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Pode Review: Star-Crashed

/ Jun 29th, 2018 No Comments

Pode Review

Casual games get a bad rap because they are often looked at as trivial. Yet, there is something appealing about a game anyone can play. The struggle is always figuring out how to prevent the easy to grasp from being simplistic.

Pode delivers a fun casual gaming experience that never lacks depth. This gorgeous-looking game adds complexity with co-op gameplay and strong pacing that layers mechanics as you progress through the game.

Finding a Way Home

You never know when something extraordinary is going to happen. More than that, you never know when that something extraordinary can change your life.

When a falling star crashed into the ground outside Mount Fjellheim, a plucky little rock didn’t know it was about to embark on the journey of a lifetime. The little rock felt sorry for the fallen star, so it decided to help the star get back home.

Returning the star back home requires them to explore the caverns of Fjellheim and reach its summit. Even though the little rock knows the journey won’t be easy, it desperately wants to help the fallen star go home. The two will have to rely on each other if they want to send the star back to the night’s sky, but they both feel confident making the climb because they are by each other’s side.
 

Pode Review

The fallen star can illuminate images etched into the mountain to learn more about it.

Pode’s story is simple: two friends try to overcome trials to send one of them back where they belong. Yet, there is a complexity to the storytelling, which naturally happens whenever a narrative is told wordlessly. Much of the work of conveying the emotion and struggle happens by the protagonists’ expressions and sounds.

Luckily, both the little rock and the fallen star emote extremely well despite the adorable, yet simple character designs. Thanks to smart pacing, great level design and a mystical backdrop in Mount Fjellheim, there is a lot helping ensure the player understands what the journey means to both characters.

To give some more mystery and depth to the narrative, the little rock and fallen star encounter evocative images as they explore the caverns. The imagery tells a larger story of the mountain that you’re helping bring back to life.

Hold My Hand

If either the little rock or fallen star wants to make it to the top of they mountain, they’ll need to rely on each other and use their skills together. Neither could do it on their own as the caverns Fjellheim are designed to activate through the use of each character’s special powers.

Not only are they trying to get the fallen star home, but they are reawakening the long dormant mountain. Both characters have a special power that can rouse rocks and fauna from their slumber, bringing the mountain back to life. As both move through the various caverns, they cause flowers and plants to grow and rocks and minerals to pop out of the ground. It is stunning to watch the mountain regain its vibrancy bit by bit.

Every journey has to start somewhere. In Pode, it starts at the bottom.

To reach the top of the mountain, the little rock and the fallen star begin in a giant opening with no discernable way to climb up. It becomes apparent they must use their unique powers to activate triggers that open up passages to different caverns. While there are only two at the bottom, they’ll have to open up and master nine caverns to reach the top of the mountain, each with its own unique theme, look and environmental hazards.

Naturally, the game eases you into the puzzle-solving elements. It starts off very basic, teaching you how to use each characters’ unique powers — little rock can manipulate rocks in the environment and the fallen star can shine to grow and manipulate plants. These two mechanics form the foundation of gameplay. Whatever else happens as you climb the mountain, it will always come down to manipulating the environment with both of these powers.

As you climb the mountain and start venturing into new caverns, you gain more ways to manipulate the environment and the characters’ powers. The little rock’s main asset is the ability to swallow up objects, including the fallen star, then spit them back out gently or aggressively.

Conversely, the fallen star gets quite a bit more flash. It is able to float for a time when it jumps, but more importantly, can teleport and create teleporting anchor points. Combining the star’s teleportation abilities with the rock’s swallow allows you to move both characters to the same spot. Every move has its use and figuring out how to best use them in each cavern is key to success.
 

Pode Review

Every cavern ends with one final puzzle that can be tough to solve.

You also run into new facets of the mountain as you climb it that require you to think about the dynamic and contrast between the characters. In one cavern, there is stiff gusts of wind blowing up from a massive gap. Little rock obviously can’t jump far enough to clear it, but the fallen star is light and finds that it can float across the gap. The only problem is the fallen star can’t jump far enough to utilize the gust of wind and still falls. It comes down to the little rock swallowing up the fallen star spitting it across and the fallen star floating gently to the other side thanks to the extra force.

Another cavern introduces water and waterfalls, which poses a lot of problems. Immediately you find out the little rock sinks whenever it goes into water and the fallen star floats. It makes it impossible for little rock to swallow the fallen star and carry it, so you can’t teleport together without a hard surface.

Meanwhile, waterfalls are too powerful for the fallen star to move through, but the little rock can easily push forward. However, it can’t carry the fallen star in water, so you have to figure out a way around these issue.

Progress in this cavern is tricky, but Pode does a great job of making you want to work your way through it.

Working together is vital to succeeding in Pode. While the game can be played alone by switching between characters, it isn’t as satisfying as playing with a friend. Much like the gameplay’s emphasis on working together, the game shines when two players are struggling to solve puzzles together. The co-op aspect of the game is smooth and a lot of fun. It is highly suggested to find a good friend to sit back and play on the couch with you. The frustration of encountering puzzles and euphoria of triumphing over them makes you start to identify with the plight of the game’s characters.

Overall

The mark of a great puzzle game is the moments where you get stuck; the moments that frustrate and force you to examine everything from multiple angles. Then, when you’ve explored every option you thought possible, you figure it out. When it turns out the solution was staring you right in the face the whole time, it is that moment of clarity and understanding where a puzzle game shines. Pode is full of those moments.

Pode was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a code provided by the developer

 

Kalvin Martinez

Kalvin Martinez

Senior Editor at Gaming Illustrated
Kalvin Martinez studied Creative Writing at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He writes reviews, prose and filthy limericks. While he is Orange County born, he now resides in Portland, OR. He is still wondering what it would be like to work at a real police department. Follow Kalvin on Twitter @freepartysubs

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PODE REVIEW: STAR-CRASHED

Gaming Illustrated RATING

Overall90%

GAMEPLAY9

Anyone can pick up Pode and jump right into the puzzle solving action, but it is far from casual. There is a lot of depth to the puzzle solving itself.

GRAPHICS9

Pode has a lush, vibrant art style giving the game a gorgeous look that has impeccable design elements.

SOUND9

Austin Wintory composer the score and continues to prove why he is one of the best. The music is whimsical and airy.

STORY9

Told wordlessly through the action and friendship of an unlikely duo, Pode tells a charming story that is full of pathos.

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