Stumped. That's what you will be at many periods throughout your time with The Bridge. For the first time in my life, I meet a game that defeated me to the point I absolutely needed to consult an FAQ; this game defeated me to the point I had no choice but to surrender to its brilliance. I wanted to find the solution for myself, but I shamefully admit I found a game that I don't think I'd have ever figured out without help, and I'm usually pretty good at this kind of game.
The Bridge is a puzzle platformer modelled after the visual style and optical illusions of MC Escher, as well as his likeness (I think). The controls are very simple: A and D to move, W to enter doors, the left and right directional arrows tilt and spin the world, and the spacebar is used to reverse time when you mess up. It's the mashed up, artistically Frankenstein'd love child of Echocrome and Braid, except much harder and prettier than either one. The object of the game is simply to twist and turn the world to get to your destination, collect keys, and avoid obstacles. The main game is fairly easy and consists of 24 levels spread across four chapters, but it's the post game content that will have you throwing your keyboard or laptop across the room due to the finicky nature of the puzzles in the mirrored chapters.
Puzzles and solutions are pretty ingenious throughout, as they utilize slopes, gravity, traps, vortexes, and optical illusions to an amazing end. The simplest modification of the physics of the world allow you to rotate the entire stage a full 360 degrees without limitation, but there are many other ways to alter the physics as well. Buttons turn vortexes off and on, certain colored items have unique gravity fields that you can alter and compete with, and you can even invert yourself and your colors to affect different objects in the world, a gameplay mechanic that perfectly blends the simple black and white art style derived from MC Escher's more famous works. There are even times when you control multiple professors at once. The various mechanics and features are all implemented perfectly to give a detailed, brilliant puzzle game that starts off rewarding but ends up being more frustrating and trial-and-error based towards the end.
The primary issue with the later puzzle solutions is that there's a massive change in the tone and nature of the solutions between the four main chapters and the four optional mirrored chapters. The term 'mirrored' is not a very good descriptor, as the levels aren't just flipped horizontally, but also add subtle differences that vastly increase the difficulty level, such as added keys, balls, vortexes, and additional inversion requirements. While I fully expected the prime chapters to be the only ones to add additional gameplay features, the mirrored chapters continued to add some of the most frustrating elements such as controlling multiple characters and the surprisingly confusing door-switching puzzles. The increased difficulty (and frustration) is compounded by the fact that many of the features are poorly explained, such as the veil gravity controllers, which allow you to alter the gravity on shining, flashing objects without altering your own gravity, but only while you're hidden behind the veil.
Sadly, the differences in puzzle design also lead to many of the game's frustrations. While the four prime chapters are simply a matter of figuring out what to do and doing it, the mirrored chapters are finicky and require a level of precision that could convince you that the solution you've devised is incorrect due to the fact that you've tried it several times over already to no avail. When you're dealing with physics puzzles, such 'features' are common, but the incredibly precise requirements needed to achieve success were the cause of my downfall. A simple action like rocking a ball back and forth to gain the momentum needed to get it over a cliff without also tipping a dangerous boulder onto your head seems like a pretty simple solution to a puzzle, but once you've already been doing it for five minutes with no success, you can't help but think it's the wrong solution and move on. Many of these puzzles require an almost perfect combination of gravity tilting and pixel-perfect positioning to catch a key in the air or slide under a dangling death-ball.
To the game's credit, despite these frustrations, I still wanted to go on. The flimsy snippets of exposition unveiled in between each chapter kept me on my toes and urged me to carry on, if only to figure out what it was that had caused the world to go so bonkers. Sadly, you must complete all four chapters and all four mirrored chapters if you want to complete the story (and even then it's not clear what happened), meaning it's not simply a matter of the mirrored levels being optional; they're integral to the story.
All in all, The Bridge took me about 2 hours in total to beat, but I was using an FAQ to get through the second half, so it would have easily taken me twice as long or more had I not cheated; there's even an achievement that can be unlocked for completing one puzzle in particular in less than an hour, so that should give you an idea of how much time you could take figuring things out. That said, I don't really think that, without hours upon hours of trial and error, anyone could really figure out most of the solutions, and that's unfortunate. Regardless of the game's unflinching difficulty and the finicky nature of the puzzle solutions in the second half, The Bridge contains some of the best thought out and unique puzzles I've ever seen in the first half, but the second half is just maddeningly difficult. Don't play this if you're not a puzzle-game enthusiast, but if you are you won't find many more engaging, rewarding titles.
This review is based on a digital copy on steam provided by the publisher.