Co-op gaming is practically a part of video game culture, from as far back as taking turns while inserting quarters into slots to playing simultaneously only to have to fight your friend (a la Double Dragon or, more recently, in a game that just released in March). Games that focus on cooperative play are few and far between, because while many games have such a mode tossed in as an afterthought, very few of these experiences are designed, from the ground up, as a co-op game. Pode is the tale of a rock that wants to help a fallen star get home by solving a large number of interesting puzzles. So does Pode earn the shooting star award, or would you be better off playing Borderlands 2 with your friends for the 30th time? Let’s find out.
Pode stars a rock, named Bulder, and a fallen star named Glo. These two protagonists have a bevy of special skills at their disposal that they can use to traverse a mountain in order to get Glo home. Glo can light up dark areas and force flora to grow to create platforms, while Bulder can trigger switches and transport blocks by inhaling them. The characters earn more skills as you progress through the game, and oftentimes you will find yourself using abilities in tandem to complete the puzzles that are preventing you from moving forward.
Each character also has specific things they can and can’t do- Glo can’t depress switches because it’s too light, but he can walk on water instead. Bulder sinks in water, but is heavy enough to push down switches. For example, Glo will get an ability to teleport to a previous location partway through the game, but if Bulder inhales Glo, both characters will be teleported at once, speeding up moving both characters across an environment and solving positioning puzzles where only one character could cross. Simple things like this build atop one another as the game goes on, so puzzles you may have gotten stuck on early game may seem like child’s play compared to what you’re solving later.
Pode is an incredibly laid back and adorable game. The graphical style is simplistic, but the environments of the various caverns the characters trek though are simply gorgeous, with flora that comes to life with a satisfying vibrance. The cave setting didn’t overstay its welcome in the slightest due to new additions of color and depth at a regular pace throughout the play through. The textures leave a bit to be desired, but the art direction is decidedly beautiful and more than makes up for any technical shortcomings. The music helps set the tone for the game play as well, with excellent tunes by Austin Wintory (composer for Journey, The Banner Saga, Abzu, and more) that fit the atmosphere perfectly.
So, a lot was mentioned about Pode being a co-op game, but rest assured: You can play this game solo as well. You can swap characters with a press of a button, and none of the puzzles seemed to have tight timing restrictions that would make it more difficult for a solo player to solve than two players cooperatively. A solo game may take a little bit longer due to having to swap characters around rather than one person getting into position while the other opens the way, but solo players also don’t have to deal with a second player who somehow forgot all of their abilities from one session to the next.
There are hidden collectibles all over Pode, as well, and each location has a checklist available showing you what you missed in which room, though you may have to fumble a bit before you find them all as some of the collectibles are hidden in quite a clever manner. If you miss something, you can fast travel to previously entered rooms in order to find things you missed, so it’s never a big deal to jump back in case you forgot something in another room. New powers are added on at a fairly brisk pace, especially early in the game, so backtracking occasionally can give the game longevity, especially if the new abilities are overwhelming your co-op partner (or just yourself if you’re playing solo).
Overall, Pode is a very clever, not to mention competent, puzzle game, with a great focus on companionship befitting its co-op nature. The game’s charming visuals and great soundtrack were a delight to the eyes and ears, and while some of the puzzles could be a little obtuse (the columns and lily pad puzzle took a moment, for example), it was never really a frustrating experience. Pode’s length is around five to six hours, so it’s definitely for those who appreciate continually fresh experiences rather than repetitive ones. For those who dislike puzzle games, Pode’s cutesy aesthetic might be enough to draw you in, but if you don’t enjoy coming up with puzzle solutions, odds are you won’t like this game. Anecdotally, Pode was the perfect game to play with a child and a wife, each of whom enjoyed it enough to go all the way to the ending.