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Pid review

Rad gravity.

In amongst its other charms, Pid does a very nice job with collectables. Might and Delight's debut release is a puzzle-platformer, and each of its levels are filled with cute little stars, chained together to form dinky constellations. The itch to run up and grab them all is practically overpowering - and when you catch one, you'll discover that something lovely happens. You'll discover that the other stars it was connected to are tugged lazily towards you, pulling themselves out of alignment and moving within reach.

Smooth and strangely tactile, it's just one element in a surprisingly large game. But it's also suggestive of the energy with which the whole project has been put together. Pid's not a slam-dunk by any means, but it contains fleeting moments of greatness and it marks its designers out as a team to watch in the future.

Might and Delight's lineage isn't bad, with many of the core personnel having worked on 2008's downloadable reimagining of Bionic Commando. Bionic Commando Rearmed was a devilishly tricky platformer fuelled by some interesting ideas, and much the same could be said of Pid. The tone may be very different - the military bustle of Capcom's game replaced with a storybook tale of faraway planets and strange alien landscapes - but there's the same focus on clever systems that blend traversal, combat and puzzling. There's also the same steep and often treacherous difficulty curve.

That last bit takes a while to make itself known. At the start, Pid is whimsy itself, kicking things off with the schoolyard tale of a boy who falls asleep on a flying bus and ends up accidentally transported to a distant planet, and then drawing you in with lavish, spooky art as the game's 2D environments scroll past in a muddle of pastel colours and bloomy lighting.

Backdrops are glorious and often have a rather European feel to them.

Pid's world is hard to classify, with its peaceful, rather defeated inhabitants offering guidance as you try to escape and their roving mechanical oppressors seeking to kill you at every turn. The backdrops offer misty spins on everything from hellish factories and mazes to rain-slick European streets, while your enemies take forms that resemble weaponised Roombas, lawnmowers, bathroom taps and leaf blowers. The whole thing's both familiar and dreamily fantastical: a polite kind of make-believe landscape carved into neat little platforming gauntlets.

Most of the game's lasting fun comes from an early power-up that takes the form of gems you can throw onto walls, floors or ceilings, creating beams of light that work as elevators. Drop one beneath your feet and you'll start to rise. Stick one right behind you and it will push you along, carrying you aloft when the ground drops away. Whack one onto a diagonal surface and you'll move at a 45-degree angle, depending on the tilt. You can throw a couple of gems down at once, too, and a lot of the complexity that emerges involves the way you can then use these tools to move around the environment by hopping from one pool of light to the next.

Traversal is only one of the uses of these special gems, mind: they can also be used to mess with your foes more directly, whether you're using their anti-grav beams to shift security cameras out of the way for you to then sneak past, or lofting unsuspecting guards into the paths of deadly traps. Enemies with little Victrola funnels attached can be blown to pieces with a well-placed gem, and you can even use the resulting light channels to alter the courses of incoming projectiles. More complex rules, meanwhile, come with a colour-coded twist: if a platform surface or enemy is red, it will be affected by your gravity gems. If it's blue, you're out of luck and you'll have to think of something else to do to get by.

"Set its sweet, melancholic tone aside and you'll find that Pid can be a punishingly, even wearyingly hard game."

The music's wonderfully eclectic.

The gems are the first tools you're given in Pid - and they're also the most interesting. There is a subsequent trickle of gadgets like laser beams, different bomb types, boost jumps, AI-confounding music boxes and even a catapult that increases the distance and accuracy of your gem tosses. They all add to your powers, but the best puzzles tend to hinge on clever manipulation of good old gravity, whether you're hopping your way up walls, working around rotating surfaces clutching huge metal keys, or floating sensor-enabled enemies past trigger points to open blast doors.

The straightforward ideas are often the most successful. While stand-out sequences will see you dropping gems down pipes that reverse their gravitational pull or using them to push platforms through laser grids, it's the basic tricks, like a nicely placed jumping puzzle or a neat little gem-powered flanking motion, that really make you feel good.

Gravity puzzles inherently lean towards the complex, however. Set its sweet, melancholic tone aside and you'll find that Pid can be a punishingly, even wearyingly hard game. While the slightly loose hit detection could be forgiven, there are other elements - like the absence of much in the way of a grace period after taking damage and an armour-based health system that can leave you vulnerable for huge stretches of play - that are a little harder to enjoy. Pid's world bristles with hazards and its levels are often unrelenting, in fact, and although (given Might and Delight's history) difficulty is clearly part of the point here, the game lacks the sense of speed and dexterity and power that titles like Super Meat Boy or Hotline Miami offer their players in return for all that mistreatment.

Keys can be remapped, and you can play with a pad on PC and Mac.

The controls are nowhere near as responsive as Super Meat Boy's or Trials HD's, so when the challenge grows every bit as steep and the quick restarts begin to pile up, it can get frustrating. Stages frequently become rather sprawling, particularly when you're collecting things in one of the game's fetch-quests. The checkpointing is relatively generous but it can still be hard to keep track of where you've gone and where you've got to return to, and as Pid flits between occasional single-room puzzles and more elaborate action sequences, the sense emerges of a game that never quite finds its groove when it comes to pacing.

The bosses seem emblematic of Pid's internal contradictions: huge and gloriously imaginative, they make a wonderful first impression, but can quickly devolve into endless restarts as you battle their various attack waves and chip away at unnecessarily huge health bars with little means of defence. Such moments suggest a game that was balanced and tested by developers who had lost a vital sense of perspective during the creative process - and these encounters also reinforce the feeling that, while the traversal parts of the design might have a wonderful gravity-grenade spring to them, combat struggles to become anywhere near as satisfying.

Irritations aside, it's worth sticking with Pid for the quirky pleasures of its world, the elegance and ingenuity of some of its best puzzles and the fact that local co-op, as is so often the case, turns a rather downbeat puzzler into a giggling carnival of accidental deaths and last-second escapes. Gorgeous, clever and intermittently exhausting, this is nothing if not a fascinating debut.

7 / 10