Review: Bread & Fred (Nintendo Switch)

Bread & Fred is a co-op platformer developed by Sand Castles Studio and published by Apogee Entertainment. It marks the debut title for this indie developer, presenting a fun-yet-challenging experience that gives me high hopes for the team’s future.

In Bread & Fred, you and a buddy play the roles of two cute penguins known as, you guessed it, Bread and Fred. These pals begin at base camp among their penguin brethren before embarking on a trek up the nearby mountain. Along the way are several characters to meet, collectibles to find, and races to win. However, the main premise is the climb itself.

Review: Bread & Fred (Nintendo Switch)

Gameplay is seemingly simple; leap from platform to platform. The trick is to jump while being tethered to one another. And therein lies the challenge; most jumps are too far to jump without either jumping together or swinging one another using the tether, the momentum hurling the penguins further. You’ll need a lot of patience and a good partner to get to the top. 

The peak is 500 meters high – that’s over 1600 feet for you imperial folk. The game sports a handy gauge that monitors your altitude (in meters) as you climb. It’s satisfying to see the numbers slowly increase. There’s a lot of sideways movement required before you can climb higher. There’s also plenty of downward motion because – guess what? – you fall often. Like, constantly. You then have to re-climb any sections you’ve fallen past on your way back down. Is it frustrating? That’s a tricky question to answer.

I love platformers. And I love a challenge. But this is a tough little title to master. Patience is key, with a lot of trial and error at each and every jump. It takes a while to master, which could prove too much for some players. The developers are aware of this high difficulty; to help keep things somewhat balanced, there’s no heart counter or timer to worry about, just those pesky cliffs to scale. There are also several accessibility features that make things much easier. These can be toggled on or off at any point. 

Bread & Fred - Nintendo Switch - screen 1

A checkpoint is one such option. This allows you to plant a flag, showing off your accomplishment like any decent mountain climber by indicating that you’ve conquered part of the mountain. It also means that, if – more accurately, when – you fall, you can easily whisk yourself back to that checkpoint. No need to climb the same sections repeatedly, then.

A more overpowered option is flight. Yes, these penguins can actually fly, pulled off by pressing the relevant button. It feels an awful lot like cheating (and it is) since you can simply flap your way up the entire mountain in mere minutes and finish the game. It gives you an idea of what to expect when you give it a real go – that was my excuse, anyway. What it’s actually handy for is flapping back up to where you just fell – it’s faster than the checkpoint – or skipping particularly challenging sections. So, only half cheating.

Despite this title being made for co-op, I appreciate the options for solo players. Online connectivity means you can partner-up virtually with someone from another location. Plus, if you can’t find a worthy real-life companion to climb with, there’s a dedicated single-player mode. This is a terrific inclusion that helps share the game with a wider audience. Not that it makes things much easier, mind you.

Bread & Fred - Nintendo Switch - screen 2

In the single-player mode, your climbing buddy is a rock named Jeff. I love Jeff. He sports a smiley face that provides a little personality. Apart from that, he doesn’t do much – I mean, he’s a rock. This partner changes the way you climb. It even slightly alters the course, with some differences in the layout of the mountainside. 

You can pick up Jeff and carry him. In fact, you have to pick him up in order to walk since he’s too heavy to drag. You can toss him, and holding the throw button launches him even further. If you time this correctly, you will jump mid-throw to gain extra momentum and distance. This is a difficult move to master (at least for me). It took an absurdly long time to learn, though it felt satisfying once pulled off. Another handy Jeff move is his ability to “stick” to walls temporarily, allowing you to swing yourself onto other walls or ledges. 

It’s this combination of moves that helps you clamber slowly up the mountain. Bread & Fred comes across as a relaxing game, and in some ways it is. The piano-based music, for example, provides a soothing backdrop to your high-rise adventure. Another clue is the lack of enemies and any kind of timer; despite appearances, this isn’t a Mario-like adventure. Instead, the focus remains purely on ascending. Just don’t let the cute aesthetics fool you; this is a tough title to master. On the plus side, it means a true climb – without flying – is likely to take some time, giving the game plenty of longevity. 

Overall, Bread & Fred is a unique platformer with moments of brilliance and frustration in equal measure. It looks lovely and I appreciate the unique co-op approach to things, along with the inclusion of Jeff in single-player mode. It’s hard, though; perhaps too hard to be truly enjoyable. If you have a patient partner, then this could be a fun way to test your relationship.

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