Bread and Fred's Co-Op Platforming Had Me in Tears
First Published: March 31, 2023

I haven't laughed this hard playing a game in a while.

Janet Garcia

Bread and Fred is a co-op platformer (with a single-player option) that left me laughing so hard I was in tears by the end of my PAX East appointment. While the publisher, Apogee Entertainment, didn’t have a booth on the floor this year they booked a hotel room to take press appointments to show off their games. This included Sand Castles Studio’s upcoming title, Bread and Fred. I had planned to take a nap between that morning's appointment and my panel but I had so much fun playing that it, quite literally, reenergized me. 

I went in with a pretty clear idea of what to expect since I had played Bread and Fred briefly at PAX West 2022. This time, however, I booked a formal appointment to learn more. My boyfriend Isaiah, the designer and developer of this very website, joined me for this co-op climb which was convenient since he’s usually my player 2.

Planting a Flag

Bread and Fred are two penguins, tethered together, climbing up a mountain across various terrain. This means you’ll have to coordinate jumping, swinging, and clinging to successfully make your way up. There are plenty of assist options available including the one I activated immediately: checkpointing. With checkpointing on you can plant a flag at any time so, if you fall, you can be flown back to the flag with a quick press of a button. 

Without checkpointing, Bread and Fred is pretty brutal. An unfortunate fall can have you sliding down the entire mountain in a way that’s as hilarious as it is heartbreaking. My favorite part of these failures is the exaggerated sound design and goofy animation of the penguins faceplanting onto the ground and staying there until you move. 

You can cling to walls you can only do so for a limited time. You can see the penguins slide down and become red in the face in real-time before they completely lose their grip. All of this adds charm and levity to the situation. Honestly, failure feels almost as good as success in Bread and Fred.

Laughter and Triumph

I’m not the only one rolling as my penguin rolls down a slope. “Every playtest we've seen has been full of laughter, yells, and high-fives between friends when they completed a hard jump together”, said Scott Miller, CCO and founder of Apogee Entertainment. So while some of the marketing mentions how rage-inducing Bread and Fred can be I personally had fun the whole time.

Frustration is also side-stepped by how well-made Bread and Fred is. Every victory feels earned and every failure feels deserved. Nothing about Bread and Fred feels petty or cheap when it comes to its difficulty and, as a lifelong platformer fan, I appreciate that.

Smart Decisions for Silly Times

While the core mechanics are simple the fun comes from thoughtful level design. Each jump to make and chasm to cross requires a bit of strategy. The recent addition of emotes supports this really well. There are a few silly ones like a sarcastic slow clap but my favorite is the ability to do a countdown of “3-2-1!” It’s such a smart addition because before that I found myself and Isaiah constantly counting down, re-establishing the pace, or having to double-check whether we are going on 1 or go. And while that would’ve been totally fine by me this is so much better. 

Movement is more than timing and the cable is more than a way to keep you connected. There’s a bit of physics involved as one of you may plant yourself firmly on a platform while the other swings around to launch both of you to the next section, using the momentum you’ve created.

It may sound like a lot to parse out but the tutorizalization is well done with key signage at the beginning of the game and a forgiving start to teach you those mechanics. 

Distinct Areas

While you start off on a snowy mountain, reminiscent of Celeste, you’ll have other environments to explore. In our preview session, we made it to a mine that introduced moving platforms as a new challenge. I’m excited to see how the various settings will call for new strategies and, hopefully, keep the game fresh throughout. 

Going Solo

While Bread and Fred is meant to be enjoyed with a partner I am happy to report that there’s a single-player option. When you’re playing alone you play as Greg and Jeff: a penguin and a rock duo, respectively. The rock can stick to surfaces, acting as a player 2. And you can swing the rock around to propel yourself across gaps. So all the same mechanics you can pull off in co-op can be done alone. 

This is a good solution but the thought of playing solo and being tethered to a rock instead of another penguin is so funny to me, shout out to all the only children who grew up gaming alone.

But who are Bread and Fred?

I asked the developers about the relationship between these two penguins but they refused to acknowledge whether they’re friends, siblings, lovers, or something else entirely. They’re just two penguins and they can be whatever you want them to be. As far as telling them apart: Bread has a red scarf and Fred has a green scarf. Visually, Fred has a more bulbous head/bigger forehead so, naturally, I see myself in Fred more than Bread.

Overall, I adored my time with Bread and Fred and it was one of the best games I played at PAX East 2023.

Bread and Fred has a 2023 release window. At the time of writing, there’s also a demo available on Steam.