Sign Language

HIGH The final puzzle.

LOW Regularly feeling like an idiot during the later segments.

WTF That ending.


The Pedestrian could have gotten away with simply being a puzzle-platformer sporting a minimalist visual style. Had the entire game unfolded in 2D environments, most of its cleverest ideas would have remained intact and I could have easily recommended it as an amusing, if somewhat slight, distraction.

However, at some point the decision was made to set the entire game within signs, chalkboards, computer monitors and pieces of notebook paper, all meticulously arranged around convincing 3D cityscapes which wisely avoid actual human character models, lest the small team’s limitations burst the illusion. It morphs The Pedestrian from a low-budget curiosity to something beautiful, welcoming, and lovingly crafted. Developer Skookum Arts didn’t need to put this much effort in, but they did and it paid off.

The Pedestrian is a puzzle-platformer about arranging rooms from unorganized jumbles into navigable levels. At any time, the player can pull the camera back and use the mouse cursor to reposition and connect the ‘signs’ within a chamber. When done correctly, a path is created from one end to the other.

The basics are incredibly easy to understand when playing. A door on the left side of one room must be connected to a door on the right side of another room, for example. Things like keys and power switches quickly enter the equation, and players sometimes need to assemble intricate, crisscrossing mazes to retrieve something important from a dead end without stranding oneself.

This is the sort of puzzler in which new mechanics are introduced at a regular clip, all piling onto each other as the player is forced to keep constant track of everything that they’re capable of.

A hole in the middle of a sign can be used as a one-way portal to another sign when the two overlap, leading to insane scenarios in which the player is called to warp mid-jump or mid-fall. Canisters of green fluid can be used to “preserve” one room at a time, preventing its contents from resetting when routes are redirected. I often grew frustrated while playing The Pedestrian, but only with myself for being slow to adapt to the frequently-evolving ruleset.

Where The Pedestrian gets positively trippy is when the practicality of the 3D environments comes into play. For a connected route to take effect, the signs need to be physically positioned in the corresponding directions. If a ladder out of one room leads upward, then the connecting room needs to be above it. But what if a sign can’t be moved because something like a protruding brick is in the way? We must use some additional creativity, or in the most extreme cases, physically alter the world.

Although The Pedestrian’s unusually stellar production values are largely there for show, every once in a while Skookum Arts breaks dimensional barriers in cool and unexpected ways. A recurring example is when circuits and wires connected to signs can be used to power pieces of machinery, which will push obstructing objects out of the way and open the possibility of new configurations. Changes to the 3D environments are permanent, leading to some clever multi-phase levels in which players are repeatedly resetting and assembling new routes out of the same handful of pieces.

Everything that makes The Pedestrian work – from its brilliant individual mechanics to its knack for crossing from 2D to 3D and back again – comes together in a final puzzle that is one of the coolest finales of any game I’ve played in ages. I don’t dare spoil it, but it demonstrates that a sequence can feel climactic without unreasonable difficulty spikes or excess spectacle.

The Pedestrian’s ending is incredibly abstract, especially given the total lack of a story up until that moment, and I don’t begrudge anyone who completes the game and then goes searching for “THE PEDESTRIAN ENDING EXPLAINED” videos on YouTube. That said, I don’t think that The Pedestrian has a grand point to make, and that’s okay. Even without a message or an emotional hook, this is a beautiful, fiendishly clever little puzzler that surprised me at every turn, and that’s more than enough.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Skookum Arts. It is currently available on PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately four hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: As of press time, this game has not been rated by the ESRB. There’s absolutely nothing objectionable about it.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: There is no dialogue, written or spoken, and audio cues play zero vital role. It’s fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable.

Mike Suskie

Mike Suskie

Mike's first exposure to video games was when his parents bought him a Game Boy and a copy of Kirby's Dream Land. Completing it gave him the boost of confidence that launched a lifelong enthusiasm for the medium. Later in his life, he went back and discovered that Kirby's Dream Land is actually a laughably easy game that can be finished in about 20 minutes, but no matter.

He was born and raised in Amish country and has yet to escape, despite a brief stint in Philadelphia, where he attended Temple University. He took a one-credit course there called "Career Opportunities for English Majors," which painted a bleak picture for prospective writers. Mike remains steadfast in his ongoing role as a video game critic, however, and has recently written for GamesRadar. Most of his work can be found on HonestGamers, where he has contributed over 200 reviews to date.

When not playing games or writing about them, Mike is a rabid indie music fan and ardent concertgoer. He doesn't read as much as he probably should, but his current favorite author is Alastair Reynolds.
Mike Suskie

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Piotr
Piotr
6 months ago

Big thank you for the recommendation – beautiful little game this one.