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Review

Pode Review

Rock & star games.

As a shooting star falls out of the night’s sky, it finds itself stranded on a rocky, lifeless world. Luckily, Glo seemed to dislodge a rock as it crashed, finding Bulder, an unlikely companion to travel with to the top of a nearby mountain and return to the sky. It’s a journey that you can undertake on your own, or, as a Switch exclusive, it’s one where you can hand a Joy-Con to a friend to puzzle your way through together.

The first things that strikes you about the game are the gorgeous art style and the music. Every part of the game starts off barren and dead, but can be brought to life by the auras that Bulder and Glo can emit. Bulder causes rock formations to spring out of the ground, while Glo turns a bright white and sees vegetation sprout and flourish. The caves the pair pass through soon go from simple, angular shapes to suddenly being busy with patterns and foliage that transform the scene, and it’s a simple pleasure to saunter around finding every possible thing to trigger.

Accompanying the game is a similarly wonderful soundtrack, and it’s here that the game’s Norwegian heritage is most keenly felt. Composed by Austin Wintory, it’s another soulful original score, with stringed instruments at the fore, making it reminiscent of Journey but retaining its own relaxed identity.

Their journey to the top of the mountain sees Glo and Bulder – names I only discovered from the game’s website – travel through a cave system within, opening doors to different areas and puzzling their way through the obstacles they face. As a little ball of light and a chunky little rock, they’re distinctly different characters, from their abilities down to the way they walk – Bulder has an adorable little wobble, while Glo almost floats along on tiny legs taking even tinier steps.

While Glo lights up the areas, revealing drawings on walls and causing plants to grow, Bulder does the heavy lifting, sitting on and triggering switches. You often need to have Bulder trigger something to reveal a plant for Glo to grow, and vice versa. Their abilities soon expand, so that Glo can leave its light behind and teleport back, while Bulder can gobble up and carry little rocks to put down elsewhere.

Many of the problems you face in the game start to feel like river crossing puzzles, as you work out which character needs to go where and trigger something with a particular ability. You’re always looking for how the two can combine, which can be as simple as standing on top of each other to reach higher platforms, or having Bulder gobble up Glo in order to become a torch, or to be teleported back to Glo’s light. However, whenever the game devolves to menial switch triggering and shuffling blocks around, it’s poor old Bulder that has to do the heavy lifting.

That can lead to an imbalance in what players are doing when playing in co-op, though the game is pleasingly freeform in how you can play. You can switch characters on the fly, so if one person is stuck trying to do something the other can take over. Switching characters in solo is just as easy, and you can hop the characters on top of each other or make them adorably hold hands as they walk around, even combining their auras to affect more of the world.

Once you’ve learnt the basics, the game takes a minimalist hands off approach. At a few points that backfired so that I misunderstood what I needed to actually achieve. One of the first major puzzles needed Glo to head up and off the screen to find a sigils for a solution, for example, while a cave themed around darkness was a chore, as I ran around with Glo and failed to spot flowers sprouting in the darkness that I needed to reach.

Some of the puzzles lacked a little finesse as well, designed around the limits of the pair’s jumps, throws, and the edges of their auras. The forgiving respawn meant that I could fudge my way through some puzzles, and there’s a couple that I don’t quite know how I overcame. Playing solo, I would also often get into a mindless muddle with the controls, in particular with whether I was teleporting to Glo’s light or bringing it back to me, and it was sometimes tricky to recognise the depth in the scenes for the light platforming.

The final sour note is in the game’s performance. The movement speed already feels slow, but it’s made even more sluggish when the frame rate drops below 30fps, whether docked of handheld. It’s generally in the slightly larger areas and can suffer if you trigger lots of plant and rock growth too quickly, but it’s somewhat unexpected to see with a minimalist game such as this. Hopefully Henchman & Goon can improve performance soon.

What’s Good:

  • Adorable characters and art style
  • Nicely contrasting abilities for co-op
  • Bitesized design is great for on the go
  • Austin Wintory’s sountrack

What’s Bad:

  • A handful of unclear puzzles
  • Getting muddled with the controls
  • Frame rate suffers at times

Sometimes opposites attract, and Pode’s contrasting characters are a great example of that, combining to overcome the  game’s environmental puzzles. While it’s a little rough around the edges, Pode is a charming puzzle game whether you play it alone or grab a friend to play alongside you.

Score 7/10

Pode is out today exclusively for Nintendo Switch.

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