Pode – Experience The Warmth That Companionship Brings

Companionship, we are always looking for it, be it in form of friendships, family, colleagues at work… A lover. We like to think we need only ourselves but when we feel empty and alone it’s companionship that saves us, picks us up and reminds us: it’s ok.

Without companionship, I doubt I’d be here, writing this very article, for you.

Pode is a 3D puzzle game developed by Henchman and Goon. You play as Bulder (rock character) and/or Glo (Light character) who explore an ancient ruin of a lost civilization to help Glo return home. Each character has their own unique abilities to help to solve the puzzles littered within the game, however many of the puzzles rely on both characters working together.

As this game is best played as a couch co-op experience you can also play it single-player with the capability of switching characters on the fly.

Both characters influence the world differently, with Bulder controlling rock formations and Glo blooms life in the environments that you help traverse the levels. Each character are opposites, and this is shown through the mechanics; this even extends to some of the slight physic-based puzzles too. It adds to the game an emotional depth, through the gameplay, which is rarely seen in others – one can’t simply complete a level without the other and this is further expressed by using each other as a platform to reach inaccessible areas.

Graphically the game has a very minimalistic style yet it’s utterly gorgeous, taking inspiration from Norwegian art and nature. It has this painted look using a lot of flat tones and colours, where these darker tones combine with brighter lush primary colours. It complements the gameplay by enhancing the relaxing gameplay experience. You’ll find yourself as Glo wanting to bloom life in the whole level just to add the bright colour pallet unfurl in a hollow and lifeless landscape; a great mechanical metaphor of the game’s central themes.

It’s hard to talk about the game because it’s fairly basic, but that’s the point. Minimalism is the heart of the design. Why you ask? So, it doesn’t distract from its main point, companionship. With a button to hold the other character’s hand, we see a game that’s inherently positive. You can’t help being touched by the game when you see these two opposite characters slowly begin to understand each other – especially in today’s social division. You can’t help but smile to yourself at those little tender moments.

Talking with Linn Sovig, the Marketing/Publishing Manager for Henchman and Goon, Linn explained the concept came about so that parents could play a game with their children that they could enjoy. That they both could experience the same positivity together and that they must interact with each other not just through the game’s mechanics, but verbally too.

Linn told me that there are hidden sections within the game and that these hidden sections are each dedicated to loved ones lost during the development cycle.

There is so much heart within this game, so much love and you indulge in the same passion while playing. You can play this game solo, but you will be robbing yourself the entire purpose of this game.

What Henchman and Goon have created here is a rarity within video gaming, something you feel. I urge anyone who plays games with people to buy this game and just experience the warmth the game has to offer.

Pode is out now on Switch with a PlayStation 4 port currently in development. Enjoy and remember what it’s like to feel something again.

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A Way Out

A Way Out Review [PS4] – A Criminally Good Co-Op Adventure

As they say, there’s no “I” in “team.” From the man who has believed in this mantra since his previous game Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, Josef Fares is the director of the co-op exclusive A Way Out. Made by Hazelight Studios and published by Electronic Arts, this is a game I have been looking forward to ever since it was announced on E3 in 2017.

A Way Out is a textbook action-adventure game, but it’s unique in so many ways. As mentioned, there is no single-player option. You can play either local co-op, with a traditional split-screen style, or you can play online with another player. I chose to play the game in local co-op, so I can’t comment on how the game works online. From my experience with Fares’ previous game, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, I knew local co-op would not be a problem, as Brothers offered an amazing co-op experience.

A Way Out Review

At the beginning of the game, each player has to assign a character, which can be described in these short terms:

  • Meet Vincent Moretti. Smart and strategic, Vincent prefers the stealthy route when it comes to handling situations and is not one to be underestimated. Vincent is convicted of murder, and the game opens with him being lead into prison. Outside the prison, Vincent is in a somewhat rocky place with his very pregnant wife.
  • Meet Leo Caruso. Tough, honest, and never afraid to do things the hard way, Leo is a stubborn man who is willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done. Leo is already an inmate when Vincent entered the prison and was convicted of grand theft. Outside the bars, Leo’s faithful girlfriend and their beloved son are waiting for him.

While the two men have each taken a very different path in life up until this very moment, Leo and Vincent’s unique stories are connected into one fantastic storyline. As they slowly get to know each other, they find out about a common enemy, a con man named Harvey – the sole reason for them being in prison in the first place. Queue revenge-plot!

Prison is a dangerous place to be and escaping it isn’t easy. Leo and Vincent are determined to get out. How else are they going to get their revenge? So, walk around the prison, do your chores, and make discreet conversation with the other inmates to gather information on security, how the prison is built, its weaknesses, etc. Do everything you can to make the prison break more manageable, without letting anyone else know what you’re planning.

A Way Out
Take a break from the “escaped convict” life, and play a round or two of tic-tac-toe with your partner!

There are bound to be some fights in prison and this is no different. The fighting scenes are well-made, and in the very first one Leo and Vincent must work together in a ‘fighting circle’. The fights are badass, smoothly shifting from Leo’s perspective to Vincent’s – and it works really well. The quick-time events are terrific and so much fun. Three words: slow-motion scenes. However, there are also stealth-missions while inside the prison; one is the distraction, the other does the dirty work. The reliance on both of you to do your job is exciting and serves for some very refreshing gameplay.

The question on everyone’s mind is; how did they get there in the first place? The storyline moves back and forth between past and present, giving the player a right amount of story both before and after their escape from prison. And yeah, that is not a spoiler, by the way. The majority of the game does not actually surround itself with after prison; it surrounds itself with what happens after their escape. Leo and Vincent’s reunion with the world is not necessarily easy, as they finally must encounter the problems that have been waiting for them outside the bars.

What I really like is how A Way Out integrates the co-op factor into every single aspect of the game – with masterful success. Upon completing a task, such as opening heavy doors and climbing certain obstacles, you are dependent on your partner to help you. That’s just the minor things. The game is extremely interesting in how it presents a variety of different ways of getting through multiple situations.

The two escaped convicts have their own methods: while Leo prefers brute force, Vincent wants more stealth. Most importantly, the players actually have to agree on the choice. And let me tell you, that can definitely create some tension on each side of the couch. This also creates some great replay value – I would like to find out if the story unfolded differently if I had made other choices.

A Way Out
The nice pacing of the game makes each moment all the more engaging.

When it comes to dialogue and script, there is an excellent synergy between Leo and Vincent and it is well-written, intriguing and thrilling. The voice-acting was good, and the synergy between the voice-actors was just as good as the characters in-game. The emotions change quickly from witty commentary that made both me and my partner laugh out loud, to severe conversations that created a pit in our stomach.

Visually, A Way Out is a stunning action-game with perfect pacing. Like Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, the game knows that it has beautiful scenery, and gives the player plenty of chances to slow down and observe, before throwing out a fast-paced challenge. As Leo and Vincent naturally must spend a lot of time outside, the game really gets a chance to show off incredible lighting and with perfect corresponding ambience.

The more I think about it, the more I realize the different nuances implemented within. In different instances of the game, the perspective changes. Some parts use the classic GTA top-down style, others it’s a Tekken/Street Fighter style. Josef Fares has made some bold decisions by adding a lot of variety, but somehow it just works perfectly and feels refreshing.

There is also a distinct change in audio when each character has separate conversations. If the players are exploring on different sides of a scenario, then the one who started to speak first will have the highest audio or the ‘focus‘ of the conversations. When one of the characters encounters a critical discussion, the game will automatically focus more on that. It’s an excellent way to focus on the essential things, and even though it was a bit confusing at first, it worked surprisingly well.

It wasn’t until I played A Way Out that I realized how much I’ve missed classic split-screen co-op. Nothing beats it. Where have all the good ones gone anyway? Because if I had to find a flaw in this game, I would say that I wished it was just a little bit longer… I wanted more, and though I know that wishes like that are often a double-edged sword, A Way Out is so much more than a get-out-of-prison game.

[There’s a huge twist at the end, a true turning point of the story; if you’re playing with someone in the same room, there might or might not be a problem. And that’s all I am going to say about that].

Brawl

Brawl Review [Nintendo Switch] – A Gritty Bomb-Planter

The bomb-planting, puzzle-solving action vaguely reminiscent of the iconic Bomberman series has found a new home in a dark and disturbing setting that surrounds the new Switch port – Brawl. Taking on the role of one of the gritty “heroes” like the dismembered test dummy or sad psycho clown, players find themselves amidst a deadly Emporium booby-trapped by the eerie narrator slowly guiding players to their doom. That’s, of course, only if they don’t manage to escape the grim deathtrap first.

By choosing one of the eight playable characters, players may then embark on the game’s main story campaign, which acts as the single-player portion of the game. Each level throws a handful of arenas at the character, each tossing in more obstacles and enemies to add to the difficulty. To nullify and/or defeat these enemies lies in your ability to plant bombs, as well as perform other useful special skills and abilities which are unique to each character.

The arenas act like big mazes filled with both breakable objects like boxes, and immovable walls. All of the characters have the ability to place bombs to break through boxes and defeat enemies, but it’s what they can do with these bombs that makes them unique. Freezing them in place to stop their detonation timer, or sneezing a bomb clear across the area are a few examples of the special abilities held by each character. These special skills are limited in use unlike planting bombs, so players must use caution when relying on them. Along with the bomb countdown timer, players may also detonate bombs manually for more trivial challenges later in the game.

A Precise Bombing Affair

As you make your way through the levels, more and more enemies begin to appear, making the timing and precision increasingly important. To help with the difficulty curve, upgrades also appear when busting up the right boxes, or triggering the correct switches. Various upgrades include increasing your blast radius, adding more health or upping the amount of special ability uses you have. Finding the bomb power-ups gives you the ability to plant bombs, but the more you find and add to your inventory, the more you can place down at one time. Bombs come in unlimited quantities once you’ve picked up a bomb icon, but until power-ups are found only one can be placed at a time.

Brawl
Maps are filled with plenty of deathtraps, barriers and most importantly, power-ups and abilities.

When finding health packs wyour health is already full, players may also add up to two more extra lives, and the use of a powerful ability, like causing a massive explosion surrounding a large area around your character. These are primarily useful when engaging in arenas with tricky enemy movements and plenty of breakable boxes stand in your way. Trying to use the standard bomb attack to wipe out enemy forces can become quite tricky in the later levels, which is exactly where the various power-ups and abilities come into play perfectly.

Taking players through the story mode shows off the dark and eerie visuals presented in Brawl. Like a combination of Saw and Bomberman, players will be taunted by the narrator in Brawl, leading them ever-further into the maniacal maze of deathtraps and hordes of enemies. The sinister stills that act as cutscenes in between levels show more of the character’s distraught backstory as they venture closer to freedom outside of the gruesomely haunting Emporium.

Brawl
Each set of levels are different and are based on the 8 playable characters in Brawl’s story mode.

Bomb-arded With Competitive Modes

The play style of Brawl is unique when compared to the sparse ‘bomber’ style puzzle genre. Each of the eight characters not only has their own special skill and ability but a different set of levels for each as well. The story mode alone is packed with content, dozens of levels across all eight unlockable characters. On top of the main campaign is the co-op, competitive and practice modes.

Multiplayer is filled with even more bomb planting challenges, including 4-player deathmatches, survival mode which pits players against non-stop waves of enemies, two-player duels, Sumo which has players attempting to knock one-another out of each arena, and the unique Color Domination, which involves splashing colored paint across the board against up to three other players. While the single-player content is crammed with inventive level designs and power-ups, these multiplayer modes really create a party style atmosphere in Brawl, something that moulds perfectly with the Switch console.

Brawl
Color Domination has players facing off against one another attempting to blast the most paint color across the arena.

Though Bloober Team‘s Brawl brings a familiar style of puzzling challenges to the table, there’s plenty of unique assets that separate it from the rest. While newcomers to the genre may find themselves trapped and killing themselves more than they’d care for, the ability to adapt and conform to the game’s complex and strategic approach to bomb-planting, puzzle-solving carnage comes naturally through the game’s in-game progression across the story. An excellent pick up for all those co-op party doers, this doom and gloom bomber is a simple, yet tactful addition to the Switch’s indie game library.