Biped is a cute physics-based co-op puzzler with a distinctive difference; its control scheme. It’s like a peanut butter and jam sandwich, you’ll either love it and demand seconds or want to flush it down the toilet and then smash your toilet to porcelain pieces so there’s no risk of it ever resurfacing. I ultimately loved Biped, but it took a commitment to continue playing until I realised that. Early on there were tears and lobbed controllers aplenty.
Played from a top-down perspective, Biped tasks you with being in command of one of two bots, Aku or Sila. These robots serve on the Space vessel ‘Onion and are members of an intergalactic force tasked with repairing beacons and bringing light to Earth. Each bot is little more than a loveable metal ball with two legs and this is where the divisive control scheme comes in. Each leg is controlled by an analogue stick, so to walk forward you have to wiggle the left and right stick back and forth in a nice smooth rhythm; otherwise your bot won’t be going anywhere or will simply pirouette on the spot like a disgruntled ballerina.
Simply moving in the direction you want to go in takes some getting used to – add to that the fact you’ll be navigating precarious platforms and controller gnashing frustration can soon set in. Have you ever had to walk a drunken mate home from the pub, whilst you too are drunk and for some insane reason your shoelaces are tied together? It’s just like that. Stick with it though. Work through the pain and Biped will reveal itself to be a fresh and enjoyable little puzzler.
The heart of the game is its local co-op in which the two bots are now colour coded; red and blue. This simple change leads to all sorts of devious and delightful puzzles. Early on the game tasks you with traversing red or blue bridges. Let’s say it’s a blue bridge, so rather sensibly the player with the blue bot steps upon it. Instantly the bridge becomes a red bridge, the blue bot player – a little confused – takes another tentative step, the bridge disappears and the bot plunges into oblivion. Next time round it clicks – the two bots must alternate their steps as the bridge changes colour underneath them. Clear communication and trust is an absolute must between the players. When you finally reach safety, let me tell you, it’s a euphoric and fist pumping moment.
Puzzles ramp up in difficulty from there, soon those red and blue bridges become precarious seesaws, players desperately manoeuvring their bots to match the changing colours and maintain the balancing act with their partner. Later levels tie the bots together with a rope and send them clambering up the side of a mountain or traversing a raging river on tiny boats. The rope becomes the key to solving the puzzles, as with their combined skills players can swing their partner across a precipice or rescue non-player characters by blocking their descent down a waterfall.
It’s brilliantly inventive stuff, though I can’t help but feel that developers Next Studios haven’t gone quite far enough with pushing the possibilities of their unique control scheme and gameplay mechanics. Each co-op level – of which there are only eight, plus 16 bonus ultra-hard challenges – is pretty short and just when things get going it comes to a premature end. There’s some outstanding ideas here, they just aren’t explored enough. Also, most levels and their distinctive puzzles are entirely stand alone, it would be nice to see some crossover and for previously mastered techniques to be integrated into later levels.
Having to utilise a co-op tactic in a new and surprising way on a different level and in a different context would have elevated Biped significantly. There’s hints of this with the aforementioned rope, I just wanted more. I’m greedy like that. It feels like the developers have only just skimmed the surface of the puzzling possibilities. In this aspect Biped reminds me of Overcooked!. It took a sequel before Overcooked! could fully achieve its clear potential and become a near-perfect puzzling great, perhaps Biped is on the same path?
Whilst playing Biped, do be careful that you try to remain calm and don’t fall out with your co-op partner. There are some horrendous difficulty spikes to be found here, usually caused by some slightly naughty seesaw physics that refuse to behave themselves. You’ll also find the occasional obscure puzzle to repeatedly beat your brain against until a solution reveals itself. Indeed, there’s an argument to be made that the sequence of levels is incorrect, the first few levels are much more challenging than anything you’ll find until the end of the game. Not a deal breaker by any standard, it’s just a bit odd.
There’s a singeplayer on offer but it’s really just a warm-up for the main event of co-op. Whilst you explore the same locales and level design remains similar, many of the more complex puzzles have been jettisoned, instead the player is tasked with having to harness the unusual control scheme to navigate standard platforming tropes; increasingly treacherous platforms that move, wobble or disappear. Word of warning, if you’re a completionist you’ll have to play through both single player and co-op to activate 100% of the beacons. Definitely not a game to only play on your own then.
Visually this is a treat, thick chunky cartoon visuals and a character design that brings to mind a Pixar classic; Wall-E. Sure, level themes are generic – snow, jungle, deserts etc – but they all ooze with charm and so can be forgiven. Text translation is poor to say the least, fortunately NPCs are few and far between and their speech bubbles often disappear far sooner than can be read anyway. You can also randomly mug – by repeatedly kicking in the head – one of the little bots you meet who refuses to tell you where he’s hidden some coins. It’s an odd moment of violence that stands out in what is otherwise a game that embraces the importance of cooperation and teamwork.