While still relatively new, the world of indie games has been around long enough to have clichés associated with it. For instance, describing an indie game as a 2-D puzzle-platformer with a good soundtrack and a unique art-style is sure to make some eyes roll, as games like Braid and Super Meat Boy have left an indelible mark on the history of video games by having those very same qualities. Even I fall to cynicism despite my attempts to stay positive, because ideally the independent development field would allow for people to risk stepping outside of the narrow thematic and mechanical constraints that seem to hinder larger developers. After some hours with a preview build of Pid though, I was reminded of the value of exploring the same space in slightly different variations.
Pid is- wait for it- a 2-D puzzle-platformer with a good soundtrack and unique art-style. The game is being developed by Might and Delight, a development group comprised of members from the now defunct GRIN. While GRIN may have gone down in a blaze of mediocrity with Bionic Commando, Wanted: Weapons of Fate, and Terminator: Salvation, the group was also responsible for one of the best retro reboots with Bionic Commando: Rearmed. While they are different games, some of the same sparks of brilliance that shone in BC:R continue to illuminate in Pid.
One of the things I first noticed was the art direction. The game uses polygonal models on a 2D plane, allowing for depth in the environments. The people and objects inhabiting those environments take seem plucked out of a seventies children’s show whose art director was more interested in French surrealism than verisimilitude. Some are exaggerated humans while others are downright alien in their shape and color. In either case, the result is quite wonderful. While everything is clear and visible, the game’s lighting is manipulated in such a way as to give the entire experience a sleepy blur- like the echoing images of a dream when waking up.
As I stated at the beginning, Pid is a puzzle-platformer, and its mechanical twist is the use of the beam. The beam is a little device that defies gravity by shooting out a timed, repelling beam of light- think of it as a reverse tractor beam. Functionally, this results in using beams to get to higher places, float across deadly gaps, and either making enemies helpless by catching them in the beam or murdering them by casting them into spikes or those same deadly gaps you avoided. In the amount of time I’ve played, I’ve seen the complexity of these puzzles rise, but so far it’s been a slow ramp up. I’ve only been slowed down a couple of times, but to the game’s credit, each time it was due to my management of the space and timing, not because I didn’t know what to do.
Aside from the usual platforming and avoiding enemies, there are boss fights as well. So as not to spoil too much, I’ll only talk about the first one I encountered- a maniacal butler who attempted to clean up the mess of broken plates that I made with my beams. He was a boss in the sense of an old NES game, larger than life with easily observable patterns. The gameplay was different enough to be entertaining, but I felt that it was so different that nothing before had quite prepared me for the hectic action of fighting it. While I was certainly able to blaze through the levels, the quick moving boss was a bit of a shock to the system. I’ll be interested to see how alien the gameplay gets; and make no mistake- I am interested.
While what I played of the preview build wasn’t revolutionary, it was gorgeous and entertaining. The visuals and music kept me interested in the environment, and the gameplay was fun. I’m prone to think of this as a pop-music metaphor: The Wailing Wall, for instance, is a band that takes many cues from Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan with their use of Biblical imagery, acoustic instruments, nasally vocals, and lyrically dense songs. While their efforts may not be as pioneering as their influences, that doesn’t make them any less remarkable. What I’ve seen of Pid so far seems to stand on a trail that’s already been blazed, but walks if confidently- I’m excited to see where it goes.
Pid is scheduled for release on digital platforms later this year.