Demo Driver 8: Pid
If you’re using the word retro to describe your platforming game just because it’s a platformer, that throws up some red flags.
Yes, I totally appreciate the distinction. Platforming as a genre is not nearly as common as it used to be. But just the idea of jumping from platform is not retro in any way, shape, or form. It’s just a mechanic of playing a game. It’s no more retro than first-person shooters or RPGs or anything else. About the only way you can call platforming itself retro is stepping back into the structural portion of platforming, moving away from tricks like seamless levels and narratives and just focusing on precision jumps mixed with power-ups.
Pid is not that game, so the few places where it calls itself “retro” raise my hackles. The fact is that it’s not retro in the least; it would be more accurate to call it an attempt at putting modern design sensibilities into a platforming framework with mild puzzle elements. How well it actually performs this task is another matter, but I give points for the attempt at all.
Young Kurt, you see, was on his way home from school when the boss dropped him off on a strange robot-filled planet where no bus will come. He promptly sets to finding a way out of his predicament, trying to reach the main city where the buses still run. There’s your thin narrative veneer for jumping about a creaking house and dealing with little robot greebles as enemies. High literature it isn’t, but as an excuse plot for getting a game moving it does all right.
Of course, the actual jumping is fairly perfunctory, at least early on. You have to dodge rather than bopping enemies, at least until you unlock the game’s beam tool. Throwing a little gem at a solid surface will produce a glowing beam that lifts you and enemies along with it. Use it to shove enemies into spikes and they’re done. Use it to lift yourself and you can traverse the landscape more effectively. It’s the game’s puzzle-esque gimmick, and it works fairly well; there’s a bit of fuzziness with the aiming, since it has an arc when you throw, but pixel-perfect placement is not required early on.
What it’s actually supposed to be isn’t clear and also doesn’t really matter, I suspect.
The downside to all of this is that Pid is a game which eschews any sort of old-school platforming in favor of strictly delineated set pieces. Go on to the next screen and you have three tricky areas to navigate, each of which has a very clear setup of challenge and resolution. Avoid that guard by ducking under the platform he’s patrolling on, then push the next one into the spikes, then jump through a few routine corridors and find the next group of enemies. In contrast to open romps like Super Mario World, you’re trundling along and just have to execute some fairly self-evident challenges.
It also has clearly drank from the well of the Metroidvania genre, with an inventory and items and all that fun stuff. At least in the demo it’s not handled very gracefully. Look, there’s a passage to an old woman surrounded by bombs, and just below that there’s a cracked wall. I wonder how I’m meant to take on this scenario!
To be fair, there’s plenty of space here for the game to improve as you move through it. However, at a glance at the overall backpack size, it seems like the sort of game wherein you’ll wind up with several different items that only have a very specific use at specific points through the game. The alternative would be a whole lot of menu-trawling chores, since you can only have two items ready for use at once, a concession of interface realities.
Of course, barring some sort of inventory lockout in combat or the like, it’s functionally just a way to make it more irritating to use your items, not impossible. A bit of design that could really stand to go away, that.
None of this is to say that the game is actively bad, though. On the contrary, while I found parts of it a bit tedious and it seemed a bit thin on original ideas, the controls were responsive and Kurt felt reliable in his mass. Yes, his movements weren’t lightning-quick, but the game didn’t demand it and his motions felt predictable, always a plus for any sort of platforming.
The graphics for the game are also lovely – enemies move with plenty of individual personality, platforms sway appropriately, and the collectible items of the day (stars) tug and move slightly as you collect their nearby companions. It’s a chunky game with satisfying movements, although the distinction between tunnels that require you to crawl and tunnels that you can walk through could stand to be a bit clearer. (Kurt’s not very tall, you see.)
On a scale of actual gameplay versus atmospheric noodling, it definitely veers a bit more toward atmosphere, although not in the dreaded Unmechanical fashion. Yes, there’s clearly a lot of care given to making the game more of a treat for the eyes and ears, but that’s not used as a loose catch-all to avoid actual gameplay. The meat of the story may be a wee bit thin and undercooked, but it’s there.
At the end of the day, Pid‘s greatest failing is simply that it’s not a game that inspires much passion one way or the other. The demo speaks to an appealing enough experience if you take the time to jump through its levels, but not to a particularly fascinating or singular one. It’s ten dollars for a pleasant but forgettable romp. Well worth the price of admission if you’d like to play through something of an art-house platformer, but nothing to seek out if you’re not crazy about platformers in the first place.
Still not retro, though.