How cute can you take it? If your answer is merely "pretty darn cute", that won't be enough, because the latest game from Picaso Games is adorable enough to make Scottish-Fold kittens on the other side of the world jealous. Even your cursor becomes pudgy and extra cuddly as you set out to help the little Euwins return home. It seems a massive tidal wave has scattered them across the land, but fortunately for them, they have a steady supply of building materials, even if they don't quite know how to use them. That's where you and one very clever physics engine come in with Bridgecraft.
The gameplay feels similar to Armadillo Run or Pontifex. You start each level with a budget that you can use to purchase building materials, like the standard deck, and add either steel or the weaker rope for support.
Start by clicking on the anchor points, denoted by little green circles, and draw a line to direct where your bridge will go. Clicking on a green circle again will delete anything attached to it, returning the cost to your budget. You'll need to work in segments, and since some obstacles are bigger than others, you're going to have to strengthen your bridge with the appropriate material. Rope may be cheaper, but it's more than a little unforgiving when it comes to bearing weight. For the most part, each material behaves like it should, so you should feel more comfortable with a reinforced steel bridge than, oh, a swaying bridge made of water-logged macrame.
When you're ready, you can click the green Start button to send your little critter tottering trustingly out onto your bridge. If the bridge snaps, you'll have to try again. You can choose to Undo a single move, Reset the whole level, or add more support to the existing design, if you have any funds left. There's no real penalty for failing, so you can try over and over again as often as you like. In fact, you'll probably want to make use of the "Show Stress" button at the top of the screen, which will highlight areas that are under particular strain when the Euwin tries to cross and help you figure out where the problem lies. That the levels take place on a grid makes it that much easier to really fine-tune your measurements.
For those of us with less than a passing interest in architecture, Bridgecraft can prove frustratingly challenging at times, as you watch construct after construct surrender to the elements and send your unhappy looking Euwins tumbling into the watery depths. You may not need a degree in engineering for this one, but it helps to have a basic understanding of structure and support. 70 levels is plenty of time to become a building master, but I'm still not sure whether the physics engine is unforgiving, or I'm just inept at engineering. I'm sorry, little Euwins. Your trusting eyes will haunt me in my dreams!
Analysis: Don't be fooled by that happy smiling sun. It's a good thing this game is so unrelentingly cheerful, since the soothing colours and shapes can help when you'd rather throw your keyboard out the window, after yet another bridge falls apart like a soggy pretzel. That's what I get for passing notes during science class. It takes a lot of experimentation and patience to figure out exactly what each level requires, since working within a budget means there is rarely more than one solution for any given puzzle. Adding to your stress, the Undo button only lets you undo a single move, which forces you to reset the entire structure if your mistake happened early on in the building process.
If any game could be described as appealing to a niche group, then this is probably it. The challenge of building a sturdy bridge under monetary constraints isn't going to be everyone's cuppa, and with nary a bloodthirsty alien or magical sword to be found, those craving fast-paced action had better look elsewhere. What's surprising, however, is how this one grew on me. The satisfaction in completing a level and seeing your design stand tall is pretty addictive, to say nothing of the increasing challenge as the levels go on.
Bridgecraft is an exercise in patience, common-sense, and ingenuity. If the trial-and-error doesn't discourage you, and I encourage you not to let it for this one, the experience can be rewarding. For me it also serves as a reminder of why I got that F in shop class.
Thanks for the suggestion, Scott, Mat, and David!