It’s one of the simplest forms of entertainment: if all electronic entertainment is unavailable, when there is nothing else to do, a simple pack of playing cards can save the day. Card games can be simplistic or confusing and complex, with straightforward options often seeming suitable as cheap downloads on the DSi shop. More complicated options are available, such as World Poker Tour: Texas Hold ‘Em and now Bridge arrives on the scene, offering complexity with an air of gentility.
If Poker is the game of high stakes and sweaty brows in casinos, Bridge is far more suitable when played amongst friends or competitors in a cosy ‘club’ environment. Rather than individuals seeking to trick opponents with bluffs, Bridge is played by a total of four people split into two teams. The objective is to gain points together by winning tricks and employing clever tactics to outwit the opposition. Determining a ‘bid’ to maximise points while trying to avoid punishment for failing to hit the required number of tricks is a difficult balancing act, making Bridge an engaging tactical card game.
The sheer complexity of the rules and scoring in Bridge is an immediate obstacle, but this title does make an effort to resolve this issue. Once you start a game there is a ‘Help’ button that provides a fairly extensive run-down of the rules. These rules are mandatory reading, as starting a game without foreknowledge is doomed to failure. The only problem is the presentation, with the rules split up into 33 cards to flick through; it’s a laborious process to read through these, and some form of interactive tutorial would have been a better option.
If you know the rules, however, this title does provide a competent digital simulation of the game. Single player mode is a simple affair, giving you some customisable options such as whether you control your team-mate’s actions or leave it to AI, and the ability to choose your two opponents. Opponents come in the form of 15 different avatars, each with a difficulty setting of easy, normal or hard. An attempt has been made to produce 3D caricature characters, though in truth these aren’t particularly appealing or humorous to look at. You can either play as one of these avatars, or use the DSi camera to take a photo of yourself for the purpose of your profile. It’s a nice option, and preferable to the bizarre in-game characters. As some games of Bridge can be lengthy affairs, there is also the option to save a game and come back at a later time, an example of the developers showing good common sense.
For those of you who like to play this game with friends, there are also substantial local multiplayer options. Wireless play allows up to four people with copies of the game to play each other quickly and easily: one player creates a room and the others join in within seconds. There is also a download play option, where up to four players can play from just one copy of the game. Although this will involve a slower process of sending the game to each player and working through the whole process, it is a thoughtful addition. Most impressively, there are extensive chat options including voice, text and standard messages. The voice option seems redundant as, due to this being local wireless only, you’ll likely be in the same room as your friends; recording a message and sending it is a peculiar thing to do when you can talk directly. Sending cheeky or abusive text messages, however, can be a bit more fun. Overall, this multiplayer offering adds good value to the package, though the proximity of playing via local wireless means that you could just as easily play with a real deck of cards.
The presentation ranges from competent to downright ugly. Menus and the actual card-playing are both presented well enough, though identifying menus is trial and error initially due to rather small, indistinguishable icons. The 3D avatars and environment in which they play do not fare well, however, with 3D models that reflect the limitations of the DSiWare service; perhaps an alternative design choice would have been preferable. The music, meanwhile, is a rather predictable piano melody that plays unobtrusively in the background.
Bridge is a competent card game title, showing glimpses of quality and class but occasionally falling victim to poor design choices. Single player is reasonable, but it's the local multiplayer that provides the most value: ideal if you want a digital game with your friends rather than the old-fashioned way, with actual cards. Meanwhile, the complex rules of the game are covered in the help option provided, albeit in a very dry and uninteresting way. Those who understand how to play Bridge may be able to look beyond the ugly presentation and design flaws for a perfectly decent game, but those without that knowledge should be forewarned.