Game Review Hub: Puddle
Genre: puzzle platformer
Platform: PSN for PS3 and Vita, XBLA
Developer: Neko Entertainment
Publisher: Konami Digital Entertainment, Inc.
Estimated Length: 10 hours
Rating: 2 out of 5
Puddle is a physics based puzzle game that attempts to do some interesting things. The player controls a small amount of liquid by tilting the screen left or right, and must navigate a series of short levels without losing too much of the liquid. The controls are simple, tilt to the right or the left to make the liquid move. On the Vita you have the option of using the control stick, the R and L buttons, the gyroscope or the rear touch pad to control movement. These options are pretty cool but the control stick is the most precise so it was my method of choice. At first these mechanics seemed like a fresh approach to puzzle platformers, but it got old quick and the later game really falls flat.
Early in the game, puzzles consist of avoiding hazards and traps while navigating jumps and opening doors to progress. This part of the game was really enjoyable. It is similar enough to a regular platformer to be familiar, but the lack of direct control makes it interesting. The basic controls made for a fun, if simple experience. After each level you are given a score based on your time to completion, and the amount of liquid you had left at the end. This motivated me to retry most of the early levels to try to get a better score.
After the each level the game shows you how the previous liquid gets turned into a different liquid. You will eventually play as a puddle of weed killer, gasoline and even lava and nitroglycerine. Each of these types of liquid has differet characteristics and each world has puzzles to fit the type of liquid that you play as. For example, nitroglycerine explodes if it impacts something too hard, so each level you play as nitroglycerine involves carefully navigating falls and gently pushing obstacles out of the way to prevent explosions. Most of these different levels are pretty well designed and fun to play.
The place where this game really loses the plot is when it tries to deviate from the basics of the gameplay. After about the first half of the game, you start to encounter levels which play nothing like the previous levels. For example one level has the player controlling a bucket full of lava which rolls on tracks. Another level has the controls reversed and has the liquid flowing up. I found these levels frustrating because there is no explanation of the new controls or the way that the new mechanics will behave.
The worst offender is an entire world that takes place in the human body. I thought this was a clever idea, but at the beginning of one level I found that the controls did not work. Pushing left and right on the control stick made my puddle of blood jump up and then fall again. I could not decide if the game was broken or if I was missing something. In frustration I mashed the control stick around in circles, and the blood flew to the right and through the first door. It turns out that these levels are not controlled by tilting, but by pushing back and forth to pump the blood through the veins. This was never explained and I had to figure it out myself. Even once I figured it out the new controls were sloppy and not nearly as precise or accurate as the normal levels were.
It turns out that not explaining sudden changes in controls are a common element of this game. After the blood incident I encountered a few more levels which are completely different than the rest of the game. It all culminated in the final level, which is played inside a cylindrical nuclear reactor. The level requires that you navigate around a series of concentric circles, which spiral and end in the center of the reactor. The issue is that the players point of view is fixed, which means that the puddle appears to be traveling up walls and across the cealing. Given my experiance with the earlier levels, I knew what to expect when I was upside down on the top of the reactor, but when my puddle was on the left or right side I have no idea how my input was effecting the game. The lack of explanation was frustrating and it was only by sheer luck that I managed to get passed those parts of the level.
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Its a shame that an otherwise interesting game is ruined by ten or so poorly designed levels. If they had kept the controls consistent and continued to innovate by introducing new types of liquid and new puzzles, this would have been a far better game. I was eventually able to get the gold medal on every level, so those janky levels are definitely playable, but they really took the wind out of my sails and spoiled my experiance with the game overall. I would only recommend this game if you are really desperate for something to play. Let me know if you had a similar experiance in the comments.
Please note, this review reflects my experiance with the Vita version of the game. I did not play any other version of the game before writing this review.