Following the release of Number None’s Braid back in 2009, it felt like every developer wanted to get in on the 2D puzzle/platformer genre. One such developer was Strange Loop Games, who originally released their liquid based puzzler, Vessel, back in 2012 for the Windows PC. Now, although it took two years to happen, the company has finally brought its innovative title to the PlayStation 3.
In Vessel you play as scientist and inventor M. Arkwright, who lives in a giant building that doubles as his workspace. Although Arkwright is a talented inventor, judging by how often we get to upgrade our equipment throughout the game, his most famous invention are the Fluros. These cute, liquid-based creatures have been embraced worldwide by corporations as a solution to the fact that most workers are indeed human and they definitely need rest. Fluros, on the other hand, don’t need the rest, don’t screw up and most importantly, can be easily replaced.
Of course, as these things normally do, the Fluros soon start to rebel against their masters. They begin to muck up machinery and generally cause a ruckus throughout the town Arkwright lives in. However, after working his way through his own massive workspace, which coincidentally also has a Fluros problem, Arkwright ends up being able to build a helpful liquid propelling gun and sets out to solve this problem. This is all told either through old photographs, journal entries or general gameplay, as there are few cutscenes in the game. While some may be annoyed by the lack of instructions and deep narrative, I thought the simple way of telling the story fit this particular narrative well.
In order to get everything back to normal, Arkwright will need to manipulate the different types of Fluros into helping him. These creatures come in seven different forms and colors, and each feature their own unique ability. For instance, the fire-based Fluros will hurt you if you touch them, but in order to clear certain areas you’ll need to be able to spray them down with water to create steam. Another example would be the light and dark versions of Fluros, which are attracted to either lighted or pitch black areas, respectively. By manipulating the lighting in different environments, players can force these Fluros to trigger switches and doors as they attempt to reach their desired areas. Arkwright will have the ability to create most of the creature types by the end of the game, by utilizing the variety of Fluro seeds he creates and the liquid he carries around with him.
Let’s just get this out of the way right now: Vessel, for as charming as it can look at times, is not an easy game. Sure, it starts out easy enough, as most of the first world just requires creating a Fluro in order to reach a button, which he will do automatically. However, by the end of the game, Arkwright will find himself running around, activating doors and switches, while avoiding enemies and making sure his created Fluros are doing their jobs. It can all feel a little overwhelming at times, but there is immense satisfaction when you solve one of these problems. It also helps that the controls for the game were perfectly mapped to the PlayStation 3 controller.
My main issue with Vessel, though, is that some of the puzzles can be extremely frustrating at times due to the random incompetence of the Fluros. Sometimes these creatures will figure out where to go in accordance to you figuring out the puzzle. Other times, though, they are happy with running into walls, or you, and exploding, thus beginning the whole process anew. Having to rely on the computer created Fluros in order to solve a tricky puzzle can feel like an absolute crapshoot at times, even if you are doing everything correctly.
For example, in one area of the game I needed to have a flame Fluro jump up to a certain area, so that I could blast him with a green liquid. Said liquid would then create green steam, which would, in turn, open the door. Since I had no control over those Fluros, I was stuck waiting for them to jump up there on their own accord. I tried to get them to follow me numerous times, which did nothing but result in me dying a lot. Finally, after doing nothing different from the countless other times I tried, the Fluros reached the area I needed them to. Unfortunately, issues like this would pop up throughout the game.
Luckily, some of the sting that comes from dealing with these frustrating puzzles is taken away by the gorgeous locations you are situated in. Featuring a Steampunk-inspired aesthetic, the world of Vessel is very unique and features some beautiful backgrounds, particularly when you are outside, that really help bring the setting to life. Furthermore, since this game features the use of liquids, Strange Loop has made sure that the physics of these materials are also impressive. It’s as accurate a representation of liquid as you are going to get in a 2D platformer, whether it be your basic water or the different goopy liquids you come across during the story. My only issue with the graphics is that I wish the game wasn’t so dark at times. While it makes sense that when I’m exploring mines things will get a bit dark, I should still be able to see everything clearly in Arkwright’s lab, especially if I have the brightness setting for the game turned all the way up.
In spite of its frustrations — which includes an annoying difficulty curve later in the game — Vessel is a charming and unique title that features a plethora of content and, for the most part, is extremely fun. Those that are looking for a good mental workout and are willing to deal with some troubling A.I. issues will find plenty of bang for their buck here.
This review was based off the PlayStation 3 version of the title, which we were provided with.
Despite some questionable AI issues and, at times, unfair puzzles, Vessel is a fun and challenging puzzler that is a worthy addition to the genre.