As We Got This Covered’s resident neckbeard indie game hipster expert, I’ve been looking forward to Puddle for a while now. Having played through it, I’m still not exactly sure what I just went through. Sure, it’s a physics puzzle game by nature, but I’ve walked away more enraptured by a story told without words than I ever expected. Puddle set out to be much more than a sum of its parts and, while it succeeded there, it also managed to stumble and fall on the basics.
The premise for Puddle is about as simplistic as it gets. You use the triggers to tilt the screen and build momentum for your puddle to make jumps and avoid obstacles. On the PS3 version, there is also the option of using the PS Move or the Sixaxis. While I didn’t have access to a Move setup, I found the Sixaxis controls to be extremely imprecise.
You’ll have to manage your speed in order to not overshoot your target, and quite often will have to use your mass in order to hit switches to continue your path. If you lose too much of your liquid, you’ll be forced to restart the level. At the end of the stage, your score will be based on how long you took to complete the challenge and how much of your liquid is left. Sticking with the science vibe, you’re rewarded with medals cleverly named Au, Ag, or Cu.
However, let’s not mistake “simple” for “easy.” Puddle is incredibly difficult and not always for the right reasons. This game relies less on actual puzzle elements and more on trial and error to get through the stages. You don’t have time to react to jumps or traps, so you’ll effectively have to memorize the levels as you go through, in order to make the precision movements correctly. Unfortunately, this became a point of contention for me early on.
Every time you die, not only does the stage restart, but there’s a brief loading screen as it resets. While it may not seem like much, the 20 seconds between trials becomes frustrating quickly, and was often enough time for me to lose my attention to something else momentarily. Of course this meant as the stage started again while I was distracted I would inevitably miss the first obstacle and have to repeat the process. It’s really a shame they couldn’t steal a page from the book of Super Meat Boy by having instantaneous respawns here. That would make the difficulty spikes much more tolerable. The game will allow you to skip two levels of your choosing by “whining” but, if you’d like to skip more, you’re going to have to go back and complete them.
The camera managed to be one of the most consistently tough obstacles in the game. The game’s simplistic control scheme doesn’t allow for any manual manipulation of the camera and, as your liquid comes apart and spreads out, the game simply doesn’t know how to handle it. There are times when the camera will attempt to zoom out, giving you a chance to see everything and find a way to get yourself together, however others it will rush to tiny droplets that are furthest along in the stage. This occasionally led to me leaving behind enough liquid to cause a failure and, without being able to see the whole stage, it was nigh impossible for me to correct my mistakes.
For players who stick with the title, there’s a very captivating game behind it. Neko Entertainment did an absolutely fantastic job of telling a story as you follow your liquid. Different worlds feature different types of liquids with distinct properties. At one point you’re controlling a highly volatile nuclear puddle that you have to gingerly cross the stage with, being careful not to set off an explosion. It is then mixed into a drink and consumed by a crazy scientist. Once you navigate through the body of your scientist, you’re expelled into a urinal only to melt a rat in the sewer. The levels tie into each other brilliantly and manage to tell an exceptional story without a single word.
The soundtrack also deserves recognition here. They manage to convey the urgency of the level while still inducing a very tranquil, almost Zen, vibe at the same time. When you fail, the song doesn’t restart pulling you out of the experience. It may not be the most memorable soundtrack I have ever encountered, but it does a fine job of keeping the player in the game for one more round.
It’s hard to recommend Puddle based simply on the elevated difficulty and the frustration that comes with it. I have to imagine that a majority of gamers would be turned off fairly early by the repeated (often cheap) deaths and loading times. However, for the players with the skill/determination/dumb luck to get through the challenges, a great alternative from the norm is waiting to be discovered. I’ve never played a game quite like this one. I can also safely say that I haven’t played anything where, in one level I’m guiding a snow globe through a series of sewers, only to be pouring liquid metal past refrigerators a few stages later. If you’re the type of gamer who easily gets flustered or rage quits, this not the title for you. However for anyone who’s looking for something to push their limits a bit, Puddle is a nice change of pace.
This review is based on a PSN copy of the game which was supplied to us for review purposes.
Puddle has some interesting concepts that manage to tell a compelling story without any words, making it a unique entry into the genre.