Oh Pid. Oh piddy paddy piddly Pid.
You had it all. Looks. Style. Grace. You looked like you could go all the way, and you tripped a few feet from the finish line. Worse still, you built me up only to kick the step ladder out from under me. Seriously, that wasn’t cool.
What’s that? You don’t understand what you did wrong? Ok, I’ll try to explain it to you. I guess I owe you that much.
See, as you know, you are the latest in a new wave of downloadable 2D platformers that take their inspiration from the age of bits. Games like Braid, Limbo, or Super Meat Boy have found great success on various online marketplaces with their blend of nostalgic mechanics and modern twists. I’m sure Might & Delight - you know, your Mom & Dad - created you in the hopes that you would be able to stand shoulder to shoulder with these new digital darlings.
Like Braid, you have a clever art style. It's deceptively simple with basic shapes that take on a sort of children’s book style aesthetic under dynamic lighting and a vibrant pastel color palette. You also have a glorious soundtrack that perfectly sets the mood of your world. It is relaxing, engrossing, and could easily find success if a collection was sold separately.
Also like J. Blow’s creation, you have a platforming foundation with a unique gameplay twist that completely shifts how the main character travels through the levels. Instead of rewinding time, your main character (a little lost space boy named Kurt) gains the ability to place beams of light that shift gravity. If an obstacle is too high for little Kurt, dropping a beam on the floor levitates him skywards so he might climb over it. Is there a pit wider than he can jump over? Toss a beam against the wall and it will push him sideways safely to the other side.
Being able to only have two of these out at a time was quite clever of your parents. The players have to learn how to quickly place beams in a way that sets up a chain of movement impossible for the plumbers and hedgehogs of legend. This makes you unique, Pid. You should feel good about that.
You also have (if you can pardon the obvious pun) shadows of Limbo. Your world feels foreboding. Kurt is just a young boy who fell asleep on the school bus and woke up on a planet full of robots with no clue how to get home. He can’t run that fast, jump that high, or really do much more than a normal boy. Except die frequently and often.
Your levels are just full of spikes, deadly robots, bottomless pits, and rockets. Kurt gains some very limited weaponry to help him tackle these threats, but really it comes down to clever beam placement to get through the puzzles. Yes, Kurt is no action star, he is puzzle-solver. He will activate switches, time jumps, and hit angled parts of walls in order to navigate the dangers you set up for him. More often than not, he will have to die a few times before figuring out what not to do. Luckily, you were given unlimited lives and an autosave feature so the player isn’t sent back too far.
In this way you are kind of like Super Meat Boy and its bite-sized levels. Kurt can only take a single hit from anything before he has to start a section over again. The player will sometimes come across a life vest power-up that functions like Ghost and Goblins armor; it absorbs one hit then disappears. In a way useful, but almost not worth it. Pid, you feel like a string of mini-challenges that you must solve in order before moving on. It will take some tries, but the player will figure out the chain of events needed to continue. Even after they have figured it out, it is up to their reflexes to make it happen though.
All this sounds good, right Pid? You have so many good qualities. However, you failed to balance all these qualities into a smooth experience. It reminds me of a time when I was six and I woke up in the middle of the night hungry. My parents were fast asleep and waking them seemed rude. But, heck, I was old enough to make my own food. I needed two hands to count how old I was now, far older than a silly baby. So I embarked on a quest to make a late night snack, all by myself.
I got into the fridge and started pulling out all the things I liked to eat. Hot dogs? Yum. Ice Cream? Also Yum. Chocolate Sauce? Probably what you get to drink in heaven. Pizza? Great warm, better cold. My little developing mind deduced that much like pizza takes dough, sauce, cheese, and meat and brings it together to make something better, I should be able to put all these things together and make something amazing.
I laid down the pizza slice for a solid foundation. Then I broke off pieces of hot dog and placed it on top. Just like pepperoni only more awesome, I thought to myself. Then a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top. There is pie ala mode and I hear my Dad calling pizza a pie sometimes. So this will be just like that, I figured. Finally, I drizzled chocolate sauce over everything because in my experience it just made everything more edible. Milk. Bananas. Marshmallows. Other less liquid chocolates.
I stood back, and looked at my new masterpiece. The Chocolate Hot Dog Pizza ala Mode. I was going to be famous, I had invented something so amazing it had to be worth like a thousand dollars. The excitement to be the first person to ever eat one was better than Christmas morning.
It was at this young age that I first experienced the flavor of failure. The ice cream’s sweetness was the exact opposite of the hot dog’s oily meat-like flavors. The chocolate sauce - the one thing I was sure made everything better - somehow made the tomato sauce on the pizza taste bitter. It was way too tall to take a proper bite and the pizza was too weak to support all that weight. It fell apart in my hands splattering ice-cream covered hot dogs that left chocolate syrup trails as they bounced on the kitchen floor.
This is how I ended up teaching myself the lesson that it is quite possible to have too much of a good thing, or as most people say it, “Less is more.”
Ah, but if less is more ... think how much more MORE could be.
That brings me back to you Pid. You just put too much on your pizza slice. You are somehow lesser than the sum of your parts. The world is large and sterile and at first I really did feel the isolation that Kurt was going through, except he has next to no personality either in design or character. He might as well have been a generic robot because that is what he ended up feeling like. Death is quite frequent, but hardly punishing beyond having to start at the beginning of a section again.
Which brings me to the main breaking point. A 2d level-based action platformer is pretty much how you would categorize games like Super Mario World, Sonic the Hedgehog, Rayman Legends, Super Meat Boy, and such. There are lots of obstacles and enemies that you must overcome while figuring out how to get your character from point A to point B in a way that demands you to improve your reflexes as well as problem solve. This is much of how your world is designed, Pid. Because games such as these require a character that can rapidly traverse it. Much of the success in these games comes from tight controls that respond well to a gamer’s reflexes and a gameplay flow that allows us to quickly get back to the part of the level we failed to try again.
Kurt, however, is slow and methodical in his movements. He doesn’t run fast, jump or dodge well, and even the main gameplay hook - the gravity altering beams - only push you slowly and steadily towards your goal. This is perfect for a platformer that focuses a lot more on puzzles and demands thinking before acting. This is not what you give me Pid. Kurt controls like hot dogs in an ice cream world.
This is the pathway to frustration. If a challenge has 25 steps to accomplish with the final step being the one most likely to kill me, do not make the 24 steps leading back to that moment consist of slow moving brainless repetition. I had one level that made me hit a lever to move a spiked platform out of my way. The platform took about 30 seconds to get into a position that allowed me to get through. So after this was a motion sensing spike launcher near the exit that required some combination of character placement to get beyond. If the spike got me I would spawn back before the lever was activated, making me wait for the slow platform again.
It felt like you were asking me to alphabetize a shelf of books and then catch a baseball lobbed at my head with my feet. If I miss the baseball you knock all the books off and make me try again. At some point I kind of don’t want to catch the damn ball with my feet and I sure as hell have gotten bored of putting the same dozen books in order on the shelf. What could my reward be except more chances to repeat this same experience, only with three baseballs this time?
Look, Pid, real talk? You’re good, not great. I’m sure there are gamers out there who will groove on that funky beat you are dropping. There are those that will see your quirks as just part of the challenge. They will not feel like your infuriatingly drawn out boss battles are a negative, but a positive. Maybe instead of feeling like getting slapped in the face for an hour, they will feel some sense of accomplishment for getting through a gauntlet. Heck, there are those that will be quite pleased that for $10 they get an eight hour long game that has an even more difficult mode as well as an offline co-op mode. This adds a lot of value to the gamers out there that will find your flavor enjoyable.
To me you are just a Chocolate Hot Dog Pizza ala Mode. You look good and have parts I like, but you just leave a weird taste in my mouth. So I’ll tell others to try a free sample and if they like it, they should buy it. I hope you find success and an audience, I really do. I am just not part of that audience.
This review is based on a PC review copy of Pid, provided by the developer.