The Pedestrian could have been a very easy game to review. If the only thing unique about it was its aesthetic, I could have just said, “The Pedestrian: it certainly was!” and then put my feet up and wait for my Pulitzer to arrive. Instead, it began to introduce a variety of mechanics that took advantage of that unique aesthetic and then introduced more mechanics that interacted with those existing ones in clever ways, culminating in an unexpected final act that turns the whole premise on its head. It actually ends up being too ambitious for its own good, ending the campaign on a sense of disappointment and unused potential, but most of the content is agreeable puzzle gameplay against a pleasant backdrop, so it’s still an easy recommendation.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: gameplay in The Pedestrian takes place in the medium of signs. It’s a lovely artistic choice; the ever-changing styles provide more visual diversity than the mechanics call for, and the detailed backgrounds create the cozy feeling of putting the world and its burdens aside for a moment to get lost in a daydream. The soundtrack helps with that too. There’s not a hint of malice or melancholy to the audio here, even during the final act, where they might have been called for (though it’s honestly hard to tell). Ironically, every action the player can take within individual signs is straight out of the puzzle-platformer starter kit – collect keys, activate switches, move blocks, direct lasers, etc. The twist is how you manipulate the signs themselves.
Early on, this involves arranging the signs like literal puzzle pieces to form usable paths between them. This part will feel a little simplistic and linear, since the area is reset if a path is broken, but later, it’s used to add an extra layer to the common electric current puzzle. Later still, you’re given the ability to protect specific signs from these resets. By this point, the gameplay has settled into a comfortable challenge level with mechanics that are neither drawn out nor underdeveloped. And then the final act, whose new features definitely are underdeveloped, begins. The challenge is maintained as befitting a finale, but the suddenly widened scope of the gameplay demands to be explored in depth.
It’s hard to say whether the whole is better or worse with the finale’s inclusion, as it’s still undeniably the most interesting part of the game. What’s most surprising about it is how it affects the game’s story, and not just because there was no story prior to this emergence. The developers absolutely could have gotten away with keeping the 2D escapades of a nameless stickman without context, so it’s admirable that they strove for something more. Unfortunately, the “more” they came up with doesn’t make any sense and raises questions about the setting that have no place within its carefree environment.
Narrative misgivings aside, The Pedestrian would make a solid introduction to puzzle-platformers for the uninitiated and an enjoyable diversion for genre veterans. It’s hard to find fault with the originality or functionality of its puzzles or the charm of its presentation. It even has a few surprises in store for players of all types, although if you’re like me, those surprises might sour the overall impression a bit.
This review is based on the PC version of the game. A copy was provided by Skookum Arts.
There's more to The Pedestrian than meets the eye, but its best parts are the simple, obvious pleasures it offers.