Elegant, sophisticated, and erudite are normally not words I would use to describe a videogame. Most videogames push extra hard to be the exact opposite of those words - mainly because there is no elegant, sophisticated, or erudite way to explode an enemy’s head like a melon when a bullet passes through it. Even in games where trappings such as the gory headshot couldn’t possibly exist, those words are the last you’d use to describe them. You could argue that certain puzzle games are sophisticated, I guess, but usually that sophistication is obscured by so many bright colors that it looks like a clown exploded. So many games are constructed out of color palates that can only exist in cotton candy, that it’s hard to take them seriously as elegant, or sophisticated; and many are so broad as to assault the word erudite and squeeze it until Mountain Dew comes out.
However, most games aren’t Pid. In Pid, you have a game that eschews bright colors, loud sound effects, fast action, and headshots in favor of a more restrained approach. The cool blue-and earth tone-based color scheme won’t burn your eyes, and the soft tinkling soundtrack won’t pummel your ears (maybe it’s just me, but my ears have been positively abused this year). Pid is simple in its gameplay mechanics, yet complex in their applications, and it’s simple in its story, but complex in its meaning and implications.
Maybe you would use terms like elegant, sophisticated, and erudite to describe Pid, but maybe you wouldn’t. Either way, that you can even consider those words when describing Pid is an achievement in and of itself.
Pid begins with a bus ride gone wrong as our protagonist, a little boy named Kurt, finds himself trapped on a planet populated seemingly by Nietzsche’s society of the last man. The last man seeks for nothing but safety, comfort, and security, and initially, every citizen of this strange clockwork planet that Kurt meets is interested in nothing more despite the fact that their homeworld is a shadow of its former self. Their King and Queen left them hundreds of years ago and no one is in a big hurry to do anything about it. They sit still, resigned to whatever fate has in store. They tell Kurt not to try to get to the city so he can find a way off the planet and get back home, and I get the sense that it’s not just because the busses haven’t run in years.
Kurt wants to go home, however, and so begins his journey toward the city and his supposed escape. Before long, however, that escape is called into question and Kurt is faced with a choice: go home and leave this sad society of the last man to its fate, or find out what’s going on and put a stop to it.
As a game, Pid is a platforming adventure in the truest sense of the word. You’ll see many different, uniquely rendered levels each with their own unique obstacles and enemies. The main way you’ll navigate Kurt through these worlds is with a magical crystal Kurt comes across early in his adventure. This crystal allows you to summon two light beams that push Kurt along their respective axes of travel until he reaches the end, or nine seconds - which ever comes first. Kurt can also jump, but the light beams are his main method of maneuvering around the world and past obstacles. It’s a unique mechanic that really opens up many possibilities, and once you get good at it you’ll find yourself bossing traps and enemies in a very satisfying way - or you’ll just die.
You see, the “combat” in Pid is not a war of attrition to see who can whittle whose health down the most first. Those games, even when they’re platformers, leave me feeling messy. I like the clean and surgical approach to threats and obstacles in videogames and in Pid you are forced to be clean and surgical in how you do things because Kurt dies in one hit, unless he’s wearing the vest of armor - then it’s two hits. In many cases he doesn’t even need to be hit; simply being seen by certain security bots means game over. It’s a hardcore approach, but luckily, the fairly slow, deliberate pace, and general low density of enemies means you have the advantage. You can even equip yourself with bombs and other tools that allow you to take down enemies and obstacle in the most martial way possible. You lose a little of the aforementioned surgical precision, but at least you get to blow stuff up.
The levels themselves are mostly linear in design. There are some “hub”-type sections that find Kurt exploring several areas tied to the “hub” in any order, but the vast majority of the game is Super Mario-style left to right action. The levels can be rather expansive with some binary alternate paths that usually lead to extra clusters of Pid’s currency - stars. You’ll use these stars to purchase the bombs, vests, and other items. The levels are also complemented by hidden areas where you can collect souvenirs, find secret constellations whose stars are worth double that of normal stars, and other bonuses. When I say that these are hidden areas, believe it. Many are so hidden that I’m not even sure they existed in the first place. I completed many a level without so much as a whiff of a secret area so I don’t know if I just didn’t find it because I failed at recognizing it, or if it just never existed in the first place. In addition, even when I did see a hint that a secret area was somewhere nearby, it was usually prefaced with a prohibitively difficult platforming section. I’m talking about bottomless areas whose only apparent method of navigation might be a series of moving vertically aligned walls bristling with insta-kill spikes - or worse. Areas like that are down right sadistic if you ask me. In fact, most of the platforming in the later parts of the game can easily be described as “pretty freaking hard.” I won’t go so far as to say the difficulty is a detriment to the game, but it might be a detriment to your sanity if you’re bound and determined to explore every square inch of Pid.
If you are bound and determined to explore every square inch of Pid, then at least the sights will be nice to look at because Pid is a very attractive looking and sounding game without being showy or in your face about it. Aside from the restrained color- and sound-scapes, I mentioned earlier, the general art and world designs are equally strong - again without being all obnoxious about it. The citizens of the planet Kurt is stranded on all share a vaguely wooden toy soldier-like appearance and they all do a good job at setting the atmosphere - namely that they no longer care about much of anything. By their very nature, wooden toy soldiers lack any kind of meaningful expression on their wooden faces and the citizens of this planet suffer from the same affliction. On a wooden toy, it’s one thing, but when it’s on what are supposed to be intelligent living beings it adds an air of sadness and desperation to the proceedings. The mostly robotic enemies, on the other hand, all convey suspicion, fear, anger, and mechanical ambivalence - most through function rather than form, but you’ll get the idea nevertheless.
Pid’s melancholy soundtrack helps reinforce all these negative emotions and feelings, but don’t get the idea that it’s some funeral dirge. When the action heats up, so does the music. The beats get faster and the melodies get a little catchier, but it never gets what I would call happy.
You know, as I write about it now, Pid seems almost as if it could be the videogame embodiment of depression. The color palate is cold and icy, the music is a little sad even when it’s upbeat, the enemies seem to represent fear, anger, and paranoia while the non-enemies are all frozen in time because the unrelenting stress put on them by those other factors has drained them of the energy it takes to change anything about their current circumstances. Meanwhile Kurt wants out. He wants to leave that place more than anything else, but all those other forces - the fear, anger, paranoia, and lack of energy to change - all conspire to keep him right where he is. Those are some heavy themes right there, whether they’re intentional or not.
Don’t get me wrong though: Playing Pid isn’t like reading some dreary piece of Victorian literature, because in Victorian literature you don’t get to blow things up; and even if you never blow anything up, Pid is still a worthy edition to any platforming fan’s collection.