Defying Gravity with PidA game review article by: Nick Boisson
Remember the days of the Sega Genesis, when you stayed up all night trying to beat Sonic the Hedgehog 2? Why I remember a day when I was so close to finishing it – final boss! – but one of the arms on Dr. Robotinik's mech hit me while on my last life. I had never – and have not since – thrown my controller in rage from a game save for that moment. Now, Pid may not be that difficult, but I couldn't help but recall that Sunday evening a number of times when trying to get through a puzzle.
Pid is the first game out of Might and Delight, a small development studio in Stockholm with game creators that have worked on many AAA titles like Mirror's Edge and Battlefield, but became a team while working on Bionic Commando: Rearmed. This is important to note because of what Pid is: a wonderfully crafted puzzle-platformer. But let us not get ahead of ourselves here.
Pid is a platformer where you play Kurt, a young boy who fell asleep on the bus until the last stop. Where is this last stop, you ask? A planet inhabited by robots; some quite chatty and helpful with the lost alien boy, others...not so much. Since the bus is not scheduled to return any time soon to the part of town where he was left, Kurt must travel to the city to find a way back home. Along the way, you gain special gravity beams which are thrown onto the ground or on walls and push whatever is in the beam's grasp outward. You use these, along with bombs and a few other things you gain along the way, to navigate young Kurt through each puzzle.
But this is not the puzzle-platformer that you're used to. Kurt begins as a lost boy, just trying to make his way back to his planet. But when he finds the orb that grants him the ability to manipulate gravity, he goes from being a helpless child to a powerful adversary against these evil, domineering robots. The gravity beams not only make for a twist on the platforming aesthetic, but some quite unique puzzles. The game immediately reminded me of the first time I played Portal. Before jumping in, you look around the room you are in and try to find the best method to make your way across. And the path to the other side is a treacherous one, at that. Not only will you have enemies that will be coming after you – sometimes throwing bombs or firing (sometimes heat-seeking) missiles in your direction – many levels need to be traversed by not getting seen by an enemy. Stealth in your platformer? As I said, definitely not what you're used to. There will be many a time – many, many a time – where you will fail. But when I finally succeeding in solving a puzzle, I never felt frustrated. Like the Portal series, you feel proud – even intelligent – for having solved the puzzle rather than frustrated when you don't make it.
What I could see frustrating many casual gamers and those who were not playing platformers in the early- to mid-'90s is the one-hit kill system. That's right, folks: get hit or seen by an enemy once, you're going bye-bye. But, unlike the days of old when dying in Mega Man meant starting the entire level (or game) over, Pid has a very forgiving autosave system. After you complete any room, after any load screen or when you hit a checkpoint in the level, the game will automatically save. And Pid does this enough that you never feel punished for experimentation. On many levels, there is more than one way to get Kurt across. Autosaves make sure that you do not quit your game out of rage and throw your gamepad across the room. And this should be mentioned: even if you're playing on PC, be sure to use a gamepad. Not to have something to throw, mind you. Just because this just is not a game for the keys on one's keyboard.
And for those Mario, Sonic and Rayman fans out there, there is a collecting mechanic to Pid, as well. But rather than coins, rings or yellow lums, Kurt collects stars. The stars are suspended in the sky, most of the time in constellations. When you collect them, you can trade them in for loot like bombs or a life vest (which lets Kurt take an extra hit from enemies).
Pid also looks and sounds beautiful. The game is built on the Unity engine and it shines throughout. While it may just be a side-scrolling puzzle-platformer, every environment is very much its own. The non-playable robot characters all look like lost portraits from cubism paintings and much of the background is seen in a soft focus. That said, there is always movement, both in the foreground and the background and you cannot help but marvel at Pid's very European art design. Like its spiritual brother in arms, Limbo, any scene from this game can be put up in a museum as a digital work of art.
The music of Pid is also quite noteworthy. The charming and eclectic group of tracks are as much a part of the experience as the game's design. Every piece of music seemed to be crafted for each new world Kurt enters. And while one will notice the music right away, it is in no way overwhelming.
Pid is one of the most interesting platformers to have come out in this new decade and I, for one, cannot wait to see what Might and Delight has planned for the future. I will be watching this developer with great interest in the years to come. While it can be frustrating for those of us who do not enjoy the punishment that games like this – or Super Meat Boy – deliver, the clever level design, fun platforming and wonderful aesthetic make Pid a game that stands out from its peers. And, for those who just can't take it, there is always the new Easy mode...
Check out our interview with Pid's level designer, Andreas Wangler, only on Comics Bulletin!
Pop culture geek, Nick Boisson, lives in front of his computer, where he is Section Editor of Comics Bulletin's video game appendage and shares his obsessive love of video games, comics, television and film with the Internet masses. In the physical realm, he works in Comic Guest Relations for Florida Supercon in Miami as well as a day-to-day job, which he refuses to identify to the public. We're thinking something in-between confidential informant and professional chum-scrubber.