Reviews// Pode

Posted 19 Jul 2018 16:26 by
Games:
Couch co-op games have recently begun to come back in style. For a while it felt like they were gone for good as developers began to focus almost entirely on the online experience. However, a new breed of independent developers are filling the gap left by the bigger publishers with experiences that can only be played by people in the same room. 'Henchman and Goon's' Pode reminds me to a great extent of a rather forgotten PS2 game released early in the console's cycle, Kuri Kuri Mix. Both games focus on navigating platforms cooperatively whilst solving puzzles. However, Pode's design is significantly more forgiving, although its puzzles are rather more esoteric.

Players control two extremely cute characters, a rock named 'Bulder' and a fallen star named 'Glo' as they navigate the environment, restoring colour in the form of greenery (Glo) and crystals (Bulder) to the caves through which they travel. Each character has its own abilities with additional ones unlocking as players progress through the various challenging rooms that make up the world.

To ensure success, the two characters generally have to work together, either by combining special abilities or simply by acting as a platform upon which the other can reach another platform. Upon entering a new area, the first goal of the player is to see how the environment can be manipulated.

Both 'Bulder' and 'Glo' can make changes to the setting with a press of one of the shoulder buttons. As a fallen star, the light from Glo will cause plants and other vegetation to grow, with melting ice providing access to new areas or platforms upon which the characters can progress. The crystals formed by Bulder's ability open additional areas and when combined with Glo's teleport ability can shift the two characters through difficult spaces.

As the game progresses the puzzles that unlock new areas become progressively more difficult, forcing the player to consider new ways to utilise the character's abilities. Generally, puzzles are logical with a well-judged difficulty curve. However, on a few occasions I was completely stumped and had to resort to trying everything in order to proceed. Fortunately moments like these are few and far between, although I did find the fixed camera perspective rather restrictive. On several occasions I found myself trying to use the right stick to try to rotate the camera and get a better view of an area, but sadly this isn't possible.

Although Pode has been designed to be played cooperatively it can be played in single-player. This generally works quite well with the player pressing a button to switch between characters at appropriate moments. The slow pacing of the game ensures that this approach works as split-second timing is rarely a requirement for successfully completing a puzzle.

However, when playing alone, at one point I was unable to progress without getting another person (my daughter) to assist. Nonetheless, this may have been more down to me trying to solve a problem in an unexpected way than a problem with the game's design. Although I enjoyed the game more when playing with my daughter it is certainly still a fun experience when played solo, although part of the message of the game, friendship and cooperation, is rather lost if played alone.

Visually and aurally Pode is impressive. By the time a cave has been thoroughly traversed the drab interior has become a sea of colour.

The game performs well in handheld mode on the Switch, however I did notice a little slowdown when I played the game docked in TV mode. This has little to no impact on the overall quality of the experience and I would imagine may be fixed with a patch. Pode's soundtrack perfectly matches the unique art style of the game. As I played I was reminded of ThatGameCompany's Journey, which is perhaps unsurprising as they share a composer, Austin Wintory. The soundtrack is minimal enough not to interfere with conversation when playing but adds significantly to the atmosphere.

As a cooperative experience, Pode is certainly worth playing, although I did find some puzzles to be rather obscure. When playing alone this can be frustrating, but with a partner it encourages conversation. The challenge comes not from competition or the need for great dexterity but through teamwork and carefully considering the environment. Without a companion the overall message of the game is rather lost, which is unfortunate. Pode is an interesting take on the puzzle genre, one that deserves to be experienced, particularly with a friend.

Pros:
+ Visually impressive.
+ Interesting puzzle mechanics.
+ Cooperative mode is well realised.

Cons:
- Puzzles can be obscure.
- Single player is not recommended.
- Occasionally struggles on the Switch when docked.

SPOnG Score: 7/10
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