Hands-on With Pid

Pid, the debut game from Swedish ex-Bionic Commando: Rearmed developers’ new studio Might and Delight, might be reaching a bit.

On its official website, Might and Delight describes itself as a company that specializes in “creating playful retro-flavored games” with a knack for “innovative and charming ideas,” and I’ll give it to ‘em; Pid, despite looking very modern and exceptionally charming, has a very retro feel to it. The entire screen has an odd dulled sheen to it, as if someone turned the brightness up a notch and the contrast down one, but the way every object, character, and background looks like someone took a fireplace bellow and puffed a little air into everything in a construction paper cutout diorama.

Visually, Pid can really grab your attention. I would buy prints of screenshots if I could.

The gameplay, however, is a bit lacking; it definitely does not “turn everything you know about 2D gameplay upside down.” During my time with the game, I managed to talk with one of the developers (and I’m so sorry I don’t recall his name), and he really hammered on the difficulty with the game. He said he wanted to harken back to “retro game difficulty,” asking if I enjoyed challenging games. I brought up that I was a fan of Ninja Gaiden and Dark Souls, and he seemed to spark up a bit.

But Pid is not difficult in the way those games are difficult. It’s not the systems within the game that challenge you (e.g. commensurate damage given and taken, overly capable enemies, etc.) but rather the methods with which you interact with those systems.

The game is a 2D puzzle game. You play as a little boy stuck on a strange planet looking for an escape out of this seemingly evil robot-infested territory. You have the power to throw down little orbs of light that, upon contact with a solid surface, will project a perpendicular beam that floats you away from the wall/floor/whatnot. These beams not only affect you, though, as it can also move boxes, robots, keys, and surprisingly fatal lamps. You must maneuver are pits, spikes, and locked doors to find you escape.

The problem is that moving about in Pid is just not any fun. In Ninja Gaiden, everything is quick and snappy, responses effectively immediate. In Dark Souls, while there is an animation priority, you understand the actions you make are deliberate and forthright. In Pid, however, every action feels a bit sluggish and, no matter how much time I spent attempting to acclimate to its particular platformer attributes (as with any platformer), nothing I did felt especially calculated to my input.

Puzzles will sometimes require you to float from one thrown beam to another (in the demo I played, you max out at two active beams at a time), but it seemed that within beams, you had no inertia to changes in motion, though as soon as you left the beam, you went back to having momentum. It makes navigating from beam to air to beam difficult not in a dexterity-challenging way but in a GOD DAMN YOU PID sort of way.

And the momentum you carry for a little boy is significant. No, scratch that; it’s strange. Your initial movements feel quick, but you quickly max out your running speed at what feels like the nautical speed of a small pebble. And that’s fine if your game wants to pace itself that way as plenty of games thrive on the slow, calculated feel. The problem comes in when despite your quick start and your low top speed, you carry such a heft to you that feels counter-intuitive. It’s not an abrupt gut-wrenching problem, but within the time I spent with the game, it began to wear on me.

The puzzles, though, seem pretty neat. That fact that so many things can move (you, the beams, keys, doors, enemies) based on how you float around the screen makes things pretty interesting. You can immediately see so many options of how something can be solved, but only through testing can you tell what fails.

And that may sound frustrating as well, but the checkpointing in Pid is fairly forgiving. It never felt unfair (well, once, but everyone’s allowed one) and it never felt too hand-holding. The particular portion of a puzzle it resets you to makes sense. It’s never like it puts you back on top of a falling platform or you feel cheated out of progress.

So really my experience with Pid was a contrasting one. On one hand, I thought the puzzles and ambiance of the game were superb. On the other, though, I just really disliked moving around in the world. But I can also see both of those changing by the time the game comes out. In the short demo I played, I feel like I had already experienced a width breadth of puzzle types and tropes. And perhaps I just needed a bit more time to familiarize myself with the feel of the game. I guess only time will tell.

Specifically, sometime in 2012. On “digital platforms.”

Whatever that means.

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