Skookum Arts has taken a risk. The indie studio behind ‘The Pedestrian’ has worked tirelessly for nearly 7 years to create the puzzle platformer of their dreams. While having an overwhelmingly successful Kickstarter campaign in 2017, there’s always the risk of releasing your first indie game to lukewarm reception. I am glad to say that The Pedestrian manages to hit a creative note and stand strong against the odds.
The Pedestrian explains itself simply through iconography. You won’t see a lick of necessary text in-game. Quite a big undertaking for a game from a 4 man team; you’re trusting that you can communicate how levels need to be completed with no written explanation. Luckily, The Pedestrian manages to explain itself clearly throughout the majority of its playtime. Your time will be spent controlling the icon guy or girl seen in everyday signs, like a pedestrian crossing or bathroom sign. You guide your character by moving signs and making connections between doors, ladders, and contraptions all with a metaphysical hand. Nothing out of the ordinary.
Like all great puzzle games, The Pedestrian follows a formula that is tried and true. It introduces a new mechanic and gradually adds to it, then combining that mechanic with a previously established one, and finally tests your knowledge in a larger scale puzzle before moving onto the next area. The levels on display here are cleverly designed, clicking together like a mechanical puzzle. Like solving a Rubik’s Cube for the first time, it provides moments that make you feel like a total genius or a mindless player. It can get a bit frustrating, but I mostly see that as a good thing. The levels are the bread and butter of The Pedestrian. The game doesn’t focus so much on the platforming or specific design of a single room, it focuses on the synergy and interactions between rooms. While the level design is what makes The Pedestrian such a well crafted game, the latter half of the experience does falter a bit by cranking the difficulty up at a faster rate.
Beginning with the 5th area of the game, things seem to rapidly jump in difficulty and I feel it doesn’t do the greatest job of explaining what to do with the newly introduced mechanic. I got stuck on one puzzle specifically for quite some time, and while I understand players will likely struggle with different areas of the game, this was where the difficulty took a huge leap for me. The trend continues into the following areas and overall I felt like I struggled more than the average player might. This is only a small gripe though. Scratching your head for minutes looking for a resolution may make you feel wonderfully smart once the solution “clicks,” and just because the last few areas stumped me constantly doesn’t mean that the puzzles aren’t well designed or they won’t be a cakewalk for you. It likely means the opposite.
The Pedestrian begins with an interesting cut scene that doesn’t seem to make much sense. While the majority of your time you won’t have a clue what you’re working towards, the ending manages to give you an understanding and is even a bit emotional. No spoilers here, but it’s something you have to experience for yourself.
Great gameplay is generally the backbone of every game, and The Pedestrian not only has that, it manages to top it off with a pretty coat of paint. It never manages to look completely photo-realistic, but its textures and lighting are gorgeous and the world boasts a strong atmosphere that matches each setting. You can tell a lot of thought and care went into the environments and camerawork. The transitions between signs and new areas are impressive and make the game flow smoothly. Adding to a smooth experience, there are no visible load times. All load times are hidden by transitions such as travelling through an elevator or train, but one of my favorite smaller details of the game is pausing! Yes, pausing. An underappreciated feature that is generally used as a simple menu is integrated into The Pedestrian’s world as a physical object at all times. There are TV’s scattered all around the bustling cities, filthy sewers and campus grounds of The Pedestrian and pausing will transition the camera from gameplay to the nearest TV, which acts as a pause menu. Just look at it!
Logan Hayes audio work for The Pedestrian made this a complete experience for me. His work varies from jazzy tunes to bittersweet orchestral pieces that made me feel all kinds of emotions. Some songs are implemented meticulously. For example, a song will begin when transitioning from the sewers to the city, creating feelings of grandeur and scale. I’ve always been a sucker for music that’s timed with on-screen action; the implementation here makes the world feel that much more lively and adds an extra layer of charm that many indie games can lack. The main theme is catchy enough to pop into my head constantly since I’ve beaten the game.
The Pedestrian is an extremely impressive experience and I believe Skookum Arts has exceeded what they originally set out to do. They’ve created a short experience that never overstays its welcome and challenges throughout, while maintaining a high level of quality. Regardless of the difficulty spike I experienced in the last third of the game, I think this is a game that’s worth every bit of your time. The passion can be seen throughout the entire 4-7 hour playtime, and I felt the pacing was nearly perfect. You won’t find a bit of filler here. I can’t wait to see what Skookum Arts can do in the future, this small team clearly has a lot of talent.