I can't tell whether it's a complaint or not that my first thought upon completing my first stage in I Am Bread was, "I don't know if I would eat any bread that naturally sticks to the wall."
Never mind that this was after six minutes of rubbing the slice on a pile of jelly and broken glass, throwing it on a skateboard, letting ants crawl on it, and dragging it bare across a kitchen counter. Just something about the sticking to the wall pressed the wrong button. We all have standards, right?
But these are the kinds of thoughts that permeate the first chuckle-filled hour or two of playing I Am Bread, that magical period of a game like this, Bossa's own Surgeon Simulator, or Soda Drinker Pro where the joke is fresh and still overshadows the proper game found under the joke. The honeymoon period does eventually fade. And when the laughing stops, the white-knuckled aggravation begins.
But before that, there is the joke: the fact that I Am Bread is exactly what is advertised. In every level, you play as a sentient slice of bread who sets out on a Sisyphean quest to cross a room and to become golden brown, delicious toast by any means necessary. You do this by inching yourself across a surface or flipping yourself over and over to cover more distance and climbing the walls by sticking yourself to them. The goal could be a toaster. It could be a broken, burning TV. It could be an iron that somebody carelessly didn't unplug. Anything that provides enough heat to get yourself toasty can potentially finish the level for you. But time is of the essence, edibility is of the essence, and deliciousness is of the essence. No, really, the more jelly you can get on yourself before you cook, the better. But make no mistake: you must become toast.
Unlike most games of this ilk, I Am Bread comes more from a nice baseline of competent game design. It's certainly more visually appealing than normal, with a kitschy 1950s homemaker environment with a strong dose of food-affecting grossness to give it a contrast. The score has a bouncy, Ben Folds vibe, and though the tunes themselves are short and repetitive, they help sell the pleasant times.
Using a gamepad (and I would highly recommend the gamepad, as a mouse/keyboard is staggering in its uselessness here) and moving around as bread is slow but has a clear logic to it. Just pressing the left stick in a particular direction allows you to inch little by little in the chosen direction. Holding one of the shoulder buttons, each corresponding to a corner of the bread slice, allows you to clutch any surface while you turn the bread off the anchor point you're holding. If a manipulable object is in range, toggling a face button allows you to hold onto it while you do your thing. It's actually easy and logical in context, and it makes the early stages easy to work with.
It doesn't take long for an evil spike of a learning curve to present itself, however. By stage three, there are fewer flat surfaces to work with and more hellish climbs up walls, bending the slice around corners, and hoping that the finicky physics engine decides not to screw you over if you land in just the right way where you bounce off your destination. You could end up in a freefall where you think you have a shot at grasping a surface to avoid hitting the dirty floor but don't (dirtiness affects edibility, and inedible bread is dead bread.) If you manage to get into a groove with movement, though, it's possible to cartwheel your slice across virtually anything, and that's around when the slew of bugs start to make their presence known. Many have been reported and supposedly fixed by the game's most recent update. For my part, aside from a few physics issues where a bread slice falls through an object it's supposed to lean on, one big one cropped up more than any other: a camera issue where the point of view will tilt straight up, at random, for no reason at all. When sitting on flat surfaces, it's annoying but acceptable. During a grueling climb, however, in a section that's already taken 10-15 minutes to traverse, it can mean the difference between becoming toast and becoming...er...toast. And messing up a stage where you've already spent a half hour just to get within a breath of a hot place, only for the game's physics to throw you for just enough of a loop to fail and send you back to the start, is an infuriating place to be.
The joke does have a punchline it's building to: an ongoing story of the guy whose apartment you're making a mess of in your toasty quest for enlightenment, who's being diagnosed by a therapist because no one believes that sentient bread is to blame. That ultimate punchline is funny, but the game has the same problem that all these joke titles have in that the effort required to hear the joke through to its conclusion renders said joke inert. The game fares better with its bonuses: a demolition mode in which you play a destructive baguette that can be tossed around to wreck a kitchen, a bagel race, and the ability to play stages in zero gravity, with each slice of bread equipped with tiny boosters. The game fares better with these because they can be accessed, futzed around with for 10-15 minutes, and left alone. And yet, the ability to access them requires beating each stage, which can take anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour each, and that's with no guarantee that you'll be successful.
Ultimately, it's a game for the same folks who still cackle with glee whenever there is a new Sharknado, or that still watch Snakes on a Plane. The joke is in the premise, in the title, and it won't stop winking and snickering with you for hours on end. But all it takes is one moment of clarity, one second-guess "why was I laughing" for the whole thing to fall apart. And in this game's case, all it has to do is remind you of how irksome it can be and often is to go from being a goofy joke to a serious headache in a flash.