Sometimes I wish that Braid had never been created. Don’t get me wrong, I love the game and I still think that it’s one of the finest puzzlers to ever be released, but the jolt it gave the puzzle genre has led to more than a few underwhelming clones that are nowhere near as fun or innovative. It feels like most indie games since then have been puzzle-platformers and only a handful have stood out as being both unique and enjoyable to play. Unfortunately, The Bridge does not fall into that category.
In the game, players are tasked with guiding an unnamed man through various stages that draw inspiration from M.C. Escher’s work, meaning each level is more confusing and twisted than the last. Using Escher’s work as the template for each stage is ingenious, and it creates endless possibilities for level design. While the levels presented are fairly perplexing, they don’t quite use their full potential, and the fact that there are so few of them makes it even more disappointing.
Each level finds you guiding the protagonist towards a door, which can be reached by manipulating the stage’s orientation. Using either the bumpers or the triggers, the levels can be turned left or right, making it possible to get to the end. There’s also the ability to rewind time, meaning mistakes can be made often without penalty. Additionally, a few mechanics are introduced throughout the stages and must be used to get past the increasingly difficult puzzles, such as vortexes that hold you in place or panels that let you switch orientation. Giant balls simply called “The Menace” roll around some stages too, causing instant death if you touch them.
This can be problematic because the character (let’s call him Bruno for lack of a name) controls like he has an inner-ear problem. Bruno only has one walking speed: painfully slow. He also refuses to jump, although he never dies from falling from too high of a height. His abilities are extremely limited, and it hinders the pacing of The Bridge in conjunction with other gameplay issues.
The most glaring of these issues is the amount of backtracking required in each level. Especially in later levels, players have to find keys to unlock a door and then have to be a certain color to pass through the exit. This leads to walking laps through levels over and over again, padding the time it takes to beat each one. As the levels become more and more convoluted, you’ll find yourself walking in circles more often.
Many of the elements introduced in the game are added without much of an explanation, but The Bridge manages to show you how to use them organically. One trick towards the end, though, is difficult to understand and doesn’t make much sense if you’re not paying extremely close attention. The Menace also come in handy for solving some puzzles, even if they tend to obey their own rules of gravity most of the time.
The above-mentioned concern leads to one of the most infuriating parts of the game: the rules. Simply put, there really aren’t any. In some stages, The Menace will just roll how it pleases, breaking all laws of gravity and making it extremely difficult to solve some later levels. At first it’s kind of fun to see a game play so loosely with physics, but when it starts to get in the way of progressing through the story it becomes much less endearing.
Speaking of story, there really isn’t much of one. There’s some text to be found after each level, but it’s just as vague as any other indie game out there. Is vagueness supposed to indicate that a story is too intricate to tell through traditional means? I’m not sure, but there’s not much to be found within The Bridge.
A few of the later levels work on “adventure game logic,” meaning the solutions are just ridiculous. As short as The Bridge is, you’ll spend about 75% of your play time attempting to figure out and complete the final levels. As if that weren’t enough, after the first 24 levels, the world is mirrored and you get to play through the levels again, albeit mirrored versions with more convoluted solutions than before. It’s an interesting idea, but recycling the environments instead of creating new ones makes the last half of the experience boring and repetitive.
I mentioned Braid earlier, and the comparison is definitely valid here. The art style is heavily inspired by that game, as is the ability to rewind time, the vague story (although The Bridge doesn’t have a magnificent twist), and using Bruno’s house as a hub for stages that are broken into multiple parts that can be entered by doors within an empty room. It’s fine to take inspiration and build off of it, but to blatantly rip off much of that inspiration is just lazy.
Despite the problems that riddle The Bridge, there is some fun to be had. I tend to review puzzle games from the perspective of the average gamer, meaning I’m not a genius when it comes to the genre, but I can make it to the end given enough time. Although the difficulty ramps up exponentially towards the end, the first few hours of the game are definitely enjoyable. The sense of accomplishment from solving puzzles is always a plus, and I would often stop and enjoy the work put into the breathtaking levels.
However, The Bridge is aimed squarely at hardcore puzzle junkies, making it an experience that average gamers should probably avoid. The levels are gorgeous and the gameplay is adequate in the beginning, but by the end frustration will be more common than fun.
If you can’t get enough of puzzle games and tend to solve them the day they’re released, then The Bridge is for you. It’s not the best of its kind, and it’s definitely not the most original, but it’s adequate and fairly priced to provide a few hours of brain teasers. However, if you’re an average gamer and only have a passing interest in the genre, then play through Braid again, because The Bridge is nothing but a lackluster clone.
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game, which was provided to us.
While The Bridge manages to craft a beautifully puzzling environment, it's hampered by the fact that it's not that much fun to play.