I Am Bread Review: The Tenacity of Toast

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<em>I Am Bread</em> Review: The Tenacity of Toast

The elevator pitch for I Am Bread is its very name. In the new game from Bossa Studios, the developers of the hysterical Surgeon Simulator, you play as a piece of bread struggling to get across various rooms in a house to meet your destiny and become toasted. Much like Surgeon Simulator, the chief obstacle in the game is the complicated controls. Not only must you move with the arrow keys while tilting the camera with your mouse, but you must also control each corner of the bread (via the 1-4 keys) as well in order to climb up surfaces (just roll with it, okay? You’ve come this far). The game recommends playing with a controller, which is pretty sage advice. With a controller, the control scheme remains frustrating, but in a way that highlights what makes Bossa’s games so interesting, without distracting you because you’re too busy trying to figure out how you’re going to contort your fingers in order to guide your little piece of bread across a countertop covered in ants and wine glasses.

To make the player confront the awkwardness of mobility when most games seek to divert their attention away from movement (or to draw attention to how that movement empowers them, like the speed of pilots in Titanfall) is rather bold and subversive design. The way that I Am Bread makes it work is by richly rewarding players who are willing to figure out the intricacies of the control scheme, with zany displays that turn the mundane into exciting objects of play.

One of my favorite early moments in I Am Bread was latching onto a jar of jam with the grip function and swinging so fast that the jar broke and flung my piece of bread, covered in jelly and embedded with shards of glass, into a chair. The chair fell over, and my slice of bread slipped through the slits and onto a skateboard, which I then managed to roll across the floor until its nose hit a wall. My journey ended there, unfortunately, as the game treats the dirty floor like lava, bringing down the bread’s edibility rating to zero. I’ve had many moments like this with different objects in the house: fish bones, bowling pins, butter trays, some potato chips stuffed inside a water pitcher, silverware. Other areas, such as a lounge and a bathroom, have even more objects with which your brave slice of bread can interact. I Am Bread, even more than its predecessor, is a comedic short story generator and one of the few instantly gratifying examples of emergent storytelling I’ve experienced.

Many sandboxes play the long game, expecting the player to devote large amounts of time to exploring a large environment before some utterly bizarre combination of the game’s elements occur, like a honey badger duking it out with a rhino and a soldier at the same time in Far Cry 4, or finally meeting another player in Day Z and murdering them for a can of beans. That’s not to say that having all those elements in a small environment, like a kitchen or bathroom, is better than having them spread out over a huge island. However, there’s certainly something attractive about loading up a game and being fairly confident that something unexpected and memorable can happen within 15 minutes instead of two hours.

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In a time when the majority of recent game releases seem overloaded with filler content intended to overwhelm the player, I Am Bread is a breath of fresh air—or a bite of fresh bread, I suppose. The levels aren’t huge but I Am Bread makes the best possible use of its spaces and the items within those places. Using the velocity of your toast flopping quickly across the table to knock over a chair to build a bridge from to a counter, or doing four backflips off of a refrigerator into the kitchen sink, is genuinely entertaining.

While I Am Bread shines in how it rewards the player for exploring their surroundings, there are frustrations when they try to follow the game’s objective and toast the piece of bread to end the level. Finding whatever you need to toast yourself isn’t that hard—just taking a look around each level and spotting electric appliances is usually enough, though there is an amusing puzzle element involved to turning on most of them. However, the game’s shoddy camerawork makes it difficult to look at anything that isn’t either right beside your bread or directly in front of you. If you somehow manage to climb into a cabinet or enclosed area, the camera immediately locks onto the bread and shakes if you try to spin it out of that space, reducing your visibility considerably. There was also an unfortunate issue with both controllers (one a PS4 controller, the other a Logitech) I used: the game would sometimes read the trigger buttons, used to grip edges, as though I was pressing them when I wasn’t. This meant that for certain areas in each level, usually wall-climbing bits, I’d have to switch back to the keyboard momentarily.

I Am Bread is in Early Access on Steam with four levels, all rather large, distinct, and fun to tinker with, available now with more on the way, much in the same way that Surgeon Simulator received level updates from time to time after its release. The core game is here and surprisingly substantial. I’ve spent five hours flinging doomed squares of wheat, skewered with bones and peppered with lint and dust, across tiled and carpeted floors. In spite of all the games in my backlog I have to get through, I find little reason to stop playing I Am Bread, a game that valiantly realizes its ludicrous concept.

Javy Gwaltney devotes his time to writing about these videogame things when he isn’t teaching or cobbling together a novel. You can follow the trail of pizza crumbs to his Twitter or his website.