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Spooky art enlivens a dark fairy tale, December 21, 2022
(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.
- jaclynhyde, November 27, 2022
1 people found the following review helpful:
Billy Goat Gruff Reboot, November 25, 2022
Adapted from an IFCOMP22 Review
A very short mood piece with some sharp if narrow observations to convey. As a web-driven experience I appreciated the integrated mood audio and the restrained but clever use of font (especially dug the protagonists’ ‘voice’) and layout. The art was hit or miss, with the notable exception of the various renderings of the monster protagonist, which I found compelling and evocative.
Taken together with the prose, the whole package effectively conveyed an underlying melancholy behind a handful of setpiece encounters. The experience was brief - in a half hour I completed 7 or 8 circuits and got 5 different endings, with little left unexplored (I think). This tight scope and short duration achieved a slightly different effect than many “Play Again?” prompt games. Rather than a time loop or full narrative reset effect, this rather felt like exploring a multiverse where we are granted a god’s eye view of all possible outcomes of this combination of character and situations. While simultaneously building some larger understandings.
What sparked my joy was how these runs, most especially the endings, played off not only each other, but more significantly off the protagonist and NPC expectations and biases that are revealed across the runs. A single run showcased a moody cause and effect chain. Across all runs, a full and consistent picture of the protagonist, the world, and human society is assembled and contrasted to intrinsic biases. Because this feels like the ace in the piece’s sleeve, I am reluctant to write more clearly about it. Thematic spoilers are real things too! Suffice to say there is more subtlety here than its form and scope would suggest.
I don’t want to oversell it - this is a very brief piece, with limited meaningful choices. It is not a puzzle to solve, or maybe is at its best when it doesn’t have to be. I appreciate that it builds some sharp commentary and effective mood with relatively few moving parts. It is a melancholy short story I was glad to spend time with, but probably won’t need to revisit.
Playtime: 30 min, 5 endings
Artistic/Technical rankings: Sparks of Joy/Seamless
Would Play Again? No, experience seems complete
Artistic scale: Bouncy, Mechanical, Sparks of Joy, Engaging, Transcendent
Technical scale: Unplayable, Intrusive, Notable (Bugginess), Mostly Seamless, Seamless
- Brad Buchanan (Seattle, Washington), November 23, 2022
- Mr. Patient (Saint Paul, Minn.), November 20, 2022
- OverThinking, November 16, 2022
- Rovarsson (Belgium), November 16, 2022
- Karl Ove Hufthammer (Bergen, Norway), November 15, 2022
- Vivienne Dunstan (Dundee, Scotland), November 11, 2022
- Ann Hugo (Canada), November 8, 2022
2 people found the following review helpful:
Survival of the Creepiest, November 5, 2022
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.)
A pleasantly creepy multimedia experience, October 29, 2022
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.
I'd first like to say that the art, animation, and audio for this game are very well done. I loved the style, and would be happy to see it again; it's unique, I haven't seen other games with the scribbly dark figures.
You play as a dangerous and large being that is hunting for food by a bridge. Humans pass by, and you can decide how to act towards them.
I played through to one positive ending (villager ending 1), but the way the game reacted to my choices made me feel like there were many very different endings. That's pretty cool!
There were some typos here and there (like "One of the small humans'", with an extra apostrophe). Overall, it was fairly brief. But what is here is excellent.
- Cryptic Puffin, October 24, 2022
the monster under the bridge finds a home, October 19, 2022
CW: gore, violence
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You, the narrator, are the monster under the bridge. Prowling in the night to catch unwary travellers.
There is gore; the narrator is a man-eating monster, after all, but the prose reads almost a nature documentary - not revelling in the gore, but framing it as a necessity.
Little bells and whistles: simple text effects which some might find distracting; hand-drawn illustrations which I quite enjoyed.
This story had clear branching and multiple endings which encourages replay, some endings more unexpected than others.