The Pedestrian is a well-crafted 2.5D platformer that offers an interesting and uniquely-framed puzzle experience. Playing as a stickman who may well have just escaped from a bathroom door, you must find a path through a series of rooms styled after city signs. You hop between maps, road signs, and traffic lights throughout a short and light-hearted adventure, learning how to interact with this flat world as you go.
It’s a game about building things. Most obviously, it’s about building your route through a series of obstacles. The platforms are presented on movable cards marked with doors and ladders that can be linked up to create a correct path. As the levels progress, more complex mechanics are added in. Buttons and levers operate lasers or spring pads; wire coils link up power sockets to activate doors; keys must be collected from somewhere within the maze and used to get to the next set of cards.
In later levels, it begins to break the rules it initially set out. For instance, making use of the fail-state reset to generate multiple door keys, or using paint to change a card’s colour, therefore allowing you to change how the doors are linked up mid-way through a puzzle.
While the mechanics get complex in places, particularly towards the end when the rule-breaking starts to come in, the biggest strength of The Pedestrian is how easy it is to learn. It takes its cues from the aesthetic of urban signage. Everything is presented with utmost visual clarity. The graphics of the puzzle cards are simple and bold, with tutorialisation shown in environmentally-fitting ways, such as scrappy post-it notes stuck to the side of a wall.
Despite a complete lack of explanatory text, I never felt lost. The puzzles themselves come in bite-sized pieces with plenty of smaller rooms to traverse in between, allowing you to get used to using a single mechanic before applying it to a larger problem. While I completed my run in one go, this short-form puzzle structure would be ideal for anyone who wants to dip in and out of a small game for a few minutes at a time.
The environment surrounding the puzzles is another high point. While the puzzles take place on 2D panels, they’re set in a richly detailed 3D background. The camera swings very satisfyingly through various scenes of a busy cityscape. You work your way up from a dank subway to leafy college grounds and beyond, each area coming with its own characterful backing track. The penultimate level is a particular joy, as you navigate a rainy blue-hued skyline to the sound of a gentle low-fi inspired soundtrack. At this point in my playthrough, I was struck, quite unexpectedly, by an odd sense of yearning. I was looking for something, I felt. But what?
What was the point to all this puzzle solving? There seems to be a distantly-framed story wrapping up the experience. As you progress through the levels, your stick figure gathers parts to add to a little hand-held machine, not dissimilar to a Game Boy. In the background, you always see small scraps of planned maps, worn notebooks, and someone’s backpack. Somebody is with you on this journey through the city.
The ending, which reveals who this someone is, comes with an odd but interesting twist. In a surreal change, the gameplay in the very last level expands from two to three dimensions. Your actions on the cards start affecting the ‘real world’ around you. It’s not clear what the ending is meant to mean. The setting goes from dramatic to homely to wistful, and nothing about it is explained. The background details give clues in the form of more draft maps and mechanics, more used notebooks, scrawled diagrams, blueprints, and the like. Again, all related to the idea of building. It struck me – and I could be very wrong here – as a game about building a game.
There are a few small sticking points. It lacks a hint system, which could cause frustration if a puzzle’s mechanic doesn’t click. The strictly linear form doesn’t lend itself well to being revisited. It’s not about experimenting with different ways of getting through a door, or any deep exploration.
Instead, by focusing on a small selection of set mechanics and interrogating what can be done with them in two dimensions, alongside its visual clarity and direction, The Pedestrian creates a polished and self-contained little game that’s well worth setting aside an evening to explore.
The Pedestrian can be downloaded on Xbox from the Xbox Store