Preview: The Bridge

Most indie gamers can remember when they first played Braid. The 2008 game kind of put indie development on the mainstream map, and it established to the fringe gamer that there was more than just mainstream, big budget entertainment out there. It wasn’t all blood and guts.

The game also spawned a tidal wave of quirky puzzle platformers with obscure stories.

The Bridge fits that category to a “T”. It owes a lot to Braid, so much so that despite my best efforts I’ve spent 100 words describing that game’s impact. The Bridge is quirky, it’s got a distinct art style, and it has puzzles that will make you feel really clever or light your brain on fire, in equal part.

The currency of the puzzle game is making the player feel smart, and The Bridge excels at making you feel clever. At it’s core, the central mechanic is rotating the world around your charming professor protagonist so that he as well as other objects slip and slide around, enabling you to get to the door to the next level. Simple stuff, but tricky, and above all elegant. The game then adds to this gravity power the ability to invert the world at certain locations, moving you to the other side of platforms. This is tricky, and a devil to explain, but the solutions remain neat and, above all else, make you feel clever.

This game, in two words, is those: elegant and clever. The art style is stately, like black and white science, like a book by noted physicist/author Alan Lightman. The game feels experimental and a little playful and charming in a serious way. It’s trying to tell a story as well, but like Braid it doesn’t shove it into your face; if you wish, you can just appreciate the ambiance the words and art come together to create. The beauty of it. It’s a game that lets you think, but doesn’t force you to, which is the mark of a good experimental platformer.

It doesn’t overstay its welcome, either. The game has a scant twelve levels, an ending, and then relaunches with each level inverted, made more difficult. And by more difficult, I mean impossible for my poor brain to handle. No bones about it, this is a tough experience. Unfortunately, sometimes it’s tough for the wrong reasons. Sometimes it’s tough because things don’t work quite how you expect them to. Gravity will often go opposite how it should for no easily decipherable reason. It’s not a major flaw, and you get used to it, but the other hallmark of a stellar puzzle game is consistency: everything working quite how you think. The Bridge is a sometimes inconsistent world.

Let this not discourage you, on release. The Bridge is one of the cleverest games I’ve ever played. It’s perhaps too smart for its own good, but if you are smarter than I am, it’s definitely for you to check out here. Even if you aren’t, come for the ambiance and the fantastic art style; I doubt you’ll be disappointed. The game isn’t out yet, but you can check out the demo here until Halloween; after that, you’re stuck waiting for the game to be for sale through a mystery distributor!