A set of related questions loomed in my mind throughout my entire Pid experience. What does Pid mean? Iíve seen it styled in all caps. Is it an acronym? If so, what does it stand for? I began to envision many possibilities in describing what Pid might mean. At first, I saw blue and red robots and the game had some notions of political unrest. My first guess was ďPolitics in Disguise,Ē which was probably influenced by the debacle surrounding election season. As I pressed on, Pidís true meaning became clearer: ďPurposefully Infuriating Design.Ē
Pid is primarily a platformer, but it does contain many puzzle elements as well. The story follows a young boy, Kurt, who fell asleep on his interplanetary school bus ride home. He misses his stop and his abandoned on a strange, unfamiliar planet. The buses to this place seem to have stopped completely, so Kurt sets off to find a way home. Before long, he obtains a strange object. It grants him the ability to throw crystals which create a reverse tractor beam. They function similarly to the excursion tunnels in Portal, those long beams that push characters in one direction or another.
Kurt can have two of these beams available at a time, and they can be placed on most surfaces. Rather than jumping on platforms, the bulk of Pid has Kurt floating from platform to platform. It may sound kind of strange, but the learning curve is almost too gentle. At first, Pid seems very easy. It can even be relaxing. Retro Familyís incredible soundtrack is often atmospheric and soothing to listen to while floating about. Pid seems like a game about collecting stars and exploring for secrets. The first boss fight shows up, but itís not too difficult. Life is good. A short time later, Kurt makes his way to the surface of the planet. Itís the largest area yet. The city has both horizontal and vertical space to explore and a vibrant, energetic track by Retro Family. Pid hits its stride here. If it had continued in this way, it could have been a classic. Then the second boss, an aging balloon bandit, rears his ugly, over-inflated head.
I spent more than an hour trying to defeat this boss. Pid had succeeded fairly well at being a relaxing platformer, but for this boss it tries to be an 8-bit action game. There are a number of problems with this. Primarily, Kurt does not control like an 8-bit action hero. He controls like the pudgy little boy he is. He is not evasive or agile in the least, and dodging all of the hazards during this boss fight is tiresome. This would be a simple battle with Marioís physics, but itís bullet hell for poor little Kurt. The aggravation extends beyond the physics, though. About half of the bosses in Pid have too much health or too many patterns to work through.
There is a particular sequence of events to go through to damage the balloon bandit. Itís one of those boss fights where you have to get the enemy to expose his weakness, damage him, dodge his counterattack and then do it all again. Mario games ó and many games in general ó stick to the rule of threes here. If players can manage the task three times, they probably know what theyíre doing. Theyíve figured out the strategy, and most developers reward players by allowing them to continue with the game. Pid developer Might and Delight is run by sadists. Defeating the balloon boss requires completing the whole task roughly five to eight times. It might be possible in four, but it would require a lot of luck. This repetition is only exacerbated by Kurtís fragile health.
At the start of the game, Kurt cannot withstand any damage. One hit from anything, and itís back to the checkpoint. For the balloon bandit fight, the player should have a vest that can withstand at least one hit of damage. Problem is, there is no vest pickup immediately before the boss. Reaching the boss without a vest means starting the fight in a very vulnerable state.
Itís not just the balloon boss. Heís bad enough to practically wreck the game on his own, but he signifies a turning point in Pid. The difficulty eases up slightly for a time, but begins ramping up to levels rivaling Super Meat Boy. On the road to finishing Pid, my character died 416 times. I know this because Pid keeps track, displaying this figure and several others upon completion. If Pid had countered player death with super-quick respawns like Super Meat Boy does, this may have been more forgivable. Instead, it takes a full four or five seconds to respawn.
My death count actually seems to be fairly average after reviewing the leaderboards. In fact, at the time of this review, there are only 20 scores posted on Xbox Live for completing the game. Pid has been out for more than a week, and some of those scores are sure to be from other review copies. Yes Pid is a low-profile release, but the figure still seems staggeringly small.
When itís not being brutally difficult, Pid runs the risk of being bland and boring. Whenever it introduces a new idea, Pid holds onto that idea and wonít let go. Take stealth, for example. There is a section in Pid where enemy robots are searching for Kurt with spotlights. If they catch him, itís immediate defeat. Kurt can dodge the lights outright, or hide behind certain stage props and wait for them to pass. The mechanic works well enough, but it is fairly simple. One or two rooms would have done the trick. No, the developers place countless rooms in a row where this is the main obstacle. Pid is about eight to 10 hours long, but it feels about twice as long as it needs to be.
Managing to clear Pid once unlocks the ďhardĒ difficulty. Oddly enough, I can appreciate the hard difficulty more. Perhaps it was a shift in mentality. With the simplistic first act, Pid seemed like it would be an average, enjoyable platformer. A couple hours later, it made me want to chew my own skin off in frustration. Knowing what the game is capable of, I entered hard mode actually expecting misery and despair. My expectations were met and then surpassed. Might and Delight deserve real credit here. Hard more is more than just tougher enemies and less health. On hard, the whole of Pid is altered with additional hazards and ridiculously challenging enemy placement. For the record, there are currently only three people whoíve posted their scores for completing Pid on hard mode to Xbox Live. Hard mode lives up to its name, but thereís probably more to it than that.
Most people probably wonít find a reason to revisit Pid. There are collectibles and secret areas to find, but the gameís structure impedes exploration. The developers wanted to present Pid as a single, united experience. Think the continual flow of Limbo instead of the hub world and level selection of Braid. Thatís fine, but they could have added a stage selection feature upon completion. Returning to the save slot sends the player back to the final checkpoint instead of offering a way to check on progress. Might and Delight could have at least added some sort of area checklist to give players an inkling of where secrets might lie.
There are some redeeming qualities to Pid. It does manage to surprise in several pleasant ways. For instance, there is an enemy that is drawn to the gravity beam. They canít be pushed by it. Instead, they seem to awaken, attracted like moths to light. It requires careful beam usage to lure them about and some skillful maneuvering to avoid them. This design is genius. The final few sequences also offer some really cool tweaks to the platforming genre. Itís a shame the middle of Pid is a constant struggle between painful and placid.
Since Pid can be so punishing, itís hard to recommend wholeheartedly. Games should not be this hard on normal difficulty unless they are either Mega Man or Dark Souls. At least those games are upfront about their difficulties. Pid pretends itís a casual platformer, so itís surprising when it proves incredibly challenging. Pid is challenging for a lot of the wrong reasons, though. Simply shortening boss battles and reducing their health would improve the game tenfold. Pid may still be worth experiencing, however, because it can be clever in very subtle ways. If it ever receives patches to balance the difficulty, it may even shine faintly. Until then, be prepared for long sessions of teeth grinding.