Puzzle games have seen many forms over the past few years. Some are artistic, some are clean-cut and modern, some have no visuals at all. None, however, have been quite as cute as Pode.
Henchman & Goon is an indie game studio based out of Bergen, Norway. Their team consists of about seven people, and their website states that they’re committed to making games that “leave a lasting positive impression.” Judging from their work on Pode, it seems they’re well on their way to achieving that goal.
About The Game
Pode is, at its heart, a puzzle-adventure game. You play as two different characters, a rock, and a fallen star. As you explore an old, forgotten cave system, you solve puzzles to progress through each chamber. These puzzles span a wide array of genres, including (but not limited to) platforming-like challenges, matching, and secret codes. All the while, you discover new and interesting things about the cave and watch as they come to life in vibrant color. The name, then, is especially fitting: “pode,” in Norwegian, means “graft,” like how one would graft new branches onto a tree.
Henchman & Goon tells us that Pode was inspired by Norwegian art, culture, and nature, bringing a style of art not often seen in games. Indeed, much of the plant life seems to take notes from an art style called Rosemåling. Rosemåling uses bright, bold primary and secondary colors, in swirling and flowery designs, and may include flowers, although they don’t always appear. This art style is typically featured on two-dimensional surfaces, such as scrolls and pottery. Pode brings it into the third dimension, dazzling players with soft, beautiful curves, contrasted by the sharp edges and corners of rocks and gems.
One of the most dazzling aspects of Pode is the player characters. It was made as a co-op game, but it’s playable by one without trouble, where a single player controls both characters. These characters couldn’t be more different. One is a rock, whose magnetic properties can pull and push other stone. The other is a star, a being of pure energy, whose light can breathe new life into the soil of the cave system.
The playstyles of each character are very different, but they work in tandem, without sidelining one or the other. Bulder, the rock, is heavy and can push down pressure plates and springs. They can also “hold” other rocks, such as the movable cubes found throughout the game. However, they can only get so far without Glo, the star.
Glo’s light reveals important instructions, carved into the walls and doors of the caverns, melts ice, and grows platforms to cross gaps and climb walls. Yet, as helpful as Glo is, they, too, are limited: They have little to no weight, so they can’t do any of the things Bulder can. Likewise, Bulder can’t do anything that Glo can. Neither player is a “Player 2” to the other because they’re both equally vital in their own ways. Through their combined talents, they can conquer any puzzle.
Most Western gamers would likely see Pode‘s cute, simple style as an indication of easy gameplay, but this isn’t the case at all. All of the puzzles in Pode take quite a lot of thought, especially for one player. Single players must take into account the abilities and properties of each character, and set up their movements carefully. That’s assuming, of course, they even have a clue what they’re doing, to begin with.
Thankfully, Pode has prepared for that confusion as well. The game has built-in hints, just in case you get lost, but these, too, are completely wordless. If you fiddle around enough in the environment, you’ll find that Glo can illuminate panels that display pictogram instructions and tips. Squares usually represent Bulder, and circles, especially circles with an extra halo, typically represent Glo. Triangles with glyphs inside them are symbols that represent numbers, which may be a combination or an indication of an object you have to retrieve.
Although the puzzles can be difficult, they aren’t impossible. This is a delicate balance. Puzzles that are too difficult can frustrate players, and puzzles that are too easy can bore them. Pode puts itself solidly in the middle, where every path of puzzles begins at the simplest level, then grows over time until it’s more complex.
This isn’t the only way the puzzles change, though. Above, we commented on the different abilities of the protagonists. However, these are not the only abilities they have for the whole game. Players prove their mettle in the earlier puzzle paths, and Pode rewards them, giving their protagonists new and exciting powers. Players then try elevated, more difficult puzzles, utilizing these new abilities and discovering how they work.
The spirit of Pode seems to be about discovery. You find yourself in a new and unusual place, filled with environments you’ve never seen before. In order to progress, you must learn about them, and about yourself. You explore beautiful worlds inside the heart of a mountain and watch as your actions impact that world, as you grow flowers and melt ice. Discovering a beautiful world with a friend makes the experience all the more magical.
Every aspect of this game is beautiful, right down to the animation of plants growing. Henchman & Goon really outdid themselves, and I’m looking forward to seeing what they come up with next.