Cons: Brutal difficulty spikes.
I never spent too much time thinking about the properties of liquids until I played Puddle, a peculiar puzzle-platformer that involves transporting all sorts of liquids. Through the game you will need to tilt the environment to cause liquids – thick, thin, explosive – to flow through a variety of elaborate mazes.
Developed and published by: Neko Entertainment
For ages: 13 and up
Platform: Wii U (eShop-only)
Release Date: January 31, 2013
The Basics: Many Liquids, Many Hazards
Causing water to flow up and down through a tilting mechanism will sound familiar to anyone who has played Nintendo’s 2010 Wiiware title Fluidity. While that game insisted on gesture controls, Puddle gives you a choice of control schemes: tilting the Wii gamepad, pressing the triggers or pushing the analog stick. As a fan of gesture gaming, I spent most of my time tilting, but sometimes I would have to switch to other, somewhat more exact methods for particularly difficult levels.
After some early simple levels involving water, Puddle starts throwing all sorts of weird liquids at the player. Fertilizer that can grow plants to lift the liquid up higher, explosive liquid that must be moved oh-so-gently, lava that must be periodically heated to keep it moving, gel that clings to telephone wires. Liquids must be jumped off of ramps and spun around loops while avoiding hazards that will result in evaporation.
The Downside: Sometimes More Trouble Than It's Worth
Puddle’s ingenuity is wondrous, but at times it becomes too much. One liquid only moves if you shake it by tilting up and down, making it difficult to control. Another liquid is inert; tilting instead spins blades that must carefully push your liquid past electrified barriers. One liquid moves in the opposite direction of all others, meaning the controls are reversed. The difficulty of these levels is utterly brutal. The game gives players four “whines” that allow you to skip levels, but to get to the last level I had to go back and fight through a couple of levels I had whined. At times it is only a lot of trial and error mixed with blind luck that got me to the end, and my frustration lessened my enjoyment of the overall game.
Another annoyance is that if your liquid gets separated into separate puddles, which happens pretty often, the game camera just follows the bigger puddle, making it impossible to retrieve the rest of the liquid. Ideally the game would have used the approach of Nintendo Land’s “Donkey Kong’s Crash Course,” giving players the standard close up view on one screen while offering an expanded view on the other. But the developers understandably didn’t want to put too much extra work into the Wii U version of a multi-platform title. Instead, you simply get the same view on both screens.
The Verdict: At it's Best, Terrific, But Not Always At Its Best
Puddle is a far less ambitious game than Fluidity, which offered elaborate interconnected worlds and new powers and unlockable areas. Puddle instead consists of a few different locales – one is the inside of a human body – built around particular liquids. However, at $8, the game is about half the cost of Fluidity, so it all evens out.
My feelings about Puddle are rather mixed. At its best it is an ingenious puzzle-platformer with nice-looking 2D graphics that impressively animates the viscosity of its various liquids. But some ridiculous difficulty spikes made me so angry that I am left with a certain amount of resentment towards the game. And so, in the way the game made me think about the properties of liquids, it also has made me conscious of the properties of the about.com rating system. Because while I’m going to be nice and give Puddle three and a half stars, I would like to give it three and a quarter.