Game: Bread and Fred
Genre: Action, Platformer
System: Steam (Windows & Linux)
Developer|Publisher: Sandcastle Studio | Apogee Entertainment
Controller Support: Yes
Price: UK £12.79 | US $14.99 | € 14.99
Release Date: May 23rd, 2023
Review code provided with many thanks to Stride PR.
Bread and Fred is a 2D co-op platformer where you play as two adorable penguins on a mission to climb a mountain together. If you are looking at this like I did, thinking this sounds like a cute little co-op platformer to enjoy with a loved one, then you are gravely mistaken. Bread and Fred is a frustrating experience that will test your stress levels and possibly your friendships to their limits.
The game strongly encourages playing with one another in multiplayer. This can be done locally or online (online is currently not available). Each player picks a penguin, and you soon find yourselves attached by a small length of rope. The goal is simply to reach the top of the mountain. You can perform a very small jump, but this is not enough to get up most platforms. The main mechanic you need to make use of is a swing mechanic. This is where one player anchors themselves on a platform and then dangles the other player, who then swings from side to side. You then need to let go at the right time so the player reaches the next platform and can pull the other up.
This all sounds simple in principle but ridiculously hard in execution. Precise timing is a must to get the most out of jumps. You can use an in-game timer to get this down, but you will probably still want to throw the controller out the window or at your co-op friend after your 5th long drop down the mountain. I first played this with my wife, and we just couldn’t get the swing mechanic down at all. Finding the experience generally stressful and frustrating. Not exactly the experience I was expecting from the game. Needless to say, progress was made in very small increments.
Controls are easy enough to pick up but, as described above, difficult to get the hang of, especially with two players. The game provides a hand-drawn manual to walk you through the swing mechanics, but the text on this is very small and hard to read. And I played this on a PC monitor. If you are able to stomach the gameplay, you’ll have additional challenges to contend with, like moving platforms and the wind itself impeding your progress. If you have further patience, you can collect photographs which provide a cute penguin photos and some small lore about previous penguins’ attempts of the climb.
A Helping Hand
It seems the developers were aware of the absurd difficulty of the game and added a few accessibility options. This includes planting flags in the ground acting as checkpoints. So if you do take an unfortunate tumble down the mountain, you can warp back to these areas maintaining your progress. The most notable feature is unlimited jumps which essentially just allows you to jump your way to the end of the game removing all the pulling and stress.
I’ll be honest, my partner and I reached our stress limit and took advantage of this to see what the ending of the game held, which didn’t really feel worth the potential long investment of grind to reach. This last accessibility option feels like overkill and unnecessary. A better option would have been just to allow the rope to be a bit longer or have the swinging mechanic slow down to time jumps better. It feels like there were multiple ways to improve the experience for everyone rather than resorting to a simple cheat option that just left me feeling unfulfilled.
A Rock and a Hard Single Player
Single-player is an option, but this feels like more of a punishment than playing with another human. Instead of a handy AI penguin, you are given a rock to lug around. You even have to lift the rock up onto your shoulders, restricting your movement. I honestly didn’t get far with the rock before I just lost my cool and gave up. You have to charge up your throw to throw it, and just like in co-op, the rope is just not long enough to make any meaningful progress. During the review phase, the rock wasn’t even rendered properly just looking like a dull blank pixel space. Though this will likely be fixed in a patch (update: it already has).
There are areas of the game I can give praise. The pixelated art style is warm and friendly. As mentioned in the intro, I can see many people drawn into the cute little penguins, thinking this will make the most heartwarming game nights. The music has a certain chilled, relaxed tone, which is nice but certainly doesn’t match the gameplay. As much as I liked the design and score, this wasn’t enough to thaw the stress this game caused.
Conclusion: A Test of Friendship
Bread and Fred was not the cuddly co-op adventure I was expecting. Frustrating in co-op and unplayable in single-player. This wasn’t for my wife, who I roped into playing this experience with me, or me. Costing me almost my marriage. I can see an audience who likes these overly hard games loving the challenge, particularly streamers and speedrunners. For all I know, this is another one of those experiences maybe I just don’t get as I’m getting older and not with the cool gamer kids. For most, I would advise approaching this with caution unless you want to test the length of your best gaming friendships.
Final Verdict: I’m Not Sure
I would highly recommend checking out the free demo on Steam to see if this is for you.
I wanted to test the online, but this is currently still unavailable. I’ll aim to test this with a buddy and update my review when it becomes available.