Pid Review: An Artsy, Clever Exercise in Hair Pulling

Swedish indie developer Might and Delight’s inaugural release, Pid, is a soft-focus pastel storybook of a game that tells the tale of a young boy stranded on an alien world. The youthful protagonist, Kurt, starts his quest to return home with nothing more than the ability to run and jump, but the game’s central mechanic — the ability to toss sticky orbs that emit focused anti-gravity beams — is introduced fairly quickly. Once that happens, the platforming-based puzzles start coming fast and furious. Your overall opinion of Pid will ultimately depend on your ability to successfully employ this gimmick while contending with some overly touchy controls. There’s some clever stuff going on, but you have to fight to enjoy it.

Pid
Platforms: PC (reviewed), Mac, Xbox 360
Developer: Might and Delight
Publisher: Might and Delight
Release Date: Oct. 31, 2012
MSRP: $9.99

What appears at first blush to be a fairly standard side-scrolling platformer becomes something more akin to the likes of Portal, where the manipulation of reality — in this case gravity — is key to solving a series of increasingly difficult environment-based puzzles. In fact, when you’re initially dropped onto the surface of the game world, after falling asleep on an intergalactic school bus and missing your stop, the first major chunk of gameplay might have you wondering what’s so special about Pid beyond its dreamlike visual style. Just when you’re about the declare it the prettiest but most shallow platformer you’ve played in ages, the core play mechanic is introduced.

The way gravity manipulation is handled is actually pretty clever. You can toss out up to two orbs at a time which stick to most surfaces (more on that in a moment). Once they’ve landed, the orbs fire out a beam a few feet into the world and stepping into it makes you float. Sticking an orb on a flat surface, then, lets you float vertically. On an angle, you can travel perpendicularly across the screen. If you leap into a beam being emitted from a vertical surface, you travel horizontally.

At first, you simply have to use this mechanic to travel in a single direction. Pretty soon, however, you’re combining beam placement to travel longer distances in complex patterns, or placing beams on rotating blocks or moving platforms. The concept of removing and replacing one beam while traveling in another is also used in more advanced situations. These gravity beams are also used to influence enemies and other objects in the world. For example, you can toss an orb underneath an enemy to lift them into spikes on the ceiling, or use a gravity beam to cause a security spotlight to pivot away so you can safely sneak past. In addition to your beam, you eventually gain access to power-ups such as bombs, smokescreens, and a slingshot.

Your beam-emitting orbs can’t be placed on some surfaces, though. There are also two colors of enemies, red and blue, and hazards of one color can’t affect enemies of the other. Still other enemies are dealt with by hitting them directly with a well-aimed orb. By the later levels of the game, you’re jumping, tossing orbs, and pulling switches almost to a very precise rhythm in order to complete complex challenges. It’s a shame, then, that this rhythm can be — and often is — so easily thrown off by missteps that really don’t feel like your fault. Simply put, the controls in Pid can be so touchy, you’ll find yourself falling to your death or taking a lethal enemy hit with the slightest of control pad presses. Other times, you’ll die because of obstacles that seem intentionally designed to cause frustration rather than create legitimate challenge.

The pacing of some levels definitely feels much better than others. At one point, for example, the fairly linear direction of the game is replaced by a fetch quest that only seems designed to pad out the 10-hour-or-so run time of the game. The whole thing would probably be quite a bit shorter, too, if not for the fact that — unless you collect stars and use them to buy a life preserver item — enemies kill you with one hit. Thankfully there are liberal checkpoints, but sometimes they respawn you back before you’d completed a certain task, such as reaching a hard-to-find hidden collectible, which can be frustrating. The combination of one-hit kills and twitchy controls can be especially bothersome when confronting the game’s boss characters, which even more so than the platforming call for some extreme precision to defeat. Few things in the game are more irritating than nearly defeating a boss only to accidentally get hit and have to start the process over from the beginning.

Still, if you can get past the control issues and cheap deaths, Pid offers some long stretches of genuine enjoyment and the sort of platforming puzzles that bring a grin to your face — or a friend’s since it supports two-player cooperative play. It’s undeniably charming, has a catchy (and fairly uncommon) jazz soundtrack, and boasts a one-of-a-kind art style. With a more well-tuned control scheme and a few better design decisions, Pid could’ve been an absolute must-play for everyone. As it stands, only the most devoted and patient platforming game buffs should apply.

Pros:

  • Charming characters, world, and art style
  • Clever platforming-based puzzles
  • Fairly unique central game mechanic
  • Catchy jazz soundtrack

Cons:

  • Twitchy, imprecise control
  • Frustrating puzzles and boss encounters
  • Uneven pacing

Final Score: 70/100


Follow Randy Nelson and Game Front on Twitter: @dangerpenguin and @gamefrontcom.

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