Review: Pid is a beautiful yet underwhelming puzzle platformer that's easy to adore and difficult to enjoy

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Love-hate relationships are a tricky thing when it comes to video games. On the one hand, it’s very easy to become enamored with a game due to its surrealist art style and good ideas. On the other hand, sometimes it’s hard to really enjoy a game when it doesn’t deliver on all of its potential. Such is the case with Pid, an undeniably charming and clearly lovingly crafted puzzle platformer from developer Might and Delight. The game is a sheer joy to behold, and it can be fun in spurts, but it’s lacking in a few key areas, making it a bit of a hard sell.

You take on the role of Kurt, a young kid who finds himself on a strange planet with no real clue on how to get home. It’s only after encountering numerous characters that he slowly begins to discover the correct path to his destination. Unlike so many other puzzle platformers, Pid resorts to plenty of NPC interaction, interspersed between big levels, and tells a tale that slowly develops. We don’t often see these types of games put much attention on narrative, and that’s usually because puzzlers don’t really need a story. That said, Pid employs a nicely paced method of storytelling and provides a plot that’s actually interesting and never overbearing.

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The main trope in this interstellar adventure is Kurt’s ability to float using special gravitational orbs. You can toss two orbs below or in front of Kurt, causing a beam of light to radiate from the surface which you tossed it on. While in the beam of light Kurt will float and can reach distant areas. This is essential to progressing through the game’s world, collecting hidden trinkets, and solving puzzles. It’s a neat ability, and though it doesn’t evolve much over time, there are plenty of other power-ups including bombs and armor that you can come across throughout your travels.

One of the biggest gripes to be had with Pid comes as a result of Kurt’s incredibly slow movement, which makes progression a bit sluggish. Additionally, it can be a bit too tough dodging enemies and projectiles. Normally, challenge like this is absolutely fine, but the fact that Kurt can die after being hit a single time is definitely a bit of a pain. Despite the armor power-ups you can equip, it’s still annoyingly hard to survive when you’re being bombarded by a barrage of missiles during a boss fight. This level of challenge definitely harks back to classic side-scrollers, which means there’s certainly an audience for Pid.

You’ll come across small collectible stars scattered throughout every stage. These can be used to purchase power-ups and items and in rare cases are necessary to progress. A lot of these collectible stars are found on the main route, but oftentimes you can discover entire constellations if you engage in a little exploration. Many times you’ll see stars that are placed ever so precariously above a pitfall, and by tossing an orb right at the wall within that pitfall, you can hover over the dangerous chasm and snag those stars. Sometimes it takes a little trial-and-error, and it can actually be annoying timing the perfect jump, especially when Kurt’s movement is so limited.

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This style of gameplay is blatantly reminiscent of NES era platformers. Pid is the type of game that requires you to trickily maneuver Kurt in ways that are incredibly difficult. Tough as this maneuverability may be, it’s certainly possible, and this adds a nice amount of retro-inspired charm to the game. Unfortunately, this same element will also put off a lot of players. I, for example, am a huge fan of old school-influenced indie titles, and I felt that some tasks in the game were fairly tedious after the first couple of hours, and I often felt like I was being discouraged from exploring rather than encouraged.

One of the strongest aspects in Pid is its checkpoint system. Because the game relies on experimentation, and because Kurt is such a weakling, you can expect to die a lot. Thankfully, checkpoints are scattered quite forgivingly across the game’s various stages. Entering a new area will automatically trigger a checkpoint, and getting to certain sections within that area will also allow you to continue from there should you meet an untimely yet not-so-surprising demise. Considering how many obstacles stand in your way, this checkpoint system is very useful and easily one of the game’s most impressive features. Plenty of other developers would certainly do well to take note.

Pid is a challenging game that requires a lot of effort and patience. For a lot of people, this type of design is most certainly welcome. Sadly, the game is marred with far too many uninteresting sections, making it increasingly and frustratingly difficult to really get into the experience the more the game progresses. This is the type of game that, if you choose to play it, is best enjoyed in small doses — not because of its fiendish difficulty level, but rather because it can get a bit boring playing Pid for long stretches of time.

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It’s an absolute shame that this puzzler isn’t as interesting as it could’ve been gameplay-wise, because the presentation is undeniably impressive. Though it may not exactly be fun navigating the world of Pid, it’s an incredible world nonetheless due to the sights you’ll see. Levels feature washed out colors, smooth surfaces, foggy distances, and quirky characters. To call Pid a visual treat would be an understatement — this is easily one of the finest-looking games of the year. Accompanying the remarkable graphics is a soundtrack rife with catchy themes that tend to loop a bit but are still fun to listen to.

This may be the very first time that I’ve had an equal amount of positive and negative feedback for a game. Is Pid a great puzzle platformer? Not quite. Yet I feel that it is still a game that deserves to be played by fans of the genre, retro enthusiasts, and indie lovers, as long as they know what they’re getting into. Throughout the course of its 10-hour adventure, Pid boastfully wears its homage to old school design on its sleeve. Aside from the visual splendor of its incredible world, Pid is somewhat difficult to really enjoy, but it’s still quite easy to respect.

[Reviewed on PlayStation 3]

Want to talk about indie games, Kirby, or cheap pizza? Follow me on Twitter @dr_davidsanchez.

Above Average

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