Pode is a game that doesn’t hold your hand in the slightest. Well, OK, so there’s a button that lets you hold hands, but the game’s sweet veneer masks obtuse puzzles that are a harsh reality check for the unprepared.
Pode tasks you with taking a cute, sentient boulder and its fallen star friend up a mountain in the hope of returning the starlit one to its natural home. The path up is a series of intertwined caverns that flow in thematic sets, with each new room offering a new puzzle to solve. The characters control similarly, but each has its own unique move set that complements the other character in a way that feels natural. Glo, the bright starry hero, brings light to any situation and feels floaty and ephemeral. It also raises flora wherever it walks. Bulder, the, uh, boulder, etches rock formations on nearby walls and has a weightier feel. They each play a part in moving forward in a very natural and instinctual way.
The game is best played cooperatively, which, full disclosure, I did with my more gaming-minded 8-year-old son. As if you haven’t heard this pull quote from a million other Switch reviews, Pode feels built for the system. The game has a simple control scheme that fits naturally on a sole joy-con, which means you can bust Pode out at any given moment. While playable solo, I feel that my core hang-up with the game – its obtuseness – was waylaid in those moments when you can bounce ideas back and forth with your partner (and occasional onlookers as well) in situations that could otherwise end in frustration.
You need to be in a certain mindset while playing Pode, because it is what I would refer to as “Nintendo-hard™”. The game feels organic because the it never tells you what you should be doing. No guiding light, no obnoxiously placed signposts, no tips. This can lead to a lot of random wandering and, in the case of my son, bouts of boredom, as we used trial-and-error and reasonable deduction to suss our way out of tricky pickles. While I’ll admit to getting flustered every now and again, the gratification in figuring out solutions was more than enough to egg me into playing further.
And really, a more deliberate approach is needed for Pode; the game is meant to be kind of relaxing, with this wonderful painterly look and subtle soundtrack that gives the whole thing a very naturalist vibe that I most definitely dig. Manipulating the environment is as much a part of the experience as the various puzzles you stumble across along the way. This helps to assuage the fact that there isn’t much experimenting you can do, and as far as I can tell there’s only one solution to each room.
To a broader audience I’d recommend Pode with a grain of salt; it can be a lot tougher by yourself, especially knowing the game isn’t going to help you beyond its naturally instinctive way. But it’s worth taking the adventure because I just can’t get enough of watching the cute little bobbins plucking beauty from the earth. To those who will be playing with a friend, I can’t recommend it enough. At the very least you can push the “hold hands” button and lament the challenge together.
Pode is available for Nintendo Switch.
Disclosure statement: Review code for Pode was provided by Henchman & Goon. A Most Agreeable Pastime operates as an independent site, and all opinions expressed are those of the author.