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(based on 14 ratings)
About the Story
Survive as a monster that has taken up residence underneath a bridge, interact with strangers who pass over your bride and see if you can not only survive the encounters, but create a home for yourself.
Content warning: Content warning: Violence, death, gore, and profanity.
17th Place - tie - 28th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2022)
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Number of Reviews: 6
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In Under the Bridge you’re a (small) eldritch abomination, one of the last of your kind, and you’ve taken shelter under a bridge in a forest. But bridges bring humans, and if sufficiently frightened humans will bring other humans with swords. (Humans are also delicious. Choices, choices.)
What I Liked
This is a very stylish Twine game! I normally get cranky about white-on-black color schemes (it’s not my fault it gives me eye strain!) but in this case it feels like a deliberate design choice instead of an author forgetting to change the default Sugarcube settings. This is backed up by a number of white-on-black illustrations of our monster and the situations it winds up in, which are simultaneously very creepy and absolutely adorable. The background sounds are also 1) togglable and 2) change per node depending on the mood the author wants to set, which is fantastic. Text colors and effects are also used well.
The writing is also a delight here – the plot is fairly thin (as expected for a game of this length) so it focuses more on showing events from our monster’s point of view. Writing inhuman protagonists that feel properly inhuman is always a challenge, and I think it’s done well here.
What I Didn’t
Replayability is hampered by the fact that the early game doesn’t change much regardless of your choices. You play through a series of events and your only choices are how to react. The first two events happen roughly the same way each playthrough and significant branching only happens after you’ve completed them, which starts to drag after going through the game 2-3 times. Having the undo button present helps, but I would have liked to see more cosmetic variation in the second event or at least a way to skip the intro on subsequent playthroughs.
The description left me worried Under the Bridge might be an exercise in a monster finding different ways to maul people. Thankfully, I was wrong. You get to maul people if you want. You even have to, at the start. But there is real humanity in the decisions you make, with enough tension in your choices to make it feel like you're not just overturning rocks to see what all happens (Note: allowing undo was a VERY good choice in this work. The introduction that sets the mood is effective enough but takes nontrivial time.)
Yes, you're a deformed monster under the bridge. But you have excuses, even reasons, for being as you are. There's a new bridge, one which leaves your forest even more populated by humans. Being able to hide under it is scant relief. Humans pass back and forth, and in the first encounter at night, two of them meet on the bridge. One threatens another. You have a choice to kill one or both. Your moral sense is not fully developed beyond knowing your territory has been invaded, but you can smell fear regularly.
More humans pass in the day. A woman with her child and, if you are very aggressive, an army of humans. But there are also ways out. Two good endings may not feel totally satisfactory, as they leave the door open for people impinging on your territory later, but they're very different in how you wind up, what you fear, and whom you trust.
The sound effects and graphics (black with white lines) are effective, and there's even a bit of upside-down text signifying you looking into the river and thinking of things. This isn't the first work to use upside-down text, and it's more serious than Elizabeth Smyth's LIDO, written for EctoComp. I'm reminded how Twitter had upside-down text that was a fad for a while. Here perhaps the text is overused a bit, but it adds to the story overall.
UTB is in a tricky spot. There can only be so many choices, because the main character doesn't and can't think deeply. It doesn't recognize that humans may fear predators beyond it, too, and it's genuinely surprised at the alliance ending. There's some fear in the other good ending, too, as you find an entity you can't quite trust, and you're also surprised a bit by humans in the worst ending. UTB branches economically, which seems right, because too much would belie that you are, well, a simple beast. I think it had more emotional impact that Grue from a few IFComps back. I liked Grue, which sort of relied on the Zork canon, and one suspects a Grue doesn't really have the intelligence for parser-style commands. There your goal was to escape, and that was it. Here the main character here has more dimensions that go beyond "animals have feelings too," so UTB is great value for the time spent to reach all the endings. It's not intended to be cheery, of course, but it never dumps angst and violence and gore on you, and I appreciated the restraint along with the possibility of not-fully-happy endings.
(This is a lightly-edited version of a review I posted to the IntFiction forums during 2022's IFComp).
I always feel a bit like a fraud when I play work of IF and my strongest reaction is to look at the art and go “oooh, pretty” – like I’m getting distracted by superficial fripperies instead of engaging with the words and mechanics that are the bread and butter of the genre. But hopefully that’s a forgivable response to something as lovely as Under the Bridge, a short you-are-the-monster Twine game whose creepily evocative animated drawings instantly communicate, and deepen, the vibe.
That isn’t to say that the premise or writing are bad – far from it! I actually really like the setup, which has an elemental, fairy-tale power to it. You play a man-eating beast who’s been driven from their usual abode by perfidious humans, and find shelter under a bridge. Three times passers-by tromp across the bridge, and three times, you can choose how and whether to reveal yourself, when to speak and when to feast. There aren’t a lot of words wasted communicating this minimalist setup, but those that are there are used to good effect. Here’s the aftermath of my first attack, spare prose detailing the wildlife around the bridge:
Frogs with too large eyes, flies that congregate at the left-over pieces of flesh, birds that caw a little too loudly through the quiet forest.
The gameplay is grabby too. You almost always just have two choices of just two or three words each, but the author does a good job of conveying the stakes for your decisions while providing all the information the monster should have – sometimes you need to act under conditions of ambiguity, but it feels fair because the uncertainty feels baked into the situation, rather than being introduced by the author to make you sweat over your options. And the choices feel like they matter; I only played once, but I get the sense that there are a number of different potential endings (I got an accommodationist one where I made a deal with the villagers only to eat the bad people, because even when play-acting as a cannibalistic abomination I can’t stop being a boring liberal).
But as I said, all this pales next to the art. The first image you see when starting the game is an antlered skull rendered in a black-on-black scrawl, with stark white eyes and a queasily animated halo flickering behind its horns – if I saw that coming at me from under a bridge, you’d better believe I’d run. There are similar images interspersed through the story, all working from the same limited palette and establishing a richly threatening energy that nicely accentuates the text (the flip side of this emphasis on aesthetics is that there are blurred-text animations that fire off between passages – this technique is a near cousin go the hated timed-text mechanic, but thankfully the transitions run sufficiently quickly that they don’t get annoying).
This year had some great EctoComp games, so those in the market for something spooky are spoiled for choice, but regardless Under the Bridge has you covered for getting into the Halloween spirit – it’s a moody little slice of horror that’s as assured a debut as you’re likely to see from a first-time author.
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Outstanding Short Game of 2022 - Player's Choice by MathBrush
This poll is part of the 2022 IFDB Awards. The rules for the competition can be found here, and a list of all categories can be found here. This award is for the best short game of 2022, where the definition of 'short' is left up to the...
Outstanding Horror Game of 2022 - Player's Choice by MathBrush
This poll is part of the 2022 IFDB Awards. The rules for the competition can be found here, and a list of all categories can be found here. This award is for the best horror game of 2022. Voting is open to all IFDB members. Eligible...
Outstanding Horror Game of 2022 - Author's Choice by MathBrush
This poll is part of the 2022 IFDB Awards. The rules for the competition can be found here, and a list of all categories can be found here. This award is for the best overall game of 2022. Voting is anonymous and open only to IFDB...