One of the aspects of game design that’s always fascinated me is character design. From plumber brothers to blue hedgehogs to whatever the hell Crash Bandicoot was supposed to be, I’m always intrigued by what characters stick and become memorable and which ones fall by the wayside, because there never seems to be any guidelines that dictates what gets over and what doesn’t.
Today, however, we might be looking at a game featuring the most bizarre protagonist to date, as today, we’ll be slipping into the shoes of a super starch with the latest piece of the Big Steaming Pile, I Am Bread, by Bossa Studios.
I Am Bread puts you in control of…um…well…a piece of bread. The meat of the gameplay sandwich, Story Mode, tasks you with navigating your sentient slice through various rooms in the house of an elderly British pensioner in an effort to accomplish bread’s most noble, neverending quest – to become toast by any means necessary, and at the same time, drive the unfortunate owner of the house to insanity. In practice, I Am Bread is a physics puzzle game of sorts with a very unique gimmick.
You maneuver your yeasty hero around by gripping various surfaces like counters, furniture, walls and shelves with your corners and rotating around those axes. You can also grab smaller objects like glasses and dishes to move them out of your way, or in some cases, knock over things like ironing boards or boxes to make a bridge from one surface to another. You’ll have to step lively, though, because as long as you’re clinging onto something, you’ll lower your Grip Meter, and if it runs out, you’ll let go and gravity will decide where you end up until the meter recharges. Each level has one or more heat sources that you’ll use to toast up, from the straightforward kitchen stage, which features the super-obvious toaster, and aside from locating and activating the heat source, you’ll have to avoid the various hazards that populate the level, like water, ants, mold and most floors. Landing in a hazard lowers your Edibility Meter, and if it reaches zero, you’ll have to restart.
Now, there’s a possibility you might be familiar with I Am Bread, even if you haven’t played it, as it’s become popular YouTube fodder for Let’s Play videos, and it’s often described in that context as a rage game. While I will say that this game provides a stiff challenge, it’s not particularly rage-inducing once you get familiar with the control scheme. That said, you would be well-advised to use a gamepad if you intend to play it, because if you’re using a gamepad, you use the shoulder buttons for each of the four corners your slice, and the face buttons for grabbing onto items, which feels pretty intuitive. Otherwise, you’re using the keyboard, which does not feel nearly as smooth and can very well turn this game from a fun exercise in physics into a test of your frustration threshold the likes of which hasn’t been seen since QWOP. However, if you do get stuck on a level, the designers were nice enough to toss you a bone in the form of Magic Marmalade, which pops up near the start of a level if you’ve failed it several times and grants you infinite Grip and Edibility, although you’re more than welcome to continue trying a level without it if you’re like me and bent on beating each level cleanly.
After each level, you’re also graded on a number of other criteria: how fast you finish the level, how high your Edibility rating was when you finished, how high your Toast Quality is, and your overall deliciousness. Y’see, it’s not just enough to reach the heat source and throw yourself onto it, you have to toast both sides, and do so as evenly as possible; if one part of your bread gets too much attention, it will scorch and lower your Edibility and Toast Quality scores, and you can’t finish a level until both sides of you are at least 100% toasted. Also, along the way, you’ll discover sticks of butter and jars of tasty jam that you can crack open and slather yourself in to increase your Deliciousness.
As I said, while you do have to worry about hazards like water and otherwise dirty areas, aside from that, you’re essentially free to look around and evaluate for yourself the best course of action in each level. One thing I did enjoy while playing this game was that, as you become more proficient with the controls and more skilled at manipulating your bread, the more bold you think you can get at picking a route to your goal. “Yeah, I could go around those two walls and down by that cabinet, OR, I could try to tip that chair over and jump from it to the cabinet itself…” That kind of engagement stuck out to me, and one thing I have to appreciate about I Am Bread is that it did such a good job of getting you to combine concept and execution; you have to plan where you’re going to go and whether you’ll be able to make it and then actually become skilled enough with the controls to make it happen.
For those who tire of telling the immortal tale of bread’s pilgrimage to become toast, there are a handful of other game modes, featuring other members of the baked brotherhood. There’s Bagel Race, where you roll around the various levels hitting checkpoints along the way as you race the clock; Rampage, where you’re a baguette out for blood, racking up points as you smash flatware and glass and whatever else isn’t nailed down; Cheese Hunt, where a fragile piece of cracker bread has to pick up pungent hunks of cheese, but while having to be mindful of his structural integrity; and Zero G, where you’re back to basic bread, but in a zero-gravity environment, moving around by shooting jets of air out of your corners. There’s also a Free Roam mode for those looking for an even more casual bread experience by letting you peruse the different levels for potential heat sources and practice without fearing of losing Edibility. These may not sound like more than basic minigames, but Cheese Hunt and Zero G especially add some serious replay value and just enough different challenge to keep things from getting too stale.
As you might imagine, I Am Bread doesn’t exactly take itself too seriously. There’s a sense of humor about the whole thing, from the very concept of the game itself to the various bread puns sprinkled throughout the game to little touches like the name of the therapist’s office being “The Therapy Barn”. The presentation is very bright and friendly, especially the soundtrack, which features a lot of light, upbeat muzak that fits the rather idyllic settings. The level of detail in the graphics are another highlight; moldy walls and grout look appropriately scuzzy, and little shards of glass can get embedded in your bread if you roll over a broken jar or glass, for example.
While I Am Bread isn’t quite the rage game its reputation suggests, there are some annoying bits that can make it seem that way. For one, while it’s fairly obvious that you shouldn’t attempt to traverse a surface covered in ants, not every danger zone is as clearly delineated, and sometimes, you’ll try to stick to a wall that you think is fine and suddenly lose Edibility quickly; other times, you’ll accidentally fall onto a spot that you think would contaminate you lickety-split and nothing happens. Sometimes, you’ll be flipping along a wall and will suddenly stop because the camera is technically facing a different way and now your directional controls are reversed. Other times, you’ll think you should be able to grip onto something with one of your corners and won’t be able to until you’ve nudged, bent, and bounced yourself into a pixel-perfect position for the game to recognize it, which can be particularly aggravating when you’re trying to clear multiple shards of a shattered dish or glass before making the next big step.
I Am Bread is certainly one of the most creative games I’ve come across, and given that this column is meant to highlight games with unusual premises, that’s some high praise. Aside from the fact that you’re literally playing as a piece of bread looking to become toast, it’s a well-made, humorous, and mostly fairly challenging physics-based game with a control scheme that is relatively easy to learn (assuming you’re playing this on a gamepad and not your keyboard) but less simple to master. The fairly deep selection of secondary game modes is a nice bonus, the aesthetics are quite good, and even my complaints are nit-picky at best, as well. All told, I Am Bread is worth a look if you’re looking for a new kind of puzzle game that can both be described as “intriguing” as well as “tasty”.
Current Price – $12.99
Is It Worth It? – If you have a gamepad, yes, if not, ehhhhh…less so, probably.