My slice of bread teeters on the edge of the kitchen cabinet. I’ve spent a painful half hour sliding across counters, coaxing my bread clumsily over chairs and butter tins, and now one wrong nudge on the control stick will send it into the watery oblivion of the sink below. But with some nifty thumb work I could fling it, end-over-end, onto the next cabinet along, and from there it’s only a short distance to a gluteny Mecca: the toaster.
Inevitably - as seems to happen several times a minute in I Am Bread - it all goes wrong quickly. For a second I think I’ve made it, as my slice takes flight in the general direction of my target. But the crust barely grazes the cabinet handle before sailing through empty space, ricocheting off a beer bottle, and splatting onto the ant-ridden floor below. Game over.
I Am Bread hides sporadic moments of fun behind layers of frustration. You control a slice of bread that can stick to any surface by its four corners, and your sole goal is to become toast. That means finding a heat source, which varies depending which of eight household rooms that serve as levels you play in the main story mode: an iron in the bedroom, a radiator in the lounge, and so on.
After an initial fifteen minutes of giggling, the absurdity of the premise wears off, leaving just the flimsy core mechanics. Each corner of your slice has an assigned button, either the shoulder or trigger buttons on the PS4, and holding them will make that corner stick to anything it’s touching. Moving the control stick then shimmies the bread in whichever direction you choose around that pivot until you find another sticking point.
The tastiness of your toast determines your score. Your bread starts off blank and bland, so to make it scrumptious you’ll have to top it with something. Hidden in each room are slabs of butter to flop around in and jam jars that will smash when touched, allowing you bath in their red gooiness. The trouble is, they’re often out of the way and require exploration: the risk you’ll fail on the way negates any satisfaction you get from bumping up your grade. Taste test failed.
In no time I was shimmying up walls and flying across flat surfaces with ease. But twisting my bread around corners and over uneven objects - plates, stacks of cardboard boxes, an unmade duvet - proved fiddly, and it’s too easy to slip off edges onto the floor. I was constantly wrestling with the camera, controlled with the right stick, to get the best line of attack, and the direction in which my left stick moved my slice never felt consistent.
When I did nail the controls, the wonky physics let me down. More than once I got stuck in objects near the end of levels, with my only option a desperate dive for the skirting board. Sometimes, bread that looks like it’s touching a surface won’t catch, or will only allow you to stick during a brief window if you wiggle at a specific angle. It’s tiresome.
Even more annoying is the fact your bread gradually loses grip as it locks onto objects, and needs periodic breaks every 20-30 seconds to recharge. This means even if you’re on a good run - flipping from shelf to shelf, shuffling across walls and vaulting windowsills - you never really gather momentum. It slows the pace.
Falling on the floor or venturing onto other grimy areas: a damp wall, a pillow topped with nail clippings, a pile of used Band-Aids (yes, this game is gross) will make your slice less appetising. When your edibility - displayed in the top left - reaches zero, it’s game over, and you have to restart the level. That happens far too often. For the amount of times you’ll fail, the levels are painfully long: it took me more than 35 minutes for my longest successful attempts, and having all that undone by a momentary slip left me raging.
After three expletive-ridden failures I Am Bread will let you pick up a jar of golden marmalade, giving you unlimited grip and full edibility no matter what mess you get into. With no challenge, the mundanity of simply getting your bread from point A to point B is painfully exposed.
To enjoy I Am Bread you’ll have to master it. Pulling off a long distance jump - achieved by swinging your bread and releasing all grip buttons to send it flying - brought a pang of pleasure, and YouTube is filled with handy gamers showcasing their skills on the earlier-released PC version. But mastery requires dedication, and I Am Bread doesn’t give you enough reason to hang around.
There is a text-based story that plays out before the start of each level, about the inhabitant of the home you're navigating and his consultations with a psychiatrist (he thinks a slice of bread is destroying his house, you see). It’s well-written but easily skipped, and feels more like an excuse for the action than the driving force. It delivers a satisfying punch line at the game’s conclusion, but by the time I got there I was so beleaguered I barely cracked a smile.
The five other modes are welcome distractions from the frustrations of the story, but ultimately provide little more than light relief. Bagel race is the highlight, where you roll through the eight levels, this time filled with ramps, bumps and jumps. Its fast-paced, and the levels are short enough (half a minute should see you to the finish line) that I wanted to constantly improve my time.
Conversely, Rampage - where the goal is to cause as much destruction as possible with a wildly flailing baguette - exposes the games performance issues: when you manage to encourage your unpredictable baton to smash into the tower of wine glasses, the frame rate drops to flick-book levels.
Bossa Studios didn’t intend for this to be a masterpiece. It’s a dip-in, dip-out physics simulator with an amusing premise. If you gather a few friends ‘round the TV you’ll probably get a laugh out of throwing your slices around a virtual home. But that’s where the fun ends. Its success relies on its core game being fun and - unforgivably - it’s not. I Am Bread is a one-note joke that goes stale quicker than an old loaf on a hot day.
This game was reviewed on PS4.