I’m a sucker for a good co-op title and, despite only recently finishing the brilliant Unravel Two, I’ve been itching for another adventure that I can share with a friend. Fortunately, the team at Henchman & Goon have delivered a neat puzzling co-op escapade with Pode – a clever little title that sees a fallen star team up with a friendly little rock to try and make its way back up to the starry skies. Believe me, it’s as charming as it sounds.
As mentioned, Pode puts players into the shoes (metaphorically speaking, that is) of a fallen little star named Glo and a lovable little rock named Bulder as they work together to traverse through a mysterious mountain, with the ultimate goal being to lead Glo to the top so she can re-join her bright brethren in lighting up the night sky. Of course, seeing as they’re both magical, climbing the mountain sees them affecting it in different ways, which sees a new lease of life brought to the typically gloomy setting. It’s incredibly charming and brings am enchanted sense of storytelling to what could’ve easily just been a non-contextualised puzzler.
Gameplay wise, both Bulder and Glo have unique abilities that you’ll have to use carefully (and co-operatively) if you’re going to make your way through the game’s many puzzles.
Bulder’s skills focus on his bulk and ability to manipulate rocks, with him able to activate the switches in the environment or even eat objects and spit them out to use as makeshift weights. Glo on the other hand is more lightweight, allowing her to tiptoe across water or glide across large spaces. Both have the ability to manipulate the environment by holding down the right trigger button – Glo causes plant life to grow around her, whilst Bulder is able to form rock formations. It’s a neat ability which not only affects gameplay, but also just so happens to look pretty in-game too.
As you progress and come across more complicated puzzles, you’ll see Bulder and Glo’s abilities expand too. Pode constantly gives players a new challenge to face throughout its fairly lengthy story, so it’s not a case of seeing everything that it has to offer within in the first few hours alone. You can expect to be kept tested from start to end and thankfully each puzzle is always satisfying to solve.
Some of these puzzles’ solutions might be obvious immediately, whilst some will genuinely have you stumped for some time. There are often little clues scattered around that’ll point you in the right direction, but you’ve also got to be able to think outside of the box if you want to find success. Some of the puzzles are surprisingly elaborate in design and actually have a fair bit of platforming involved too, so you’ll need some solid skills if you’re going to make your way to the top of the mountain.
Admittedly, the platforming could depend on precision a little too much at times, with some awkward moments seeing a section end in failure because a jump hasn’t been hit perfectly. Given that this can essentially mean you have to work through a puzzle all over again thanks to the dependence on using both characters, it led to more than a few moments of frustration. In fairness though, these moments are few and far between so it can’t be held against Pode too much – especially since every other aspect of the game’s puzzles is put together so intuitively.
Pode is a co-op focused experience, but you can actually play the game in solo play with the player able to swap between characters on the fly. It’s a perfectly viable way to play through the game, and I actually tackled a good hour or so of it playing by myself. However, it didn’t take long before the controls began to feel a little fiddly, especially when using multiple abilities at once and having to switch between characters quickly. The fact you have to lead both characters through to the exit can be a pain too, especially since you’ll often be simply re-treading the same ground as them both – you can make Bulder and Glo hold hands (awwww) or even call each other over, though with the various obstacles in their way it’s often easier (but more time consuming) to just manually lead both through levels.
When playing in co-op with a friend it’s a completely different experience though, with you genuinely feeling like you’re working as part of a cute little team to make your way through each trial and tribulation you face. Using each other’s abilities in unison just feels a whole lot more intuitive, whilst having a pair of minds at work will often see you figuring out your way through puzzles a lot quicker too. It’s just so clearly designed with two players in mind and playing through it solo ends up feeling like a disservice to its enjoyable game design. Seriously, if you’re going to play Pode you’re better off doing it with a friend – with the Switch’s Joycons, you’ve got no excuse not to.
Visually, Pode lives up to its charming premise with a colourful art style that brings even the gloomiest of caves to life. It’s complimented by the gameplay, with the rocks that form and the plants that grow when using Bulder and Glo’s abilities looking incredibly impressive in-game, whilst a clever mixture of camera angles adds a sense of atmosphere to proceedings that wouldn’t be the same if observed from any other perspective. It’s just a delight to look at from start to end, and whilst the occasional drop in frame rate can deter from some moments of the game, it never stops Pode from being a treat on the eyes throughout.
Developer: Henchman & Goon
Publisher: Henchman & Goon
Release Date: Out Now
Format(s): Nintendo Switch