This review was originally posted on Nintendo Scene on 21st March 2018.
Now we’re past the first year of the Switch being among us, did you think that Nintendo were going to slow down? Well, if you were banking on that, I have some bad news for you. The announcements keep on coming, and the support for Nintendo’s new wonder child keeps on coming. One such game that has come to the console recently is Clockstone and Headup Games’ collaborative successor to Bridge Constructor, this time partnering with Valve to acquire assets and lore from the Portal series. The end result is Bridge Constructor Portal, but how is it?
The story of this game, because yes it does have an actual narrative (of sorts), is a simple affair that has all of the hallmarks of the Portal franchise’s humour evident straight from the start. You’re a faceless drone in a job interview to work for the Aperture Science Enrichment Center and if you pass the initial job interview, you get a hard hat, a desk, and start work. Intermittently, you will receive what I would suppose might count as a dystopian version of a pep talk from GLaDOS, the megalomaniacal and slightly psychopathic AI that many will remember form Portal. Before all that though, what work will you be partaking in from your little office desk, you might ask?
The gameplay of Bridge Constructor Portal is all essentially in its title. Your task is creating increasingly more convoluted structures to successfully ferry hapless and reckless indistinguishable drones (that look suspiciously alike your character) to the end of each level without them dying or crashing, using either the buttons or the Switch touch screen if undocked. To this end, you have a limited, but very flexible set of crafting materials that you have to arrange into bridges, ramps, barriers and other features to ensure safe passage. The key in this game is to create physically viable structures that vehicles can cross, and this is the main unique feature on display here, you have to ensure that what you create is actually architecturally sound.
For this, the game has a handy “Best Practices” section in the pause menu. This covers optimum shapes to use for construction, how to adequately distribute pressure, reduction of impact, and other topics. This might all sound a little too in depth for a puzzle game, but it’s all explained incredibly well and has clear diagrams for each technical point it makes. This menu is an enormously useful tool no matter how far you get into the game, and I would recommend returning to it often. There will always be a point in which you’ve created something you think is sound but buckles under the slightest pressure or, as happened to me, just immediately collapse as you didn’t appropriately secure it to anything and didn’t notice.
The test chambers start with you building simple bridges using scaffold planks, which can double as surfaces that can be driven on, and super cables for support. However, before too long, you have take other helps and hinderances into account as more and more features are added to the mix. In terms of helps, the titular portals make an appearance and alike the original game they are from can be used to increase momentum, change direction, or avoid traps. Speaking of traps, one of the hindrances are gun turrets, which have a certain area of perception around them and will decimate any vehicle that enters it. The introduction of these and other features are always adequately explained, but sometimes require a lot of thought to work out how to bypass or use effectively.
To succeed in any test chamber, you merely have to get one vehicle to the end point, at which point you’ll get a comedically derisive success message and the ability to move on to the next one. However, to complete a level fully, your construction has to be put through the strain of a convoy of vehicles. If you choose to test this, a set number of vehicles will fling themselves around your course, truly testing the structural integrity with the benefit of receiving a slightly less derisive (but still funny) congratulations for doing so. As I said mentioned earlier, it is for this that you might need the “Best Practices” guide, as the strain of one vehicle is dramatically different from the strain of many.
As an additional completion criteria that’s non-essential but definitely one for all those completionists out there is that, in the success screen, it will give you the total monetary cost of your structures upon completion of a test chamber. So, if you want to impose another challenge upon yourself a a player, you can also try to complete the level whilst being as thrifty with your spending as possible. You won’t get any tangible reward for it but the smug satisfaction, but sometimes that’s all you need to want to do something (and the success message is almost complimentary if you nail the lowest possible cost price).
Aesthetically, Bridge Constructor Portal is simple, but it honestly doesn’t need to be any more than it is. The simple and clean user interface and art style lends itself well to the puzzle genre as it allows the real meat of the game to breathe without being bogged down with unnecessary spectacle. The fantastic thing is that, even with the simplified visuals, the game nails the humour and charm of the Portal games with even your blank player character exuding their own sense of comically disenfranchised disappointment with their lot in life. Also, the over-exaggerated excitement of the other work drones being driven through your courses and observing the carnage never ceases to make me grin.
This feeling of comedy extends to the voice acting work that has been done for GLaDOS, which has all of the sardonic quips and generally derisive writing that have come to be expected from the character by this point. The only thing I would have changed from a sound standpoint would have been making the music in the test chambers a little louder and definitely more memorable. The music in this game made no lasting impression on me at all and, in fact, I must admit that I couldn’t even remember there being music until I checked again whilst writing this review. In a slightly dark impression that could be used to sum up the atmosphere of the entire game; the only sounds I could remember after playing were the bangs, crashes and blasts of my own failures.
So, should you buy Bridge Constructor Portal? This is an engineering puzzle game that will really test your brain, has simple to understand core mechanics, has fantastic writing and dialogue, and comes in at a very affordable price. If that sounds like your kind of thing, I would implore you to pick this up and show your support of more games like it coming to Switch. If you aren’t a fan of puzzles, this won’t be your thing, but a game this well-made, challenging, and funny should be lauded and should definitely be played.
Thank you to Headup Games for kindly supplying the review code for this game.
Bridge Constructor Portal is out now on Nintendo Switch eShop.