The Bridge is a colourless, drab, bleak affair. It's also engaging, addictive and fantastic.
If you haven't heard of The Bridge before, don't worry; it's a puzzle-platformer that was quietly released on Steam in 2013, then later ported to Xbox 360 that same year. The game opens on the nameless main character sitting underneath an apple tree. No instructions are given, nor are there ever any tutorials. It lends The Bridge a seamless feel reminiscent of games like The Vanishing of Ethan Carter or even the original Zelda on the NES, albeit in a much different art style. The Bridge eschews colour in favour of grayscale. The environments and character are both hand drawn, and have a sketch-like unfinished feel that has its own kind of eerie charm.
The objective of each of The Bridge's puzzles is simple: get to the exit. Of course, the challenge is in just how you get there. The controls are simple enough: the GamePad's shoulder buttons — you can also just tilt the GamePad to do the same thing — rotate the world, while the analogue stick controls the character. In the early going the game seems a bit easy; the puzzles begin with simple challenges designed to teach the player how to get the hang of navigating the game's strange, M.C. Escher inspired structures. As the game progresses, however, layers of difficulty continue being added.
What initially begins as merely rotating terrain to navigate to a goal evolves into a complex balancing act of avoiding a menacing boulder reminiscent of Majora's Mask's foreboding moon, making use of vortices that will suck the player in and hold him in place, and finally collecting keys. In the later levels of the game all of these aspects also need to be done as the right version of your character. Certain enemies, obstacles and objectives will be either white or black, meaning you'll need to be the correct colour to get to the goal, even if you've managed to avoid all the pitfalls along the way.
Despite all the obstacles and challenges, The Bridge isn't a very difficult game. There are no time limits, so as long as you're in a safe spot you can take as much time as you like to ponder your next move. Enemies also don't move on their own; they only roll in reaction to the direction the world is tipped. The result is a game that, while having a somewhat harrowing tone, can be quite relaxing. The Bridge also boasts an excellent soundtrack that perfectly fits its unsettling mood. Kevin Macleod's arrangements evoke a sense of both dread and wonder.
For some, The Bridge may be a bit too short, clocking in at four chapters comprised of six puzzles each. Obviously, the time for each person to complete these will vary, but it's entirely possible to tear through them all in short order. After completing all four chapters, you'll have the option to double back and finish mirror versions of them to achieve a slightly different ending.
It's worth noting that story presentation is almost non-existent in The Bridge. Small parts are explained through dialogue at the end of each chapter, but none reveal anything particularly earth shattering. This is a game that focuses on gameplay, not on narrative, like a certain moustachioed plumbers outings; just like his, it works.
The Bridge is a delightful mass of contradictions. It's simple yet complex, and new yet old. Solid mechanics and puzzles that are tweaked to a level of difficulty that is just right — along with an excellent accompanying soundtrack — fill this monotone world with colour. Its focus on gameplay over story suits it well, and though it may be a bit on the short side, it's thoroughly enjoyable. The Bridge is also a great fit for the Wii U's GamePad, making use of its touchscreen, tilt controls and off-TV play. Additional gameplay modes would have been nice, but we can't fault this one for focusing on one thing and doing it very well.