I saw the sign and it opened up my mind
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It can be difficult to find time to finish a video game, especially if you only have a few hours a week to play. In our biweekly column Short Play we suggest video games that can be started and finished in a weekend.
Logic puzzle games tend to fall into one of two groups. Sometimes they’re like sudoku, where once you learn the basics of how to solve the puzzle you can just repeat that ad infinitum. Or they can be like the Professor Layton games, where each puzzle is discrete and requires you to relearn everything to solve it. In either case, it’s often hard to tell if you’re actually getting better at the puzzles as you play through them. There is often little sense of progress. But that’s not the case with The Pedestrian.
The Pedestrian is a puzzle platforming game in which you control the iconographic representation of a person, like what you might see used to gender a bathroom sign. That character is then used to navigate puzzles made up of signs in and around a virtual city. However, there are a lot of layers to the game which are hard to convey in words, or even screenshots. These layers also all interconnect in surprising ways as you progress through the game.
In order to explain the game, it seems best to describe each layer. The first layer is the puzzle platforming where you control the person icon, allowing you to move around the levels inside the signs. You’ll jump on things, pick up items, push blocks, etc. It’s what you are going to be doing most often when playing, and is the foundation from which the other layers extrapolate.
The second layer is how the signs connect to each other. Each one has a door or ladder that allows you to access a door or ladder in another sign. Sometimes those connections already exist, but most of the time you’ll be switching into a mode that lets you not only make these connections between signs (connecting up ladders with down ladders, or left doors with right doors), but also let you move the signs around as they need to be oriented correctly for those connections to open.
For example, if you have sign A that has a door on the right and there is sign B with a door on the left, you can connect those doors together. But if sign B is to the left of A, the door won’t open until you move B far enough to the right for the doors to open. Effectively, it’s about maintaining consistency in direction; if you move through a door to the right, you should be entering into a sign to the right of where you were or vice versa.
As the game progresses, you’ll be introduced to a third layer, where it turns out that platforming across signs in a city isn’t just an interesting aesthetic choice. Eventually, it becomes important to pay attention to how the signs not only orient with each other, but also with the world around them. For instance, there is an electrical circuit mechanic where specific signs need to be put into certain places in order for electricity to get from one place to another. This will then help power some device in the city or possibly in one of the signs that’ll allow you to progress. (There is also a fourth layer, but it relates to how you solve the final few puzzles of the game, so I don’t want to say more than that.)
This obviously took a bit to explain in text, but it’s much easier to understand when you’re playing. Sometimes it’s a new mechanic, or new rule in how these layers work or interconnect, while other times it subverts your assumption about how a rule or mechanic worked. To give away one of these as an example: when you first learn about orienting the signs to navigate between them, you can get in the habit of figuring out how you move through the puzzle by laying it all out so that you can just move through the whole puzzle in one go. Eventually, you’ll start running into puzzles where you can’t, since they require you to be repositioning the signs frequently while you progress. As it turns out, you don’t have to have every connection always open in order to solve the puzzle.
It’s this aspect that makes The Pedestrian great. It treats almost every puzzle not just as something to be solved, but a way to teach you to be better at play and understand the game. It provides this sense of improvement and progress that isn’t just tied to where you are in the game. Instead, it feels as though you spent a few hours exercising your brain as if you had taken it to the gym.
The Pedestrian was created by Skookum Arts. You can get it for $19.99 on Steam (Windows, macOS, and Linux.) It takes about three or four hours to finish.