Sometimes, you can learn a lot about yourself from playing video games, especially simulators. In this case, what I learned about myself from Dry Cactus’ physics-based bridge-building simulator Poly Bridge is this: I really stink at physics. Although to be fair, that was more of a reminder than a lesson, but even if your approach to crafting bridges is similar to solutions found in Calvin and Hobbes strips, there’s still some fun to be had in Poly Bridge, albeit not without a few wrinkles.
After a short tutorial, you’re immediately thrust into Poly Bridge’s campaign, and it’s a rather lengthy one at that, spanning 105 different scenarios. In each one, you first have to build your bridge as a 2D model by creating a blueprint, working with the materials you have on you in order to get each car to their designated end point while working around various obstacles. Then with the push of a button, you switch to a 3D isometric view and see your plans play out, no doubt crashing and burning in several attempts.
The first round of puzzles naturally start off relatively simple, but as you progress, you find yourself with more outlandish scenarios and setups that require more outside-the-box solutions, ranging from splits to unorthodox drawbridges and full-on Evel Knievel-style jumps. The challenge is in trying to keep things sturdy enough to withstand each crossing, not to mention making sure you stay under budget and having to account for several different types of vehicles, each shaped and weighing differently and thus having different reactions to and impacts on your bridge. The difficulty level is quite fine, though you can thankfully skip ahead to any level you like (or at least in the version I played, you could), but it quickly becomes obvious that without any way to prepare yourself for more complex scenarios, you won’t get too far.
Of course, it doesn’t really help that reminders and refresher courses are a bit awkward to access. usually in simulation games such as these, there’s a manual you can access to help provide some information about the different types of structures you can build, but Poly Bridge oddly seems to have skipped out on that part. If you need to jog your memory a bit, then you have to exit the level you’re currently on and access the tutorial again, which definitely feels like a pain after a while.
In fact, while there aren’t any major deal-breakers in it, Poly Bridge is one of those games with a little crop of slight issues holding it back from greatness. For one, there’s the questionable decision to initially have the mouse controls mapped so that the left button moves the blueprint/area around and the right button used to drag and highlight objects, instead of the opposite like you may expect. many times I accidentally jostled the screen around when I meant to select a section of parts to copy. For that matter, it also seems odd that you simply can’t just click on a component to select it, you have to highlight it no matter what. It doesn’t exactly help when you’re creating more elaborate designs, and need to do some fine-tuning. The cars also move awkward at times, with vehicles such as station wagons getting annoyingly stuck, and the controls to change the perspective in the 3D view failed at times.
But a lot of that can be dismissed as nitpicking. Not as easily dismiss-able, though, are the times when the game either feels like it has a bug or just screws up your design a bit. In particular, I’d like to single out one puzzle I worked on. As you can see in the screenshot below, the goal was simple: Create a bridge with an overpass and a drawbridge in order to accommodate three boats passing through.
I opted to construct drawbridges at both ends to deal with the smaller boats, while leaving a standalone section in the middle with an overpass to deal with the larger boat. Sounded simple enough, right? Well, even after setting up the split junctions where the bridges would separate and properly placing and calibrating the hydraulics, I found one of the end sections of a drawbridge to keep snapping off every time it was raised, even though the other drawbridge worked fine. Even after zooming in to take a look at the settings, everything seemed fine. So I deleted that part of the bridge, rebuilt it with the exact same design and controls, and yet for some reason, now it worked. To say I was puzzled would be an understatement.
But getting past those annoyance (and the controls are still alright otherwise), it does say a lot that each of the campaign’s puzzles in Poly Bridge are still nicely designed for the most part, easily accommodating multiple solutions in several cases. But for those or you who really like to tinker and experiment, the game’s Sandbox mode is highly recommended, and can easily warrant a look-see for Poly Bridge all by itself. Whether you want to create a tough-as-nails challenge to share with gamers worldwide, or just want to simply play around with your own little landscape and see where your creativity naturally takes you, it’s all quite fun indeed. There’s just something zen-like about crafting these passages, helped out by the simple-yet attractive origami-like polygon graphics covering a cute variety of settings and the acoustic soundtrack, which is nice if a bit too “folksy” at times (not helping that one of the songs sounds like an instrumental version of that frigging “Thinking Out Loud” song by Ed Sheeran, I swear…).
While not exactly one of the best simulation games out there, Poly Bridge still manages to be quite unique and enjoyable, and easily has enough content to satisfy players for quite a while. It’s a calming (albeit frustrating at times) little bit of construction that sucks you in one way or another, be it the large campaign or the deep sandbox mode, which also doubles as way to ensure players keep adding more content as time goes on. The world of bridge construction turns out to make for one fine indie game, even if there’s a good chance that more than a few of your designs would end up making any architect weep. But hey, it was worth it just to see a station wagon jump over a zeppelin, right?