Pode [Review]

Pode

Rock-Star Love

Developer & Publisher:  Henchman & Goon

Date Played: August – September, 2018

Platform: Nintendo Switch

Duration: 10-15 hours, 20 hours for completionists

Price: $24.99 on Nintendo eShop

REA Reaction

Pode was a gorgeous platform puzzler that never fully matched its beauty with puzzle brilliance.

Playing Pode felt like walking through a Scandinavian fairy tale. I discovered ancient art embedded in the rock walls and made it glow. I turned drab landscapes into verdant gardens. In the end, I helped two elemental beings puzzle their way up a mountain to find their eternal happiness.

Glo and Bulder looking into one another's eyes with the mountain in the background.

Some levels garnered a satisfying “aha moment;” others left me with the experience of deja vu. The diversity of the environments was so impressive that I wished such consistent attention had been put into the puzzles.

Pode is best for those who want to see beautiful video game art shine while tackling some mostly-good platform levels in an adorable couch co-op.

Glo and Bulder blushing holding hands on a stone in the middle of lava.

Who is this for?

  • Co-op loving couples
  • Patient parents who want to teach their preteens problem-solving
  • Fans of Wall-E

Why play?

  • Adorable character interactions in an aesthetically lush environment
  • The joy of collaborating with your partner to overcome a challenge

Story

Pode began with a star named Glo falling from the sky. She despaired at her fate on Earth until she met a rock named Bulder. He offered to help her get to the top of the highest peak in the land and back into the heavens.

Glo and Bulder looking at each other with an aurora glowing behind them.

Glo and Bulder each had special qualities. She was lighter than air. He was magnetic. Their auras inspired Mother Nature. Wherever Glo stepped, plants sprung from the earth. Bulder loved crystals and they erupted from rock faces as he passed by.

After some early success, their hands touched, revealing the slightest spark. Could this be the beginning of a beautiful relationship?

Setting

Pode took place in caves leading to the top of a mountain… but it was far from a dank and dismal place. Through our special abilities we felt like demi-gods, commanding nature to bloom, blossom, shine, and sparkle.

Backgrounds felt hand painted and the lighting details added to the artistry of the world’s creation. When Glo walked past a stalagmite, her light cast shadows and lit the facets of the rock in all the ways they would in nature.

Glo and Bulder holding hands and looking upon the mountain.

Gameplay

In each area of Pode, we aimed to get from the starting point of an area to a seemingly unreachable exit by coordinating the talents of Glo & Bulder. The power of nature was our constant companion, but just as often, it was the source of an obstacle before us. We encountered waterfalls, darkness, and a seemingly endless number of cliffs that were slightly too high to jump up to.

I played the first half of Pode with a partner who didn’t have a lot of experience with platform puzzlers. She was drawn in by the visuals and the characters, but loved the fun of getting here-to-there. Pode had a good tutorial area at the beginning and she and was offering solutions right away.

Unlike most platformers, there were no enemies to avoid. This makes it more approachable to inexperienced gamers. If both co-op partners are new to platformers, they will find some frustrating moments. My ability to jump accurately, for example, helped a great deal. When we did miss jumps, we were forced to repeat multi-step processes to get back into position.

Glo and Bulder holding hands while walking down a narrow path into a volcano.

Analysis

➕  Pac-Man style interludes between levels moved the love story along in a subtle but touching way. It was cute without being cutesy.

Glo and Bulder holding hands in a beautiful cave with glowing crystals, and luminescent plants.

➕  Fun moments delighted me and my co-op partner. The first time I (as Bulder, the rock) stood on her head (as Glo, the star) to get across a pond, we literally LOL’ed.

➖  The game uses a hub-world system where we could access two areas at a time. This led to a mostly linear experience. When we were stuck in an area, we were stuck good.

➖ At around the midpoint, cluing largely dropped away and I was convinced I was missing something obvious, which led to frustration.

➖ After our heroes grew all the plants and crystals in a level, the Switch sometimes experienced “chug” or slowdown. There were too many objects to render everything in real time. In a game where jumping accuracy was important, this was an unwelcome complication.

➕ A fast-travel system allowed me to go back to areas where I didn’t finish a puzzle or find a collectible.

Glo activating her power in a beautiful volcano.

➕ The attention to sound was well done. The folk-inspired music was appropriately mystical and added a lot to the overall experience. Glo & Bulder’s expressive chirps and grumbles inspired fond memories of Wall-E.

❓ There was no dying in Pode. When we fell off platforms, we popped back up unharmed. That was nice, and most of the time we returned to a place that made sense. Occasionally though, it sent us back too far and we’d have to repeat several steps.

Pode left me wishing there was more to it. Each character only got one additional ability as the game progressed. The levels’ solutions were similar throughout, rather than gradually upping the difficulty. The puzzles in final area were particularly easy to solve.

❓ I had seen many of the core platforming elements (wind, pressure pads) executed more inventively in other platformers, but the puzzles worked and inspired us to do the occasional victory fist-bump as we progressed.

Glo and Bulder holding hands in a cave.

Tips For Playing

  • Glo could use her shine to find hidden art in the walls of the caves and Bulder could open metal flowers. While lovely, these collectible elements were completely optional and had no effect on forward progress in the game. The only exception was the cave art at the end of each level. It often helped us solve the final puzzle.
  • Pressing “Y” allowed us to swap our controls between the two characters. This was useful when one player had an idea for solving the level but they needed the abilities of the other character. Without this, there would have been a lot of controller-swapping.

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