It’s great when a game catches your eye simply by the way it looks. That’s what happened to me when I first saw The Pedestrian. It is the first game developed by Skookum Arts and originally launched on Steam back in January 2020. Later in August 2020, it was revealed as part of the PlayStation State of Play presentation and this must have been when it came on to my radar. It has now launched on PlayStation and I was finally able to give it a go. And I’m happy to report that this wonderfully inventive puzzle-platformer not only looks great but features a challenging and enjoyable gameplay loop that kept me interested and engaged for my entire playthrough.
Marvellous melodic meandering
As I mentioned above, I love it when a game hooks you from the very start. And The Pedestrian did this to me twice. If you’ve seen any videos of the game, you’ll notice its rather unusual take on the 2.5D side-scroller. A stickman walking through some signage is just not something you see every day. And that’s not all: behind all the signs lies a wonderfully crafted and rather detailed 3D world, which bustles to life in the background. From a quintessential university entrance to a sprawling cityscape with skyscrapers and swinging cranes – the dual worlds always catch the eye. And once I had seen a trailer – hook number one was in, and I hadn’t even played it yet.
Just great design that immediately throws you right into the action…
Then, I started the game. And it got me again (that’s hook number two) with the care and creativity the team put into the title screen. Now, it may seem like a small touch, but hopping onto the game you’re moved smoothly from a small drawn dot on the screen to selecting your character (a simple choice between the iconic ‘Male and Female’ bathroom stall sign figures) and into the first level itself, the transition is effortless. In a perfect example of ‘show don’t tell’ you’re quickly learning the basic mechanics of the game and solving your first puzzle. What a way to start off! Just great design that immediately throws you right into the action and it made an instant impact.
Now, before we get to the actual gameplay I really want to mention the music. It’s fantastic. Sounding (to my untrained ear) like it was mostly classical, I was a little concerned at first. Not really my preferred genre, you see. However, as it played on, I loved how it provided the tone to the gameplay and mimicked the 3D world behind it. It hopped between quirky almost sci-fi stuff, to a ‘Pink-Panthery-secret-agent’ saxophone-lead number to something that would feel at home as part of an artsy comedy set in Paris, with sadness and triumph all wrapped up within the notes. Logan Hayes’ soundtrack pulls you in from the first screen and held my attention throughout. And even as I write the review, I’m listening to it.
It looks great and the music is phenomenal.
Levels themselves are composed of flattened 2D areas (made up of road signs and the like). Your ‘pedestrian’ is tasked with getting from one of these areas/signs to the other, occasionally collecting certain items (like keys) along the way. This entails the more traditional platforming actions of jumping, climbing and the occasional rhythm-based timing stuff so many of us know well from so many side-scrollers we’ve played before. If you haven’t played a lot of those, though, don’t worry too much as the majority of the platforming is simple and quite accessible. However, don’t be fooled. This is very much a puzzle-platformer and not the other way around – and the puzzle bits are where things get a little more challenging.
What sets the game apart and gives it its unique ‘puzzle flavour’ is that some of the signboard ‘areas’ need to be moved around (like moving pieces around a jigsaw) in a first-person perspective. As you enter this perspective the traditional platformer freezes and you can shift things around and connect one area (sign) to another. Areas can also be ‘reconnected’. Links from one door can be relinked to another and suddenly new areas can be unlocked. However, the trick is, once you reconnect to a new area – the pedestrian and certain important items will respawn in their original positions. Then as you proceed through the game little extras and new bits get built on to this basic format.
This is very much a puzzle-platformer and not the other way around…
For the most part, I loved the challenge of hopping between the two perspectives. Moving signs around. Finding the right combination or combinations of moves to get from one area to the next. The lateral thinking is great. Don’t get me wrong, becoming accustomed to the ‘language’ of the puzzle elements of the game and working out the order and placement of certain things in several levels is tricky. Often it took repeated efforts to work out. However, like solving a good crossword or sudoku puzzle – finally figuring things out feels really great. The game usually does a great job of teaching you what do to and slowly building on that knowledge. I think I was only truly stuck twice. And after finally realising what to do I wished I had been guided a bit better. However, considering this is a 4-5 hour game – only getting stuck a couple of times means the design is actually pretty great.
Walking and wondering
All in all – I really enjoyed my time with The Pedestrian. It’s true that I really enjoy the genre. And I love when Indie developers produce smaller games like this. So it had already ticked a lot of boxes for me. However, even if this kind of thing is not usually your cup of tea – The Pedestrian may be one to keep your eye on anyway. It looks great. The level design is clever and the music is phenomenal. And, well as this short game begins, the ending is probably even better. Of course, I hesitate to say anything that will build expectations too much and then leave you feeling unfulfilled when you play the game. But what I will say is, even if you’re not absolutely loving the game – stick with it. Get to the final act… Keep walking and start wondering