The Best Kind of Couch Co-Op
Developed by a small Norwegian team at Henchman & Goon, Pode is a refreshing co-op puzzle platforming experience that is well suited to Switch. Focusing on good old-fashion single screen couch co-op, Pode is actually a relaxing, tranquil, and more casual experience. With gameplay built around teamwork and a message designed around the power of friendship, this is the perfect game to share with your young child, spouse who rarely plays games, or your best buddy.
The player takes control of two adorable creatures: Glo a fallen star and Bulder a local rock. Solo, they won’t get far but together they can reach the top of the mountain and find a way to get Glo back home. Each creature has a unique set of abilities. Glo is light, both literally and figuratively, as he (or she?) can glide gently to the ground when jumping, can float in water, and uses light to make plants grow. These plants can then be used as platforms to reach new areas, for example. Bulder is almost the opposite of Glo as he is heavy, will sink in water, use his weight to depress switches, and even inhale rocks like Kirby. Each area contains environmental puzzle elements that requires a specific use of each character’s abilities. Even though there is only one way to solve each puzzle, gameplay is endearing from beginning to end despite having some mind bending areas towards the end of the game. There are no enemies to kill, swords to swing, or bosses to slay; Pode is about getting from here to there using the abilities of each creature.
The meat of Pode is strongly built with cooperation in mind. While a single player can play through the entire campaign switching between both characters, this experience was really designed for two players to sit next to each other while working in tandem. Many puzzles will tease the brain so speaking through a predicament with your partner is almost mandatory for successful gameplay. Some rooms are dastardly to solve but wind up feeling happily satisfying upon completion.
To a fault, Pode requires trial and error explorative gameplay. With no tutorial of any kind, it isn’t like Pode is difficult to control or understand. However, it wasn’t until getting stuck in a room for thirty minutes did I realize it is possible for Bulder to suck up the Glo and shoot sun rays like a cannon, or how the teleport mechanic works when Glo can warp from one location to another. The game never instructs the player that these combinations are possible which makes some initial puzzles mind-bendingly impossible. The good news is, once the full mechanics are learned, the game becomes more fluid, less frustrating, and more enjoyable. There are also some obtuse puzzle solutions that can stutter gameplay. For example, one puzzle has the player blowing a pipe organ according to an unclear image on a wall, resulting in frustrating trial and error.
There is also plenty of detail to be found throughout the adventure. Not only are the environments detailed but animations and the use of light, or lack thereof, enhances the overall experience. What gives this game its personality, however, are the little animations of emotion each of the playable characters possess. They hold hands and move with exaggeration like a Pixar movie which makes the overall package ooze with charm. However, there is the occasional frame skip when loading a new area and I even encountered a nasty bug in which Glo fell through the environment forcing a full restart. Also, it is recommended to play this game in docked mode connected to a TV just because of the visual detail is so fine, you might miss some interactive from the Switch’s smaller screen especially in the darker areas. In fact, some details, like the rare instance of a button prompt, can be near impossible to see even when playing on the big screen.
This puzzle platformer could have easily wound up as a repetitive slog, reusing abilities to the point of annoyance. However, each stage features something new to see and a new way to reach the next point. Thoughtful design works with the player’s perspective in mind as there is no option to control the camera. If one player walks too far, an indicator will point in the direction of the player off screen. Pode is also a perfect game for split Joy-Con support between two players. Unfortunately, there isn’t much in terms of replayability. While there are hidden flowers to bloom, this isn’t anything significant to seek especially since there are so many and no good way to backtrack to find ones that were missed.
It has been a while since I played a local co-op game like Pode. Although there are plenty of frustrations with game mechanics and environmental puzzles, this is still a local co-op experience that works well on Switch and winds up being a perfect game to play with your partner over a weekend. It is also worth mentioning this entire experience is heartfelt and non-violent, something that is much rarer to see in the current gaming landscape.
Makes Me Want To Replay: The Adventures of Cookie and Cream (PS2)
Better Than: Army of Two
Also Try: Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons