Developer: Neko Entertainment
Available On: Xbox LIVE Arcade and PlayStation Network (Reviewed on Xbox LIVE Arcade)
The last time I took a look at a Konami published download-only game, it was the unremarkable undead carve-up, Zombie Apocalypse, a loud, gung-ho shooter which left me feeling annoyed and disappointed. My latest experience with one of their offerings could not be further away from that twin-stick nonsense.
Go back a couple of years, and some of you may remember a lovely little sleeper of a title for WiiWare, the innovative water-based puzzler Fluidity. The premise was simple, using the horizontally-held Wiimote, you tilt left or right to guide your watery mass around a maze-like setting, avoiding obstacles along the way. I love these sort of games, despite my limited command of the subject and outright hostility toward my teacher of it at school, I am a sucker for physics-based titles. Grant me control over the awesome powers of gravity, momentum and all of these other things I barely understand, and put me in charge of negotiating a maze or obstacle-laden course, and I am your man; and I am in my element.
Created by a bunch of French students, and picked up by Neko Entertainment who helped craft it into the finished article, Puddle, despite a pretty mediocre sounding name, is another amazing liquid-based puzzle game, available for a few quid on XBLA and PSN, and fully deserving of your time.
Puddle is simple in premise, and begins in genius fashion. An unknown, shadowy figure walks past, and places a cup of coffee onto a table. With that, you are left to your own devices. I can’t think of any other game in living memory that has kicked things off with such an arbitrary scene. There are no pop up boxes explaining what you do with this cuppa; so what the hell do you do next? So you start messing around with the buttons, and soon discover that you can manipulate the world around the cup, by using the trigger buttons. Alternating between left and right, the coffee will start to move in the cup. Keep that back and forth motion going, and sooner or later the cup will fall, and the liquid will pour into the drain below – your goal.
Despite such humble beginnings, Puddle takes you on a journey which sees you attempting to guide various liquids through all manner of settings. You will find yourself rotating away in a number of locations, through elaborate mazes of pipework, through power stations and science labs, past hungry looking flytraps and even through the human body.
Different levels also bring different types of liquid to guide toward the finish, which bring their own pitfalls. Mercury-like liquid metal can slow down if you do not pass through furnaces at an opportune time, whereas nitro-glycerine is extremely volatile and liable to explode if you are not careful. There are other factors to consider too, a jaunt onboard a space rocket sees the associated issues with gravity, for example. And along the way you will encounter the games equivalent of boss battles, where you face a particularly taxing obstacle or situation that you will have to negotiate in a specific and calculated manner, often against the clock.
With gorgeous soft focus backdrops which perfectly compliment the bold, often silhouetted objects and scenery in the foreground, and pleasant ambient music and soothing splishy splashy sound effects, Puddle is a treat for the senses. It is also bloody hard at times. You are awarded a ranking after completing a level, which is awarded based upon how long you have taken to finish, and how much of your precious liquid remains. The game will also tell you how many attempts you have made on each stage, which adds an extra gnawing sense of frustration as you repeatedly fail to prevent your unstable liquid from exploding, or end up getting assaulted by a carnivourous plant for the 29th time. The defeatists amongst you will be pleased to hear that the game does let you “skip” a particularly tricky stage, however you can only do this twice, with the second time permitted only once you have returned to complete the original level you chickened out on.
There are a nice amount of levels to flow through, and a superb customisable laboratory mode which allows you to create your own crazy courses, with more items and obstacles becoming unlocked the further you progress through the game. Impressive stuff, this, when you consider there are full priced games out there that are screaming out for a level creation mode (Crush3d being a very recent example).
VERDICT: Puddle is one of the more enjoyable puzzle games I have played in recent years. Loco Roco, and even Soul Bubbles (how many times do I have to pimp Soul Bubbles before people listen?) are valid touchstones here, and there is no getting away from the obvious similarities it shares with the aforementioned Wiiware title, but the way this has been carried out is highly commendable. It looks great, sounds great and there are plenty of genuinely innovative surprises along the way that harness the almost limitless possibilities of liquids. This is a new high point for Neko, who previously held the dubious honour of bringing forth Crazy Frog Racer unto the masses. A superb effort all round.