M.C. Escher’s artwork is known for two things: messing with your perspective, and seamlessly combining art and mathematics in a way that allows viewers to explore complex concepts and impossible realities in a unique visual experience. This combination is what makes Escher’s work so inspirational for future artists, and what makes a game like The Bridge a rather unsurprising concept, but not necessarily a wasteful one. The developers try and make the most out of their idea with beautiful art, impressive physics, and difficult but not frustrating gameplay, but don’t quite make it all of the way.
The Bridge’s stages are obviously inspired by Escher. They combine art and science to create unique puzzles in which players traverse physically impossible realities to open a series of doors. The twisting level design is simple but wonderful and never monotonous.
There are enough mechanics in play to make each level diverse, but not too many that it becomes overwhelming. There are portals that you can use to trap giant boulders, keys or any other number of objects. You can turn the stage in order to access different areas, and can access multiple dimensional planes by inverting the level. These planes are all combined in different ways to prevent you from reaching the door at the end that takes you to the next mind-bending puzzle.
However, the problem comes with the combination of art and science that is in the foundation of the game. The Bridge is both a piece of moving art and a video game, but it is not both simultaneously. Separately, these facets are well done. The backgrounds are gorgeous and incredibly dichotomous in both their detail and pure simplicity. Each one is a work of art worthy of framing. The structure of the game is complex and for the most part is able to create difficult and rewarding puzzles. The two aspects work well in isolation but don’t quite mesh together, as the technical aspects seem to suffer under the game’s attempts to be visually stunning. The art is much better than the game itself.
This is not to say the game is technically inept. The way that The Bridge introduces new puzzles is nearly perfect, as the difficulty curves just the right amount in each level, starting off easy and then letting you handle the rest. Luckily, there is no real penalty for failing a puzzle besides a morose message and the prompt to hit the spacebar, which allows you to rewind time at any point. The game is still challenging, though, as many of the puzzles present a series of unpredictable obstacles. There is a lot of trial and error, resetting and rewinding. This can get tiresome at times, and can grate on players that don’t like backtracking, especially with some of the more difficult puzzles, but each new puzzle being different than the last makes up for it.
As previously stated, the art is impeccable. The developers manage to make each level different, designing complex architectural shapes and illusions that show they understand their muse fully. It creates an atmosphere that nicely suits the game’s story. It’s both a simple romance starring our protagonist, the professor, but also a mystery about what has happened to him and his love. This is revealed slowly over the course of the game. It is very solemn and dark, nothing is what it seems, and the music and black and white drawings reflect this, subtly foreshadowing important developments in an emotional manner.
The art fits the story, but does not seem to work with the game itself. The puzzles regularly incorporate aspects of impossible reality, but many of the pieces—the keys, the lion heads, the tombstones, and other purely aesthetic additions—don’t work in this setting. They may look nice, but what do they add to the gameplay other than distracting players who just want to solve the puzzles? It might add to the story, but while interesting, that story isn’t mentioned nearly enough to engage players. The art draws attention to itself and away from the game.
For example, one stage has you rotating a two-level forest area called “The Memorial.” While you can rotate the entire stage, the area at top is superfluous. You cannot walk on it, or even access it, so why even bother putting it in there? Many other areas have little details that do not work into the puzzles they were put there for such as stairways, towers, or statues, and while they look nice, it’s mostly all for show, and it can come off as a bit shallow to the player.
That is the main problem with overly intricate art design. This kind of visual style can look good, sometimes even awe-inspiring, as in The Bridge, but it seems to mostly just distract from the fact that the game itself has little to do with a story that barely exists. Two lines at the end of each chapter add some depth, but we don’t get any information throughout the levels, or a solid reason as to why all of this is happening to our protagonist.
You might be able to enjoy The Bridge for its aesthetic, or just for the puzzles, and in that regard, the game can succeed as well as the separate pieces work. However, if you are looking for an absolutely perfect combination of art and science, just like M.C. Escher, you’re better off going to his museum, or staring at his optical illusions for hours on end.
Carli Velocci is a freelance journalist in Boston, Massachusetts. She has written for DigBoston, Gameranx, and isn’t afraid of anything. You can find her on Twitter at @revierypone.