Pode is a co-operative adventure game where you play as a duo working together to solve puzzles in a whimsical world of magical plantlife and mythical mountain caverns. You play as two heros: a fallen star spirit, and a rock spirit. These characters are cute, simple in design, with only eyes and squeeks to characterize them. The fallen star comes with the ability to shine light, making plants grow with a later ability to teleport back and forth. The rock creature’s power is to be able to weigh things down, access small holes, shine its rock power to make crystals grow and lastly put the star in it’s mouth to car or shine light. Each ability is simply explained, easy to use, and demonstrated with step by step puzzles designed to teach each skill to more advanced techniques. This gives the game an accessibility factor opening the door to all players, from your new and inexperienced up to your seasoned vets. Picking up the controller, the abilities will feel natural and easy to use.
Whether in co-op or single player, you are expected to use both characters in tandem with a handy character swap on the Y button. Be careful in co-op though, the swap button doesn’t ask for consent, just swaps. If you are playing solo, the ability of the rock character to put the star in it’s mouth solves that issue but also you can ride on each others heads, or even magnetically pull together, so solo players can still find the gameplay approachable. At the core, the game’s design is based on puzzle rooms. You are given a group of rooms, generally with a theme and you move one by one solving whatever challenge comes your way. This comes in the form of block puzzles, switch combinations, platforming, and environmental hazards.
Generally each location comes with 5-6 sets of rooms culminating in a bigger puzzle, encompassing the previous puzzle solving techniques and themes of the previous rooms. These final puzzles can be both clever and frustrating. Sometimes they produced perfect a-ha! moments like one that required you to see music note indications on a wall leading you to play the correct notes on an organ, but other times they can seem obtuse with no direction, leading you to try everything and wonder why solutions worked at all. Luckily only a handful of those existed through the short time span of the game. After each set of rooms were solved, you’d return to the main hub with a new plant seed to grow, making new levels available. Pode sports a short run time of roughly four hours, so each puzzle feels unique with little to no recycling of previous ideas.
The environmental design is simple with little detail to show but each set of stages are varied thematically, bringing new opportunities and challenges within. For instance, dark levels will allow the star to shine the path to see, or in the water levels, the rock creature can sink to the bottom allowing access to switches. These variations keep the gameplay feeling fresh wanting to explore each nook and cranny finding all the collectable crystal flowers or hidden wall art. Finishing each level rewards the player with a short charming cut scene of our heroes getting a new seed to plant to continue their journey. The story is delightful if not forgettable, but the real draw is the tag teaming mechanics.
With Pode, cooperation is key. The player is expected to use each characters’ power in combination to come to each solution. It never felt like only one character got used, these puzzles were designed with each individual power in mind so swapping is mandatory. Near the end, the game subverts this idea by separating the characters with a wall, but still needing each power assist the other, bringing cooperation back into the spotlight. The game always feels like a team effort.
Pode is another welcome entry into the co-op story based puzzle genre with such games as Brothers, Portal 2, and A Way Out, but also brings its own unique cartoonish art style and wholesome minimalist story. It may have a few hiccups in the difficulty in the confusing nature of some puzzle solutions but the game was always within view. With the high accessibility, cute cutscenes and pleasant visuals, Pode is a game anyone can pick up, play and enjoy. 4/5