocative black and white lithograph representation are wonderful, and never once did the art direction disappoint. Whether or not the game as a sum total is a valid piece of art as it claims (whatever a valid piece of art is), or for that matter if any game is art, stems into a conversation that should be debated separately, but The Bridge definitely has an aesthetic that’s worth calling art.
Yet there were quite a few times during those ninety minutes and beyond when I stared at the marvel on-screen with far more frustration than enthusiasm. The Bridge‘s puzzles usually require solving through logic or physics manipulation, and it’s the latter I found to be most lacking. The very simple controls of the game – using LT and RT to alter the direction of gravity by rotating the screen, the left control stick or D-pad to move the character, and the B button to rewind time – in theory mean that you’ll be able to get a good grasp on what’s required to solve a puzzle quickly, but often that’s not the case. Many of the physics-based solutions, asking you to move the character or one-touch-and-you’re-dead Menace spheres about the screen, have such a fine margin of error that you can think you’ve gone wrong when in reality you’re heading in the right direction.
This is further compounded as the game tells you little about the puzzle components; there are hints as to what’s going on if you know what to look for, such as plant pots and the direction they’re dangling, but all of these you have to work out for yourself. The inclusion of a rewind time function on the B button is a saving grace then, allowing you to experiment without the risk of losing progress due to a forced restart.
That’s also the case with the game’s story, told via quotes at the end of chapters and the odd painting you find dotted about. It’s obscure about what’s actually taking place yet what you do find out is compelling, just don’t expect a thrilling narrative to particularly motivate you past a difficult puzzle.
The puzzles that I personally found most enjoyable were those requiring a logical solution, where you could plan ahead depending on, for example, if you needed to collect a white key to open a door but first you had to figure out how to enter the switch that makes you change to being white. Instead of feeling like I’d fumbled to the answer as with some of the gravity orientated puzzles, it was much more satisfying to succeed.
In terms of how many hours of play you’ll get out of the game, it can vary anywhere from 5 – 10 simply depending on how fast you can solve the puzzles. After the first three chapters my progress slowed enormously; you could easily spend an hour attempting the puzzles that involve a combination of both logic and gravity manipulation. The difficulty can vary from puzzle to puzzle, however, which although striking after spending ten minutes on one puzzle to solve the next in two, does mean the sense of overall progress isn’t stymied after completing a hard puzzle. During this time you’ll have the music softly playing in the background, at times adding tension and mystery, at other times adding to the slightly soporific effect when you’re brain’s ran out of energy and you’re not sure which way is up anymore.
As for replayability, once you’ve completed the puzzles there isn’t much to call you back other than a desire to improve on your previous performance by completing things quicker. There are some testing achievements to attempt, like the puzzles some fun and some infuriating, but a balance that works well overall. Take note that the Gamerscore rewards don’t end in 0’s or 5’s, if that’s the sort of thing that annoys you. Finally, there are collectibles in the form of Wisps, but the path to finding some of these is so improbable as to make their collection almost impossible without a guide. For instance, one will require you to rewind time at the very start of a puzzle for a whole minute, after which you’re catapulted into the sky and then need to rotate the screen so the character falls at the correct angle to collect it.
To sum up, The Bridge is beautiful to look at, confusing to think about, and at times tiresome to play. At £7.99, if you’re a casual puzzle fan I’d suggest you might wish to look elsewhere, however if you enjoy working a game’s mechanics out for yourself, thinking ahead and have patience to find the right solution when everything you do seems wrong, The Bridge is a puzzle fiend’s dream.
For a look at a puzzle taken from Chapter III of the game, press play below.
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For those who’s hobbies include cryptic crosswords, rubix cubes and getting giddy from being lost in a maze, The Bridge will pull you right in.