For a while there it really seemed like couch co-op games were going the way of KFC’s hot and spicy chicken – not quite gone but usually only rolled out for special occasions, despite my deepest wishes and prayers. The likes of the LEGO series and the odd dungeon crawler kept the genre alive but it wasn’t until the last few years, particularly with the advent of the Nintendo Switch, that the humble same-screen, co-operative jaunt has been en vogue again. Enter Pode, a charming puzzle platformer that is at its absolute best when shared with a friend or loved one.
Pode’s setup is thus; a star crashes to the earth by mistake and befriends a sentient piece of rock/meteorite that agrees to help it get back into the sky. The two make for a nearby mountain and proceed to climb to its summit from the inside, forming the objective of the game. It’s a starkly simple tale fit for a preschool storybook, and it’s appropriately, sickeningly adorable. For what amounts to a glowing orb and a lump of rock, the two protagonists are bursting with charm. Whatever walk of life you’re from, take one look at them and I guarantee you’ll be compelled to help them achieve their goal.
If this doesn’t make you cry just a little, you’re a monster
Simplicity continues to be the order of the day once it’s time to start playing. From a mostly overhead perspective, players guide Bulder and Glo (they have names!) through the mountain’s many interior caverns full of basic platforming and increasingly challenging puzzles. Completing sections of the game earns our heroes special seeds with which to grow the ‘Mother Tree’ at the mountain’s centre and take them higher and higher up. The gimmick at play here is that each has their own unique abilities with which to manipulate their environment and unlock the mountain’s secrets; Glo’s powers of light can cause nearby plant life to grow, as well as activate natural wonders and even allow teleportation. Meanwhile, Bulder can summon rock formations, crawl through certain tight spaces and carry special stones (and Glo) in its mouth to transport them.
Through this small suite of abilities between the two friends, puzzles range from painfully obvious to gently devious without ever becoming overly prickly. There’s not a lot here that puzzle-platformer aficionados won’t have seen before, but it’s all very satisfying and great fun with a friend. Pode is undeniably meant as a shared experience and should absolutely be played in that fashion. While solo play does technically work, it’s fiddly and often tedious. Solving the game’s puzzles in co-op, though, is a blast. Bulder and Glo’s skills and responsibilities are nicely balanced and the relaxed pace makes for a collaborative experience that won’t end in arguments. Pode also adheres to a philosophy established by the LEGO games wherein each location is full of things for players to interact in their downtime, such as when the other person is busy with an objective. In LEGO it’s smashing the shit out of everything, in Pode it’s transforming the immediate surroundings by sprouting plants or rocks. It often doesn’t contribute to anything but it’s an inherently compulsive action and looks pretty to boot.
Could you stop tagging everything and come help me?
Pode’s overall look is great in general. While graphically basic, it’s got a strong artistic style inspired by Norwegian art (developer Henchman & Goon are based in Norway) and its protagonists and the ways they interact with each other and their surroundings ooze charm. To be fair, any game with a ‘hold hands’ button is sure to win me over by default. That said, I found myself wishing there was more of Pode after seeing the roughly four-hour adventure through, if for no other reason that to see some environments that weren’t just caves. Here’s hoping for a sequel, I guess?
Pode isn’t a revolutionary co-op puzzler by any means, but it’s got a nice, gentle atmosphere that makes it a great fit for a lazy afternoon adventure with a friend. Lacking controls in solo play and a slight lacking in visual variety are unfortunate, but if you’ve got a player two handy there’s a neat and enjoyable little experience here that is well worth your time.
Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro // Review code supplied by publisher