Side-Scrolling Puzzler Pid is This Year’s LIMBO

A little kid lost and alone. Lots of atmosphere. Clever puzzles. A return to side-scrolling glory.

I could be talking about LIMBO, the 2010 indie darling that stormed Xbox Live and later Steam. But I’m not. I’m talking about Pid, a side-scrolling puzzle platformer that takes a bit of inspiration from Portal 2 and offers a lot of the same great elements that made LIMBO a much-lauded hit. In fact, after playing the hands-on demo at E3 2012, I think Pid may well be 2012′s LIMBO.

Pid places players in the role of Kurt, a lost child who finds himself on a planet embroiled in a war between factions of robots. Blue robots seem to be fighting red robots, while yellow, friendlier robots remain trapped in the middle. The conflict is nothing to Kurt, who just wants to find his way the hell out of there, but, of course, exploding metal monsters create something of a hazard throughout the game.

To get around the world, Kurt has a very special ability. He finds a cask of gems that allow him to create beams of light, and those beams physically propel him through the air. If you’re familiar with Aperture Science Excursion Funnels — the tractor beams — from Portal 2, you’ll get the concept immediately. Only in Pid, they don’t pull you, they only push you.

That means you can throw down a gem beneath Kurt’s feet and the beam will lift him into the air for a short time. You can then throw a gem at a nearby wall and the beam will carry you sideways. Hit an angled surface, you rise at an angle — but only for so long.

In the demo I played, there were a few rooms in which I could get used to things, before the difficulty ramped up in a hurry. Fans of twitch platforming that requires perfect timing and a lot of skill will get their fix in Pid (though it’s not so tough as, say, Super Meat Boy); often, navigating tight spaces requires exactly that sort of ability. One section had me using beams to push past vertically oriented parallel walls, decked out in spikes. The requirement was to use the beams like a ladder, moving downward and throwing a new gem just before getting impaled. It was tough, but sneaking through just barely was extremely satisfying.

Notably, Pid doesn’t punish your failure too brutally, nor does it make failure that big of a deal. Checkpoints are triggered fairly frequently — usually after navigating each obstacle — so if you die, you won’t have to renegotiate much of the game to return to where you were. Dying is just a reset of the room, and the puzzle challenge is coupled with platforming challenge in such a way that it might take you a few minutes to plot your way through the room, and another few minutes to actually do it. But I never felt especially frustrated, despite my many (embarrassing) deaths at the first major challenge.

Once I’d passed the first portion of the game that really demanded accurate timing and quick movements, Pid became quite a bit easier — mostly because I got used to how to play it. By the end of the demo, I was leaping from beams, falling almost to my death, and catching myself at the last moment. There were also plenty of opportunities to slide just under a heat-seeking missile, dodge past enemies by the skin of your teeth, and take out bad guys with bombs and other gadgets in tight scrapes. Later, a slingshot makes it possible to fire off gems at greater distances, allowing for greater puzzle-solving capabilities.

I was told during my demo that I was the first to make it all the way to the end (this being on the last day of E3), which might give you some idea of what Pid’s difficulty curve is like. It’ll take some getting used to, certainly, but all the classic platforming elements are there, including a fight with a big boss at the end of the demo to top things off.

In addition to single-player gameplay, Pid will have a local cooperative mode as well that promises to be an exciting feature. I was told that puzzle-solving in Pid between two players will be such that neither will be able to function as “dead weight” — and again, I was reminded of the cooperative mode in Portal 2. Players will need to work together in tandem to solve puzzles, and not just in a “push that button while I go into the next room” way, either. It sounded like fun, even if I wasn’t able to see it myself.

Where Pid differs significantly from LIMBO is in tone and presentation — the former tends to be brighter and more cartoonish than the latter, and Pid definitely doesn’t share LIMBO’s dark atmosphere. But the gameplay on offer is solid and the world imaginative. With smart puzzles, challenging platforming and a cooperative mode that sounds like tons of fun, I expect Pid to make a big splash when it’s available on PC, Xbox Live and the Playstation Network this Fall.

Follow Hornshaw and Game Front on Twitter: @philhornshaw and @gamefrontcom.

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