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Controller Compatibility: Wii U GamePad
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11th February 2013; By KnucklesSonic8
Combining both nature and chemistry to iterate a varied bunch of design applications, the game builds upon a basic understanding with an unmistakable mechanic that develops over time in a feasible and desirous way. Much in the same manner as how the Super Monkey Ball games operate, players manipulate the in-game world through tilt, guiding a liquid substance through assorted obstacles en route to a funnel, pipe, container or shaft that marks the conclusion of a level. All you're given is left and right movement for control. When using the default GamePad scheme, this is done through ZL and ZR, respectively. But if you prefer, you can swap this out for the Circle Pad or motion controls, with the controller lying flat. Now, why I chose a generic term to define the substance being controlled is because the form it takes does change as you go along. Starting out as water, by the second chapter this will become weed killer, then fertilizer, sodium, fruit juice, even nitroglycerin. While most forms don't mark an entire chapter, there is a voyage of sorts that players follow as you explore new and interesting properties that have an impact on how you play.
The nature of the platforming in this game places priority on handling, as some of the substances you end up controlling prove tough to keep together in a single unit. Some of the environments also pose a threat to your ability to effectively control whatever substance you have at your disposal without having it divide into small chunks. One chapter features a few levels where a push mechanic is enlisted to disrupt some initial inertia that exists in these scenarios. As the thicker stuff starts to separate with speed fluctuations and physical bumps in the road, the camera will, rather than enlarging to accommodate the separation, simply track the bulk of the fluid (or solid, as the case may be). Barely having a presence, the HUD is far from invasive, with a small measuring tube in the top-left corner being the most you'll see in the way of secondary display elements. This is put in place to help gauge how much volume you have to work with, which is important because your game will end if you let too much dissipate. When the liquid appears in red, this means that a fraction has split off and is not in your immediate view, but there's still a chance for it to come back to you before it is lost for good. Generally speaking, while spillage and unit divisions certainly occur, it is never impromptu, instead the result of your own, often ahead-of-the-curve actions. I would happily add that this is also never the fault of the game, but for reasons I'll soon get into, that's not an entirely accurate statement.
As tricky it is to keep liquid together in a united blob, there are times where the level physics can especially test your ability to maintain consistency. In evaluating the game description likely extracted from the design document, you'll learn that friction is meant to play an intentional role in maneuverability, and you do see cases of this being exploited among rough surfaces that require more of a slant than those that lend to smoother transitions. However, the physics in this game, in connection with any building momentum, don't always adhere to logic, and it's not simply a case of being slow to kick in due to the nature of the element you're working with. These occasional idiosyncrasies do irritate in their similarity to the viscosity of honey in a jar not stored at room temperature. But we can all be thankful that with the exception of the initial, borderline-sluggish movement seen in the final level, the pace can't be easily compared to that of molasses.
Peering into Puddle's design, it's hard to make a case that the ideas present are gushing with intelligence, seeing as there is a finite cap the game doesn't exceed past. And yet, though the game may not overflow with it, creativity is certainly not in short supply among the numerous imaginative design phases they have players immersing themselves in. Just in the locations on offer, settings include sewers, the human body (nothing putrid, don't worry), and even the interior of a rocket. Often there is a duality and cohesion achieved in the purpose of foreground and background elements, such as when signs alerting danger or indicating direction are drawn in white board marker when not in a physical format, and, more to the point, how vibes of tension and caution are equally translated on both layers. Physical barriers include operational machines -- one with beakers attached that can lead to catastrophe when on the fiercest speed setting -- as well as burners and other heat emitters that will evaporate any liquid that comes in contact with it. Elements of a less hostile sort include panels that unlock after a few seconds have passed (which in fact help you preserve every last particle), digital measuring scales that demand of you a certain weight percentage to be allowed entry into the next area, as well as switch-operated hatches.
Near and far, twists are regularly employed with acceptable quaintness. These are often with advanced warning, mind you, but a positive is that they always unfold in fairness without being predictable. In one of the levels where nitroglycerin is your selected poison, there are times when an explosion must be created in order to advance, and in understanding the element's unstable properties, it behooves you to move slowly towards the edge of a platform so as to only allow a small drop to escape your hold. Another stage creates this dangerous relationship between you and a deadly aspirin tablet that you must slither away from but also need the help of, in order to advance past corrosive walls. These and other puzzle-oriented segments have positive effects on the overall pace, in that it's not just about making your way to the end as quickly as possible. Sometimes it's a matter of racing against the clock in an isolated region where timing is of the essence, taking on a helper role (as when pushing along a bulb to help fertilize vegetation), or not plowing too far ahead so as to avoid clashing with an element that will mean dissolution for you.
Stepping back from contained elements, level layouts are not dull in the slightest, and they, too, tinker with fanciful ideas that aid in the exploration of creative avenues, slowly transforming Puddle into a game that is regularly on the verge of greatness. Plenty of engaging sights and developments are to be noted as players make their way through a bodily system affected by a gastric condition; a colourful, live, and stenciled set of architectural drafting charts (which sadly is only the basis for one stage); a jungle environment where you must use moss patches to break your fall as you descend as a glass ball; a junkyard that seems straight out of NightSky; and a factory viewed with infrared where temperatures must be kept above normal to sustain the lava under your supervision. It's crazy sometimes, just with the variety of embellishments stationed in the depths of the design, and as a whole, it reflects much craftiness and resilience on the game's part to integrate these approaches with good direction.
The overall difficulty of the stages presented may not have a large learning curve, but the pace is well-tuned and natural to the changing levels of interest and immersion that would be manifested by an average player. Giving you some room to break free from the step-by-step level progression are four of what the game calls Whines, a feature that lets you skip a level you're having trouble on (but not before poking fun at your cowardice). You're bound to use it, especially as you get closer to the fourth chapter, but it should be noted that the process undertaken in each of these levels isn't frustrating in a trial-and-error sort of way. Rather, the touches in place certainly have a draw to them in that players are motivated to experiment, while not doing so to a wild extent. To be sure, the presentation helps the game in producing this very pull, with an avant-garde soundtrack that presents an array of hypnotic sounds and mood-appropriate ambience, as well as a visual scope that, in line with the nature of the game's worlds, tells a thin story through silhouettes, representations of real-life objects and scenery, and surroundings that acquire a slight realism.
Puddle's collection of stages total 48 in all, with a single-run bonus stage to unlock (though I personally didn't care much for it). Players will easily spend four to five hours here, with challenges and online leaderboards getting you to replay stages with added determination. To help with speed runs, the Minus Button can produce a quick reset and bring you back to the start without having to pull up the Pause Menu. The only part one may need to make peace with is the number of levels, as I can see most hoping for more after having seen all there is to see. But in all fairness, Puddle still satisfies for the most part, even though the dessert portion may hang in the balance.
Puddle goes to considerable lengths to solidify the underpinnings of its platforming ideas, and this is something to applaud on its own. But for it to do so without ever becoming incredulous or waning in energy, this is where Puddle sets the example in its category. Of the right consistency, Puddle's calculated and imaginative puzzle-platforming focus makes for an interconnected, jaunty excursion that awakens a love of science and furthers existing appreciation through its many applications. A tad more could've been done to leave players feeling bloated by the end of it, but be that as it may, Puddle's all-around creative executions prove effectively well-suited for puzzle aficionados who choose to distance themselves from repetitive, unprogressive affairs.
24/30 - Very Good
Gameplay 8/10 - Varied executions to accompany changing mechanics, imaginative design, physics annoy at times, well-tuned pace and progression
Presentation 8/10 - Great vibes throughout, inviting themes, engaging music, HUD doesn't distract, cohesion explored in layering of elements
Enjoyment 4/5 - Whines minimize frustration and offer a bit of freedom, entertaining and challenging applications that remain mostly cohesive
Extra Content 4/5 - A good amount of content, challenges and score sharing potential extends replay value, would've felt more complete with more levels
Equivalent to a score of 80% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating) - Our Rating System