Anyone who’s ever attempted something creative understands just how frustrating it can be to find the right words, sketch the perfect circle, or hit a precise chord. The Bridge unwisely attempts to communicate this experience to a broader audience, for while it’s a beautiful-looking game with a strong sense of its own artistic purpose, it too often merely conveys a sense of utter frustration to those who simply want to play a puzzle game.
As in Braid, you’re dropped, without introduction or instruction, beside a house; within each door are several rooms, each with their own challenges. You’ll always have to first collect a number of keys to unlock the exit, but while the game is titled The Bridge, the path is never as simple as going from A to B. Some of these tasks are delightfully devious, especially as each new mechanic is introduced: You can rotate your environment, later on you’ll be able to invert yourself through special floors, and finally you’ll discover gravity-free veils in which all objects other than your character can be made to slide about. But the majority of them are merely irritating, like taking apart one of those magic sets of interlocking rings or staring at one of those Magic Eye autostereograms. You know what you need to do; it’s finding the time or building up the dexterity that’s the hard part. Such is the case with The Bridge: Your character moves (or rotates) so slowly that even though each scene is only one optical illusion long, maneuvering through its so-called “impossible architecture” (e.g., columns that are both in front of and behind one another) can take forever. Even the rewind feature, which allows you to try again after falling off a sharp edge or being crushed by a grinning, ball-shaped Menace, has only one agonizingly slow speed.
It’s a shame that the basic controls take so much away from appreciating The Bridge itself, because the game is literally a work of art. Each of the 24 levels (there are also mirrored versions of each, which boast additional obstacles) appears to have been painstakingly drafted by hand: Each course begins with your middle-aged, bespectacled character being hand-drawn into the frame. The objects that can be manipulated are animated as if currently being sketched (similar to the work of Bill Plympton), and it’s charming to simply sit back and admire the craft. Unfortunately, you’ve then got to play the piece (there’s a reason the Mona Lisa is a piece of art and not a video game). It’s extremely telling that the game’s robust hint system is literally a step-by-step guide…and that even following these directions can be a challenge.
For the patient Mensa crowd, The Bridge presents a total package; perhaps the story—two lines of text at the end of each of the four zones—will even make sense to them. But for the average gamer, it’s an unnecessarily laborious affair, one that forgets the most basic function of a bridge: to help you travel.
Note: In the final version of The Bridge, the hint system has been entirely scrapped, so expect to spend even more time slowly rotating and rewinding each screen.