Doesn’t Pode well.
It feels like quite the coincidence for Pode and Unravel 2 to release within two weeks of one another, given that both games are couch co-op-based indie puzzle-platformers with a focus on their cutesy characters. And Pode is very cute indeed; with its premise centered around a cute lil’ stone helping a cute lil’ star find its way home, Pode gives Unravel 2 a run for its money in the cute department. There’s even a button you can hold down to make the little star and little rock hold hands together. I mean, come on.
However, Pode can’t stack up to Unravel 2 on its cuteness alone – and sadly, it doesn’t. With humdrum puzzle design and surprisingly dull co-op gameplay, Pode’s charms fail to mask its plentiful blemishes. It’s a game that lands smack-dab in the middle of the road – and in the abundant sea of indie puzzle platformers, middle-of-the-road is the last place you wanna be.
As you might have guessed, Pode is a couch co-op game where one player controls the star and the other plays as the stone. Both characters can use the shoulder button to invoke a radius around them that alter the environment in different ways depending on which character you are. But even then, there is very little variance in the outcome of using either the star or the stone’s radius; the star can shine its aura on plants to make them grow and create platforms, while the stone can use its radius on stones to make them grow and… create platforms. Whichever character’s ability is needed to solve a puzzle often feels arbitrary and interchangeable.
In fact, I took issue with a lot of the puzzle design throughout Pode. More often than not I simply went through the motions of solving the puzzle as soon as I entered a room, as if through muscle memory. Even as new mechanics are introduced, you can’t help but feel like everything Pode has to offer is well-worn, familiar, and more likely to test your patience than your problem-solving or teamwork.
Even Pode’s visuals can start to grate after a while. I played through a good chunk of Pode in co-op; I was joined by my brother, who, not much of a gamer, tries his darnedest anyway. In the beginning, he enjoyed the presentation of the game and compared it to the work of Pixar – but it wasn’t long before he was bemoaning that each new level looked exactly the same as the one before it. For all of Pode’s colourful visual flourishes, much of it still takes place in dark, dank caves with little variance from world-to-world. Not only this, but for much of the game there is very little story to distract you in-between, so levels start feeling monotonous rather quickly.
It was in one of these very caves that I was using my stone powers to rotate ring segments of a circular puzzle – it’s the exact kind of puzzle you’d expect from a game of Pode’s ilk. While I solved the puzzle, my brother, playing as the star, stood idly by. Unable to interact with anything in the room, all he could do was wait patiently for me to complete it. “This puzzle would literally be more fun in single player,” my brother told me, “Because that way one person isn’t just standing around, doing nothing.”
He was completely right. In single-player you have to switch between stone and star and can only move one character at a time. As imperfect a solution as this is, it beats the alternative of one player having to wait for the other player to solve the puzzle. While there are many puzzles that require teamwork, it’s rarely complex and more often requires busywork from one player while the other watches and waits in a particular position, bored and impatient. It’s not a good look for the co-op part of a predominantly co-op game to be so dull.
Pode is not a bad game, by any means. It’s just very, very average, and that’s likely the most damning thing you could say about it. There’s a whole lot of stiff competition in the puzzle-platformer genre, each one vying for attention in a marketplace already flooded with games. Compared to them, it doesn’t feel like Pode cuts the mustard.
Jace is a lover of games experimental and strange. He is always chasing after wholly new experiences.