Platforms: PC | PSN | XBLA (reviewed)
Developer: Might & Delight
Publisher: D3 Publisher
Pid is very long and very, very difficult.
This ought to be a good thing. I've lost track of the sheer number of games that raised my hackles for failing to provide an appropriate amount of content or challenge, and Might & Delight have delivered on both. This surreal puzzle platformer serves up between 12-15 hours of cerebral adventuring, set in a soft focus world ripped straight out of a child's imagination. However, Pid's bizarre and beautiful imagery belies a game that delights in pushing players to the limit, both in terms of brainpower and reflexes. On paper, then, it should be an absolute stunner - especially for the bargain price of £6.99 or 800 Mirosoft Points.
Unfortunately, Pid happens to be the wrong kind of long... and the bad kind of difficult.
After the young space-schoolboy Kurt is marooned on a mysterious robotic planet, players will explore some 2.5D platforming levels in an effort to get him back home. When you're not solving the riddle of missing robotic royalty and working out what's quite obviously wrong with the slightly sinister world, that is. You'll encounter all manner of varied, ridiculous situations and characters throughout the lengthy campaign, from battling your way inside a gigantic chef and defeating an inflatable burglar the size of a house, but these memorable moments act as a reward between long puzzling sections.
Though you'll pick up plenty of consumable (if traditional) tools such as a bomb and slingshot, Kurt's primary ability is to create two anti-gravity beams that stick to almost any surface: think Portal 2's Excursion Funnel and you've got the basic idea. It's a simple and engaging foundation for some seriously interesting brainteasers, most of which try to use the beams in interesting ways. Once you've gotten used to ascending to higher platforms, you'll quickly need to learn how to use Kurt's powers to lift robotic enemies into ceiling spikes, traverse through constantly-moving mechanisms and guide objects through tricky mazes. Collectible stars also reside in difficult hidden spots, challenging players to seek them out despite the extra danger. Since most puzzles can be approached in different ways, Pid's best moments are absolutely fantastic.
There's plenty of variety to be found here, easily enough to sustain a focused and muscular five to eight hour campaign. Cooperative functionality adds yet more value, giving each player control over a single beam and forcing them to communicate effectively. However, in an effort to double the length of the campaign, Pid stuffs most of its levels with an enormous amount of padding. Each new gameplay element gets overused to the point of abuse, vastly outstaying its welcome and watering down the handful of truly exceptional set pieces with countless tedious switch puzzles and constant repetition. A couple of fetch quests also come out of the hitherto linear woodwork, slowing things down and leading to incredibly inconsistent pacing. As mentioned, it's the wrong kind of long.
But there's a bigger problem. Pid doesn't seem to know whether it wants to be a cerebral puzzler or an incredibly tough platformer, so it tries to be both simultaneously. An ambitious decision to be sure, and one that backfires spectacularly.
Kurt moves with measured, determined heft; unhurried deliberation that would suit a slower-paced puzzle game. He's portly and sluggish, basically, with methodical controls to match. However, Pid constantly bombards you with challenges that would sometimes make Super Meat Boy blush: wicked selections of enemies, spikes and timed sections. One hit from any hazard will usually kill Kurt stone dead, sending him back to an incredibly distant checkpoint to complete puzzles over and over again (and permanently destroying any rare body armour that you've managed to afford). This comes to a head in the horrible selection of boss battles, which require split-second reflexes to beat, yet give you none of the agility of traditional platformers. These hardcore pretensions infect the puzzle design too, forcing you to fight the lackadaisical controls to beat exquisitely difficult split-second timing and the promise of instant death.
You won't hit a brick wall because a puzzle solution eludes you. Rather, you'll often come screeching to a halt in front of ferocious challenges sections that simply ask too much from the control scheme and mechanics. After screaming at the TV for the umpteenth time, you'll wish that Might & Delight had better defined what they wanted Pid to be.
When Pid tries to be a puzzler, it commits the cardinal sin of forcing players to grind away at executing solutions they've already worked out. When it tries to be a retro-tough platformer, it fails to give the player anywhere near the responsiveness required to succeed. All told, Pid is the bad kind of difficult. The kind that will force most players to ragequit and find it difficult to muster up the willpower to return.
Might & Delight deserve to be praised for their art direction, which delivers a surreal view of a robotic world from a child's perspective. It's varied, colourful and striking, yet pleasingly muted and full of soft edges. Sadly, it's also rather inconsistent. Due to the intense padding, even the more impressive environments can become repetitious. For each exciting enemy design, there's a box on wheels or a searchlight-carrying warden who, instead of raising the alarm, inexplicably kills you on contact with its lantern beam. Kurt manages to become one of the most forgettable and boring protagonists of this generation, lacking a recognisable motif, striking silhouette, strong personality or any memorable qualities whatsoever.
I personally feel that Might & Delight lack faith in their artistry. Most if not all of Pid's storyline could have been inferred from the art, character and level design - indeed, much of it is. The likes of Limbo and Journey demonstrate that you don't need words to spin a yarn, and that players are capable of filling in the blanks themselves. But Pid instead leans on enormous text callouts packed with tiny spidery writing, little of which is particularly interesting. Had it decided to focus on non-verbal communication, Pid would have been infinitely more evocative.
My inner cynic goes further, whispering dark thoughts into the back of my mind. Pid has all the indie 'tropes,' from a young marooned child to an experimental soundtrack and zany visuals to behold, but doesn't marry them together into a consistent vision. It's window dressing, like a cuckoo's plumage, colourful enough to muscle into Limbo, Braid and Fez' nest before revealing its true colours as a functional yet confused puzzle-platformer.
Pid's good qualities are strong enough to silence my internal killjoy. All the necessary components for greatness are present and correct - but they should have been assembled with a clear goal in mind.
- Some fantastic multi-solution puzzles
- Varied, bizarre and curious art direction
- Technically amazing raw value
- Unbelievably padded, poorly paced, surprisingly repetitious
- Rampant, unforgiveable frustration stems from unsuitable controls and ridiculous difficulty curve
- Torrid boss battles and checkpoint locations
- Suffers from a major identity crisis
The Short Version: Pid ostensibly stands for "Planet In Distress," but the frustrating 14-hour campaign gave me plenty of time to think of some alternative acronyms. Padded, Inappropriately Difficult, for example. Painfully Inconsistent Direction. Pretty If Diffuse, Portal Influenced Development and Profound Identity Division also fit the bill nicely.
Ultimately, though, I've settled for Potentially Interesting Disappointment. Pid teems with great ideas, but its muddled identity and execution stop me from giving it more than the most tentative of recommendations.