For something called The Pedestrian, studio Skookum Arts’s debut title is a novel little game. It imagines the regulatory signs of our daily lives, those we see at work, in a warehouse or on a busy city street, as a live 2D plane. Starring the little stick figure seen on the door of every public restroom, it presents a secret world where standardized symbols and pictograms come alive and interact to create a series of platforming puzzles. It’s exactly the sort of game you might conjure if you were very bored at work one day, staring at a wall, letting your imagination run away with you.
The Pedestrian takes place in a collection of signs and panels, which the player is able to traverse through by linking in the correct sequence, prompting a Rube Goldberg machine of functions. This progression is aided by a pause mode that allows you to attach or otherwise facilitate interaction between the panels, with devices like doors, levers, elevators and disappearing platforms reinforcing the strict order of the level’s completion. Panels also can interact with each other in certain ways, such as portals that can be opened by laying one sign over another. They can also collude with external aspects of the environment, such as door latches or gates that must be connected to power through the collection of key items in an adjacent level. The external environmental features can also be used as part of the puzzle sequence, such as bricks that stick out from the wall and prevent panels from being shifted into ideal positions. Advancing to a new area at the end of a series of puzzles requires bringing several items, gathered from a cluster of surrounding levels, to a central location to power up a battery that opens up access to the path ahead. All the while, the familiar imagery of hazard posters and regulatory signs is maintained and integrated as part of the puzzles.
The resulting complexity feels like a geometric equation. Holding several rules simultaneously to figure out a sequence is difficult, and the linking between panels is so chaotic, the screen sometimes looks like the back of a cross-stitch. A well-integrated series of tutorial panels, however, introduce each concept comprehensively before their use in a puzzle. All of this is also aided by some marvelous camera shifts between puzzles as the player walks between panels, spicing up the otherwise average visuals.
Without a story mode, The Pedestrian doesn’t have a lot of meat on its bones. But it also doesn’t really need one. Some puzzle games are actually better off for not having a narrative, and The Pedestrian is refreshing in its lack of pretension. Its premise and art direction, balanced with the challenge of its platforming puzzles, also do a lot of heavy lifting. Ultimately, it delivers exactly what I desire from games in its genre: a brain busting experience that challenges the limits of my creative problem solving skills without exhausting them. As far as The Pedestrian goes, I love thinking outside the cardboard packing box.
The Pedestrian was developed and published by Skookum Arts. It’s available through Steam.
Holly Green is the assistant editor of Paste Games and a reporter and semiprofessional photographer. She is also the author of Fry Scores: An Unofficial Guide To Video Game Grub. You can find her work at Gamasutra, Polygon, Unwinnable, and other videogame news publications.