Steam gets a bad rap for all of the indie games that dilute their marketplace but every now and then something special comes along and today that game is Pode; perhaps one of the best and certainly the most unique – from an artistic standpoint – puzzle-platform game I’ve played this year. Having just come from reviewing Biped, another co-op game platformer that was designed for co-op but playable solo, I was eager to see what this new indie adventure had to offer. In Pode you’ll be playing as either Glo, a fallen star or Bulder, a rock if playing co-op with a friend or switching between these two characters if playing alone, as you explore and navigate puzzle-like environments that evolve from your mere presence and aura. There is no backstory or details given about who you are, why you are here, or what you are supposed to do. I had to check the Steam page to find out this much; not that you really need character names or a reason to play a platformer, but it seems that so many indie games forego the formalities these days – here’s our game…play it.
Anyway, each character has their own inherit abilities; Glo can illuminate the environment and radiate heat to melt ice or generate spontaneous growth of plants while Bulder can make use of portals to navigate the levels, radiate energy to spawn growth in crystal shards and release collectible energy trapped in those shards. Each level is a self-contained screen with the primary goal, making your way to the exit, but this often requires extensive exploration and interaction with your surroundings by both characters, often interacting with each other to overcome puzzle-like obstructions. Having two people makes this significantly easier, but Pode is totally playable if playing alone, much like any of the LEGO games. One helpful trick is the ability to link the two characters together by squeezing both triggers and moving them at the same time; at least until a puzzle forces you to separate.
The puzzles are increasingly creative and even a bit challenging, but nothing too overwhelming for even the youngest gamers provided they are observant of the stylized environments. Parts of the world are linked but not in an obvious way, often require a bit of trial and error to figure out the proper path to the exit for each character, which is often not the same. Glo might radiate light on one side of a level to raise a leaf-platform on the other side for Bulder to ride up then Bulder might stand on a button to raise a stone column for Glo to ride up. Sometimes these two might have to stand on each other’s “shoulders” and sometimes Bulder might have to “eat” Glo and spit him/her out across a gap too far to jump.
One of the more interesting elements of Pode is that the hints and tips are often embedded in the world design as these artistic hieroglyphics etched right into the walls. There is very little instruction other than the occasional pop-up controller button tips during the tutorial and a few more throughout the game as new commands are introduced. The controls are intuitive, and while each character has limited abilities to affect their surroundings, the game consistently and creatively mixes these abilities to create some astonishingly clever puzzles. All of the answers are contained within the game, so even when you come across a seemingly impossible glyph/button puzzle you probably just need to look around some more.
Pode really shines with its presentation, featuring a wonderful art style with great lighting effects and some stunning growth animation, as all sorts of vegetation springs to life as Glo moves around barren earth radiating warm light, while Bulder can do the same, infusing energy into small chunks of crystal to create towering crystal spires. You can even link the characters together for maximum regenerative effect. Pode has modest system requirements and looks fantastic on the highest settings. Oddly, your only graphical options are Small, Medium, and Large, so I can’t even tell you what resolution the game is running at but it looks great. The simplistic yet stylish art design can be breathtaking at times with so much life and animation, both in the wildlife and level design as well as the adorable waddling of the two characters. There is even this cute animation when one character gets to the exit and turns to the other, unable to exit without their partner.
Even better than the graphics might just be the soundtrack composed by Austin Wintory. I must have sat at the title screen for over ten minutes just listening to the soothing music, and it only gets better once you start playing the game. Combined with the effervescent, sprouting environments, Pode is this mystical place of enchanting wonder that dazzles from start to finish. Every visual effect, every tune, every sound effect is spot-on perfection. If this is what Norwegian art and culture is about then I want to experience more.
For only $20 I can’t recommend Pode highly enough. Don’t even wait for a sale; especially if you are looking for a great co-op experience to share on the couch or using Steam’s remote play. Lack of online support is the only reason this game isn’t getting a perfect score. With eight levels, each featuring multiple stages, you can expect upwards of 6-8 hours to finish and probably 10-12 if you want to complete the game finding all the 70+ collectibles. I was pretty thorough and still missed a few, but the game makes if super-easy to revisit any specific stage and find those missing items. Additionally, co-op can be toggled on/off at any point in the game from the menu; perfect for the drop-in experience. Pode is a pure delight from start to finish and a great recommendation for family-friendly entertainment.