Friday, June 22

Review: Pode [Nintendo Switch eShop]

One of the greatest things that the Switch has provided an opportunity for is to rejuvenate local cooperative gaming with its basic design and general philosophy. Already there have been some excellent co-op experiences to be had on the system, but there’s certainly always room for more. With so many games having a heavy action and intensity focus a title like Pode is a welcome arrival, bringing with it a low-pressure, beautiful, and thoughtful experience that is well-suited to couples in particular.

If you’re looking for a story there’s not much to speak of but the basics involve your two characters, essentially a fallen star and a rock, trying to return the star to the sky. In order to do this you’ll need to venture through a series of caves that play out as puzzles, leveraging each character’s skills in a variety of increasingly clever and unique ways to advance. Throughout the game probably the most lovely aspect of play is your characters’ abilities to turn what begin as drab areas into lush and gorgeous ones. Using the power of the sun, and whatever it is the rock has, vegetation and rock formations will appear. Not only do these help the game aesthetically, they also often impart direction on what you may need to do and help reveal elements like platforms you’ll need to use to get around. In the early game you’ll need to be very attentive to the images on the walls as they’ll try to help clue you in on new techniques you can use.

Experimentation, even when you know the basics, is vital to success and you’ll consistently be pushed to look for any visual cues around the screen to find solutions to what are sometimes pretty tricky action puzzles that will require careful coordination. What’s great is that the game is absolutely viable in single-player but works most efficiently with a friend. Working by yourself you’ll just need to switch back and forth between characters, but in another great touch you’re even able to easily switch back and forth when playing cooperatively in the event one of you needs to make a tricky jump or maneuver. Not having to physically hand off the joycon is a great convenience and smart design.

That said you probably will need to be prepared to struggle a bit at times as some techniques may not be immediately apparent given the somewhat limited direction you’re given. This is definitely an area where playing with a partner helps as you can both come up with ideas on what you may need to do next. You could view the challenge as fun and tied to discovery, or you could find it aggravating and a bit obtuse… fortunately there simply aren’t that many actions you can perform so that does help narrow things down. Another struggle my wife and I had in places was pacing as you need to get accustomed to your somewhat sluggish rate of speed. In some regards it’s a help since it prevents being quite so careless, but certainly when you fall somewhere and need to get into place to start all over again it can elicit grumbles. About my only other complaint and warning is to always be mindful that some areas need more than one round of activation. On more than one puzzle we got to a point where we thought we’d done everything and couldn’t figure out what to do next. What you’ll learn is: When in doubt try to activate everything again, there are simply some stubborn plants and elements that don’t like to reveal themselves the first time around.

Overall, if you’ve been searching for a terrific game to play with a non-gaming partner Pode may be among the best options on the system. For people who aren’t hardcore gamers the more casual pace will probably be welcome and as long as one person has at least moderate gaming skills the ability to shift control back and forth will come in handy. Certainly aesthetically it’s delightful, the sense of discovery is a consistent joy, and the generally fair but challenging puzzles have some air of originality to them that’s welcome. Pode is a wonderful game for couples and general puzzle fans alike.

Score: 7.5

  • Visually beautiful
  • Well-designed co-op play
  • Some creative variety and uses of skills

  • There can be an aggravation factor in places where it can be hard to tell what to do
  • Some platforming sections can be tricky, which mixed with the slow pace is annoying
  • Playable solo but slower-paced and not as fun