Poor Kurt. He just wants to go home. Too bad he’s going to have to die hundreds of times to get there. Welcome to the world of Pid (or Planet in Distress), a unique puzzle-platformer with a charming aesthetic and an often brutal difficulty.
In Pid, players take on the role of Kurt, a child who was on his way back home and fell asleep on the “space bus” only to wake up on an unfamiliar planet. Unfortunately for Kurt, the buses haven’t been seen on this planet for hundreds of years so he’s as good as stuck. Though Kurt should really be questioning why the bus driver abandoned a sleeping child, he instead sets off to figure out why the buses aren’t coming. The planet’s inhabitants are robots that will befriend you, offer helpful advice, or even try to kill you, all with the accompaniment of humorous nonsense vocals. Soon enough a political drama involving a vanished king and his queen comes to the surface. Outside of a few plot twists and insightful moments, everything except the dialogue is lightweight—which is to be expected out of the genre.
The game does a good enough job of introducing the mechanics that the player can feel confident in their ability to traverse a maze of spikes and death traps. Enemy robots add moving targets that either need to be avoided or disposed of. Soon blue surfaces and enemies are added which can’t be affected by the beams. Throughout the course of the game, Kurt gets new items added to his inventory that help in puzzle solving and robot removal. Bombs can be thrown to destroy a bothersome enemy or knock down a wall to reveal a secret cache of items. A small booster can be used to launch Kurt higher than his normal gravity beam. A slingshot is introduced later in the game to place beams farther away or in more precise spots. Items are either found, dropped by foes, or bought at dispensers using the stars collected throughout the journey. Be sure to buy the vest that increases the amount of hits Kurt can take. Why? Without it a single hit means death.
It’s after the first several deaths that the difficulty of Pid becomes readily apparent. For any player, death is going to be a constant for Kurt in his quest to get home. Much like Super Meat Boy and Limbo, Pid uses death as a learning experience. Some solutions will be obvious upon entering the room; others are going to take some time and definitely some lives to figure out. And like those other games, Pid is going to leave players frustrated, mad, and on the verge of throwing or hitting something. Though a difficult game is nothing new and can be quite enjoyable if done right, there are moments where the difficulty spikes insanely, the mechanics fall apart, or the solution to a puzzle is almost too obtuse to figure out.
While the blow of a one-hit death is somewhat cushioned by armor, it doesn’t make much a difference. If Kurt lands on spikes or gets hit by an enemy, he has a split second to move or he will end up dying. Unlike a Mario or Sonic game, there’s no moment of invincibility here. It’s easier to spend the game acting like everything will kill you instantly no matter what. Often the floaty nature of Kurt’s jumps make precision jumping hard. When Pid turns into a strict platformer and fast movements are required, a jump might easily be missed. Accidental deaths are often frequent. In some situations, if a beam is placed incorrectly, there is no time to recover. When you die, be sure to not to move when the screen fades to black—you might think you don’t have control over Kurt but he could be dead as soon as the image returns. The difficulty is made (mostly) bearable by the (mostly) generous checkpoint system. Very seldom is backtracking a great expanse required; but the times when a checkpoint doesn’t register or you move backwards and then get taken to an even early checkpoint will have you pulling your hair. In the end, my death toll was about 430 (I honestly thought it would be much higher).
The moments when Pid becomes questionably hard are honestly the biggest frustration when it comes to the puzzles. Most of the boss battles in the game are not only fun but they are quite creative and well executed. One boss in the middle, however, became a problem for me to the point where I had to stop playing for a few hours. Not to spoil anything but the lack of hit points, random projectiles, precise execution, and unavoidable deaths kept happening and I had to step away. There is also one “puzzle” that seems so simple but the game does a poor job of communicating the solution that you might end up wandering around an area for an hour before it finally dawns on you by blind luck. Impressively enough, though, new enemies and items are added to the mix throughout the game that nothing truly ever “gets old.”
Pid often gets everything right, though. An area that caused eye twitching will soon be forgotten after several clever rooms. What makes these moments even better is the game’s aesthetic. Pid’s visual are stunning in the fact that each area of the world–whether it be catacombs, opera house, kitchen, or town—are completely unique. Different sections might swap color palettes or textures from time to time but all the locales are vibrant and stylish. Trumping Pid’s visuals is its sound. Without a doubt, Pid has one of the best soundtracks of the year. Ranging from rich ambiance to smooth jazz, each boss and each level has its own sound. There’s some truly incredible stuff here and without a doubt you would be able to place the soundtrack out of anything else heard so far.
Pid’s aesthetic infuses the game with a charm that often complements the gameplay. Instead of being a game that has a clever hook (the gravity beam) and some hard puzzles, it becomes something more. It often flirts with the excellence that has created many breakout hits in the indie/downloadable scene. Some of its issues do keep it from being a stunning experience rather than just a really good title. Though it could sound like the difficulty is more of a personal issue, other players will also recognize some of the noticeable flaws when it comes to gameplay. But the game does offer a great deal of extras: a co-op mode, secret collectibles, and even a hard difficulty mode that borders on impossible all round out the package excellently. In the course of Kurt’s 8-10 hour journey you are going to experience a lot of great things—and it’s because of those things that Pid is often so much fun.