Pode is mainly a two-player co-op game, but playing by oneself is quite easy and doesn't pose any extra challenge. The game by Henchman & Goon doesn't feature any written dialogue, and this means you're not on the receiving end of a script written for two people, and thus you are spared a feeling akin to going to a restaurant and eating by yourself.
If you're familiar with platformers there might not be much new to find. Many puzzles involve moving blocks and flipping switches, but, interestingly, also a handful of riddles featuring teleportation. Fitting the game's theme about growth, there are even some puzzles based on solar power included in the central mechanic. Each room you step into is conspicuously poor in terms of detail and this is where the characters' defining abilities come into play.
Each character has the ability to breathe life into their immediate environment. The star spurs growth in the soil, producing plantlife, and the rock forms crystals and mines for bitcoin. In tandem, this opens up the levels as you go along. It never stops being satisfying to watch the screen go from grey, graveyard stillness to being lush and colourful scenery. However, this visual spectacle has some thorns.
Pretty as the environments get, it often feels quite visually busy, to a degree where the way forward can be hard to gauge. This also applies to the platforming. You mostly move inwards and away from the camera, but the platforming sometimes requires you to move outwards facing the camera, which is like throwing darts backwards.
Pode also has a questionable relationship with logic. We are very well aware how subjective these things are, and the game does make an effort via illustrative hints, but these tips mostly went right over our head. We would think that the last decade of video games and emojis had hardcoded most of us to immediately understand symbols and illustrated instructions, and Pode falls kind of short in that regard.
One blistering pustule of a puzzle had us stuck for nearly six hours, where we were under the impression that the puzzle in question was related to music. It wasn't, and we really don't blame ourselves for thinking that way when the puzzle we were invited to explore involved some kind of pipe organ and different pitches.
We are, however, never a stranger to the possibility of us being at fault, as there were many cases where we started overthinking the solution. It is most likely that two people are supposed to work together and dissuade seemingly foolish ideas. Luckily, the developer was not hard to ask for aid, and after a few hours on Twitter and a walkthrough later, we were home free.
Despite its childish exterior, Pode made quite the impression. Without a single word of written dialogue, the characters express a cohesive narrative through gesture. It is the sort of thing Ernest Hemingway would appreciate - show, don't tell - and it's clear that a steady hand directed this narrative, with the themes centring around growth and cooperation apparent throughout the entire game.
Whether the narrative is exciting is, however, another matter. There is little in the way of risk and there's not much at stake in the story, and personally, we think a bit more tension would have benefited the characters. Cute as they are, it is difficult to see them as anything but sweet sprites. There's not much else to say about them either. Still, when the game was over we found ourselves moved by the story. So much so that we had to go to the gym right after, and lift some manly weights.
In spite of its pace-killing relationship with logic and some frustrating camera angles, Pode is a competently structured platformer. The central mechanic is just as satisfying as popping bubble wrap and unites theme and gameplay in holy matrimony. The narrative, characters and their emotions make themselves understood exclusively through imagery and body language, and for a self-proclaimed game critic, this is quite close to full marks.