Sony PlayStation 4Also available on Nintendo Switch
Co-operative video games are never usually games that I put significant time into. Often, this is because it can be difficult to find a second player who will see a game through to the end. A Way Out is still sitting unfinished on my hard drive for this very reason. It’s a testament to Pode then, that my co-op partner, who’s video game history started and ended with Wii Sports, loved developer Henchman & Goon’s adorable 3D puzzle platformer from title screen to credits roll. Pode is marvellous.
The premise of Pode is simple; a fallen star called Glo sets out to find its way home with the help of a little rock called Bulder. The impossibly cute pair embark upon a journey to reach the summit of Mount Fjellheim. In their path lies an impressive number of puzzle rooms and challenges, which they must conquer with teamwork and their unique abilities. These abilities make up the core pillar of Pode’s very fun, simplistic gameplay. Glo has a teleportation ability, is weightless, and can be used as a torch in dark areas. While Bulder can carry important puzzle blocks and Glo in its mouth, weigh down buttons, and is able to travel to inaccessible areas through holes in the walls. Most importantly, Glo and Bulder can interact with plant life and rocks respectively; holding the right trigger produces a bubble around each character, which, when in contact with plants and rocks, causes the environment to bloom with life and colour. Think Thatgamecompany’s PlayStation 3 breakthrough hit, Flower, but in the form of a 3D co-op puzzle platformer and you’ll know what I’m talking about.
You’ll also know that this mechanic is a joy to behold, just as it is in Flower. It’s endlessly satisfying to watch Pode’s drab, grey puzzle rooms transform into a marvellous cornucopia of flowers, bulbous moss, and diamond-like rock formations. Every crevice and corner of each room will fill with the earth’s elements to create a canvas of natural life that impressed and excited me, despite me having seen the previous fifty rooms do the same thing. The desire to colour the world didn’t fade once during the 4-6-hour story, such is the strength of the world Henchman & Goon have built. Triggering the growth of every plant and rock in an area isn’t required, but you will feel compelled to scour every inch just so you can watch the world blossom over and over again.
Of course, Pode is not simply a 3D colouring book; to scale the interior of the mountain, you and your co-op partner must complete puzzles to keep unlocking more puzzle rooms and advancing towards the summit. While solo play is an option, swapping back and forth between the two characters can become tedious. The best way to play is with a friend, discussing the solutions to puzzles. Pode’s puzzles start simple, but gradually become more complex and challenging as the game wears on. For the most part, puzzles generally involve navigating the environments using Glo and Bulder’s abilities. It quickly becomes second nature to use Bulder to place blocks in obvious block shaped holes to open a door, or using Glo to place a teleportation bubble that will transport the pair to a ledge only Glo had access to. Most puzzles will pose little challenge, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing; this is an ideal game for young children and their parents to play together.
But only up to a point. Occasionally we would reach a puzzle that would leave us scratching our heads for longer than we would like to admit. This is where Pode falls down and leaves something to be desired. There’s nothing wrong with challenging players who reach the latter levels in the game, it’s necessary to keep players engaged. However, Pode introduces various puzzle concepts that are completely unexplained; getting through these sections was more of a happy accident than a challenge satisfyingly beaten. One frustrating water-based puzzle is more trail and error than smart thinking and required repeatedly adjusting the position of a lily pad until it was making enough contact with Glo’s ‘bring plants to life’ bubble for the game to register it.
At another point, the next area is visible but unreachable; there is no discernible way of getting there, no bridge or secret passage. The solution (after extensive searching) was to jump off the edge of the platform, letting us respawn on the other side. This was jarring, as falling off the edge had never previously been explored as a way to progress. This action was not utilised again, making this section all the more confusing, it felt more like we were breaking the game than finding a solution. There were three or four moments like this that would have benefited from the implementation of a hint system. I could see younger players hitting these strange roadblocks and not returning to Pode out of frustration.
Which would be a great shame, because Pode does so much right. The story is simple, but Glo and Bulder have such a wonderful friendship that I was enthralled by it and determined to help them finish their journey. Pode’s silent, adorable duo provoked an emotional response in me that few games rarely do. Their expressive faces pack a punch, especially when they find themselves separated; their sadness at losing their friend is gut-wrenching, and their elation at being reunited would warm even the coldest of hearts.
Despite some shortcomings with late-game puzzle design and a sometimes-frustrating lack of guidance, Henchman & Goon have crafted a platformer with so much heart and created two of my favourite video game characters in recent memory. Glo and Bulder are the epitome of friendship, and it’s refreshing to accompany them on a journey as pure and warm-hearted as the one you will find in Pode. I wholeheartedly recommend this joyous video game, and I really do hope it’s not the last we see of Glo and Bulder. In case anyone is not yet convinced, there is a button reserved for making the two characters hold hands. Lovely.