Puzzle games by their very nature are designed to deceive and delight. Regardless of console or dimension, a good puzzle game has to strike a perfect balance between challenge and attainability.
From making lines to jumping through walls, lateral thinking, logic and reflexes have been put to the test for gamers everywhere, and there's a universal appeal to puzzle games that have frustrated and intrigued generations for years. Art vs Science.
The Bridge is the byproduct of a computer science project from American two man team Ty Taylor and Mario Castañeda, and it's the bringing together of such a striking, hand drawn art style with gravity and perspective-based conundrums that is the main hook of the game. As an ambiguous and bearded figure, you navigate a series of hand drawn lithographic dioramas that challenge perception, progressive thinking and defy the laws of physics.
Recreating an iconic moment in scientific history, players are introduced to a few of the game's key mechanics in a cute mini tutorial. Using the right and left trigger tilts the world, while the left stick moves the character. It isn't long before the penny (or apple) drops and you are either sliding down or labouring uphill towards the game's central hub.
Presenting 3D shapes and architecture in a 2d space reminiscent of the work of artist MC Escher, The Bridge requires a skewed angle of perspective and an articulated thought process to solve its 48 levels, split between several chapters located throughout an isolated yet increasingly expansive farm cottage.
From a permanently fixed viewpiont, your task is to navigate your way through a series of increasingly mind bending dioramas consisting of a door, a key, and a few other obstacles. The objective of The Bridge's puzzles is to use a combination of rotation and character movement to tilt, drop and spin yourself and other objects to reach the exit. Switches alter gravity or the colour of our protagonist, floors become ceilings, and sinister 'menace balls' can be both an advisory and ally. The most difficult of areas can seem intimidating - with multiple switches and hazards interwoven into intricate and layered labyrinths.
Luckily the puzzles aren't too reliant on any sense of urgency or quick reflexes. Sure, it is possible to try and succeed by constantly using the 'rewind' feature (holding B at any point) to play back your movements (indebted to indie hit platformer Braid), and this will prove useful in experimentation in order to progress, but there is a real sense of satisfaction when the moves are executed in order and everything falls (flips or rises) into place.
Upon understanding the game's various physics-based rules, it rewards planning and observation rather than the frustration that comes with trial and error. The difficulty does spike in a few puzzles; while features such as veils may initially seem confusing in their function and vortexes serve as booby traps, further investigation demonstrates their integral role in solving puzzles that initially appear impossible, and after an extended play session there can be a sense not so much of a euphoric epiphany, but more of dogged triumph.
The Bridge is ultimately an enchanting and rewarding experience thanks to its beautiful handdrawn art style. While it would be slightly unfair to call the game bleak, there is a sense of melancholy and insular contemplation woven into the journey of the main character and his manipulation of literal and psychological space. The character is drawn at the start of each stage, the world flickers and everything moves as if it were an old black and white animation. Although the story is mostly a series of text boxes philosophizing the nature of existence and never really reaches its emotional potential, the mood and world created are constantly enthralling.
Despite being previously available on various home and portable consoles, both in handheld and docked mode the Switch version of The Bridge's presentation and aesthetic instantly captivates. The scratches and metallic sound effects add atmosphere, but its soundtrack is nevertheless limited and - although fittingly low key and ambient - becomes repetitive.
In an attempt to not make any particular scenario outstay its welcome, or any idea become stale, the game ironically comes across as a little lacking regarding a fleshed out narrative or steady learning curve. Each new twist or setting is introduced, utilised sparingly, then it's onto the next.
With the lack of analogue controls, the rotation of the dioramas themselves (and moving the player for that matter) also feels slightly sluggish, especially when attempting to manipulate multiple objects at once. In addition the loading times are awkwardly noticeable; to some this might be forgivable, but nonetheless they slow the pace and interrupt the flow.
An endearing combination of influences from art and science makes The Bridge a valuable addition to the Nintendo Switch library, especially if you've never played it before.
Sometimes bogged down by showing off its aesthetic strengths at the sacrifice of fully exploring the puzzle ideas and mechanics, The Bridge does suffer slightly due to slow controls and a story/ character that deserves a little more nuance to back up its ambitious and academic influences. What it does do, however, is reward players' patience, calculation and observation with moments that rival some of the best in the genre.
A genuinely interesting and challenging experience that, despite a few small flaws, will stretch mental as well as physical muscles.