Until Pid forced me to put down my joypad and walk away from my desk, I considered Super Meat Boy to be the most challenging platform game I'd ever played. Now I'm sure it's Might & Delight's puzzling platformer. But while Super Meat Boy's difficulty was something to cherish, a game pitched perfectly between frustration and fascination, Pid's toughness comes from a clumsy control scheme that can't keep up with the challenges it throws at you.
It's heart-breaking. There's so much going for it, not least visually: Pid's sumptuously realised, soft-focus world begs you to explore and it's matched by a sweet fable of a little lost boy in search of home, marooned in an abstraction of our own world. Peopled by giant chefs and cute bomb-bots, this otherworld feels like it was conjured from a child's imagination - innocent, colourful and curious.
The boy's main tool to traverse the world is a beam of light: the beam moves you, enemies, bombs and other bits of the level around, and you can have a pair in play at any time. It's a bit like Portal 2's light tunnel. There are some smart puzzles in Pid and the variety is admirable, using beams to push you over chasms, shift security cameras, or delivering primed bombs to their target. Alas, these mental tests are about the only thing that keep you engaged; ultimately, you end up fighting against the controls rather than the levels.
You will die, but not because the game is challenging you to perfect a route through a level. It's because the loose jumps, the sticky edges, and the awkward beam manipulation simply won't allow you to do what's necessary, even if you're sure you know what's needed. Worse, it occasionally tosses you into situations that seem to exist only as punishment. No-one has ever, ever wanted a boss fight that can kill you in one hit, resetting you to the start of the battle, but so it is in the awkward fight against a giant chef. You have to climb his body as he looms out of the background, clambering up his inside arm to take a shot at his weak spots - a process so infuriatingly imprecise that I had to go and have a lie down in a dark room until my blood pressure settled. Even if my efforts weren't sabotaged by the woeful controls, the threat of instant death alone would be enough to make this egregiously irritating.
A more interesting challenge is to be found in reaching the game's collectible stars. The pointed glowy things form a currency to spend at vending machines throughout the level, and getting to the higher ones requires a fair amount of puzzling. The problems are usually solved with slow, deliberate beam placement. It's as close to fun as Pid gets.
I don't mind difficult platformers. I don't mind difficult puzzle games. But Pid doesn't give you the necessary tools to attack either with any confidence. Pid has lots of levels. It has co-op. But none of that matters when half the time you just want to walk away.