Inside Pulse 12

Review: Puddle (Microsoft XBox 360)

Puddle
Publisher: Konami
Developer: Neko Entertainment
Genre: Puzzle/Platform
Release Date: 01/25/2012

The premise of Puddle is such: your job is to get a liquid from point A to point B by tilting the screen using the left and right triggers. Easy, right? Wrong. The premise is simple, but that doesn’t mean that the game itself is easy. The player has to deal with things like momentum, friction, gravity, and whatever consistency the fluid has. On top of that, you have avoid moving saws and fires and steer clear of electric force fields, lest the amount of liquid you have diminish. Sometimes you’ll be moving the liquid, and at other times you’ll be moving a container the liquid is temporarily in. There are buttons to press, switches to flip, and bulbs to push into holes so they can grow into plants. As far as an actual story goes, there doesn’t seem to be one, which is fine because the game doesn’t really need one to work.

At the end of each level, you will receive a rating of Au, Ag, or Cu (Gold, Silver, and Copper, using their chemical symbols) based on the amount of liquid left and the speed at which you completed the level. Achieving Au and Ag ratings will get you Laboratory Mode unlockables. This mode allows you to experiment with different liquids and environments, if you’re interested in that sort of thing. I played around with it a bit, but beyond getting an achievement for putting a duck in there, it didn’t really hold my interest. There are also leaderboards which give you a ranking based on the amount of time it’s taken you to complete the game.

Each of the eight themed chapters has six levels, and the liquid(s) in each chapter will change to suit the theme. One chapter you might be moving coffee or water, while in another you may be sludge, petroleum, or nitroglycerin. Move too quickly or hit the ground too hard with some liquids, and you’ll explode. Move too slowly, and you might evaporate with others. You’ll find yourself going through sewers, laboratories, the human body, and even outer space. Occasionally, there will be something akin to a boss level, where you’ll have to do something like drip liquid into a container while it’s moving across the screen while simultaneously using the dripping liquid to move obstructions out of the way so the container can get to the end point. My favorite “boss fight” features a round room with a small platform near the bottom. You control a four-way laser, and your job is to use the laser to shock the platform while avoiding hitting the liquid that is circling around the room.

There are no tutorials in this game. There is nothing to hint at what you need to do in order to beat a chapter. That’s part of the puzzle, and that’s part of what makes this game fun. There is one level early on where your job is to actually destroy all the liquid, and you only have so long to do so. This baffled me because until then, I’d been tasked with saving as much liquid as possible. In a later level, your goal is to go as slowly as possible, lest your liquid be destroyed by the fire that’s moving just ahead of you. These kinds of level designs keep the game interesting, even if it’s frustrating to have to completely change your mindset for one level.

Puddle is a pretty game, and Neko Entertainment obviously paid attention to detail. The liquids behave and look like you would expect them to, granted you have a basic understanding of physics or how liquids work. It’s the little details that really add to the game’s atmosphere, like light peeking through the nursery, the blinking lights in the laboratory, or the moving x-rayed organs in the human body. I made the mistake of playing through the human body chapter when I was first starting to get sick, and I actually had to put the game down for a little bit because I started to feel nauseous, seeing how all that liquid was sloshing around in the human body. I’d say being able to have that affect on people means that you did a good job.

Meanwhile, most of the noises in Puddle are ambient, “mood-setting” type noises; they’re nothing special, really. They do what they’re supposed to do, but they aren’t exactly memorable. In chapters with electronics, you’ll hear “beeps” and “boops,” and in the sewers you’ll hear the dripping of water. In space, you’ll hear engines starting up and stopping. One useful aspect, at least in theory, is that with the more volatile liquids, there are noises that make you aware that danger is coming. I never noticed said noises, which led to quite a few blowups.

There are some problems with the controls, however. If your liquid separates and there are some “runaways”””that is, some pieces runaway from the main liquid you’d like to focus your movement on””the camera seems to get confused, and will either ignore those pieces or focus on them. Either way, you’re probably going to end up losing some of your liquid, but it gets frustrating when you lose 70% of what you had because the camera decided to focus on three droplets and the vast majority of your liquid goes straight into an electric force field.

At some points the game turns from a puzzle into a lottery. There are at least a few levels where I literally lucked into success, not because the level design was so fantastic that I couldn’t understand it, but rather the sheer amount of obstacles between you and the end point make it near impossible to achieve, even with the most careful of strategies. The game does allow you two “whines,” or opportunities to skip a level. Once you use that whine, it’s gone until you go back and beat that level. In other words, it’s very possible to get stuck on a level and be unable to move on unless you luck into beating one of the chapters you couldn’t beat or you find a friend who can do it for you, thus making the game unbeatable. This is extremely frustrating because some of the levels just don’t make sense; for example, there are a couple where you appear to be in a human vein and you need to alternate between the left and right triggers to make the blood pump, but if you lose that momentum and you’re going straight up, no amount of triggering seems to get you anywhere, thus making you lose as your liquid crashes into what I’m assuming to be sores. Essentially, there are questionable physics-related concepts in the game that aren’t really avoidable, and that can kill the experience.

Puddle is one of those games where addictiveness will depend entirely on how you feel about failure. If you’re one of those people who feel rewarded after finally beating a level after having to retry it thirty times, this game will appeal to you. If you’re the type to get frustrated and give up as soon as you hit a stumbling block, you won’t last very long. I found myself losing interest after getting stuck on a level after 40+ retries, but my interest was immediately regained when I lucked into beating it and eventually went on to a different chapter with a drastically different environment. Suddenly, everything was cool again. I think it basically boils down to this: when I felt like I was learning how the game operates and I was mastering a technique, I felt more motivation to continue. On the levels where it seemed like I’d have to have sheer dumb luck to continue, I felt like giving the game up. This led to a sort of emotional rollercoaster, where one minute I was saying, “Wow! This is really cool!” and the next I was wondering, “Really? That’s the way this is going to go?” which would then cycle back to, “Wow! This is really cool!” Without the variety of liquids and environments available in this game, the concept would have fallen flat relatively early on and I probably wouldn’t have been able to play through as much as I did.

If you are patient and determined, you can make it through this game, and you’ll likely feel rewarded. Achievement champions will be pleased at the variety and difficulty of the achievements available, which include tasks like earning 48 gold medals or finishing a level with exactly the right amount of liquid. But if you’re looking for a game you can breeze through and walk away from, I’d stay away from this game.

The Scores
Story/Modes: GOOD
Graphics: GREAT
Sound: ABOVE AVERAGE
Control/Gameplay: ABOVE AVERAGE
Replayability: GREAT
Balance: MEDIOCRE
Originality: CLASSIC
Addictiveness: GREAT
Appeal Factor: GOOD
Miscellaneous: GOOD
FINAL SCORE: GOOD GAME

Short Attention Span Summary
Puddle is a decent game, with an nice twist on a concept that’s been touched upon before in games like Fluidity and attention to detail. The graphics are pretty, and the sound does what it’s supposed to do. The concepts that drive the game are not always executed in the best manner, and I would expect to alternate between thinking the game is awesome and thinking it’s stupid. The game gets dramatically harder as it goes on, but sometimes that difficulty is reflected more in the number of obstacles to avoid and less on actual level design or required technique mastery. If you’re into a challenge and aren’t easily deterred, I would recommend this game.