Nov 21, 2012

Video Game Review: Puddle

Puddle is available for purchase on Steam for $9.99 and on the PSVita for $7.99.It is also available for the PS3, Xbox 360 and Wii U.

When I think of the word puddle, I conjure up an image of a child looking at their own reflection in a fragile collection of water the morning after a rainy day. This game takes that idea and turns it on its head. When I first thought of reviewing this game, I was thinking I would experience something similar to what I had experienced with games like Flower and Flow. I thought it would be a peaceful experience that I could carelessly finish without having to worry about putting too much thought or effort into. I was wrong, and it felt good to be wrong.

I first tried the demo of Puddle on the PSVita and I had a hard time in pretty much every level. Me being the guy who thinks most games are painfully easy blamed it on the controls of the PSVita rather than my lack of skill. Once I finally got a copy of the game from Steam however, I quickly realized that the controls weren't the problem, the game was just difficult! Not only is Puddle a hard game, the developers tease you about its brutality. Instead of giving you the option to skip levels that are too hard, they give you a limited amount of "whines." The truly amazing thing about Puddle though is just how simple the gameplay is.

As the title of the game suggests, the game revolves around puddles. Through the entire game your goal is to guide various masses of liquids, from piping hot coffee to globs of sewage, from the start of a level to the end. You go about doing this by tilting the screen to the right or to the left. This allows you to guide your liquid, with the game's awesome physics, to its final destination at the end of the level. It might not seem like much but with roughly 50 levels that get increasingly difficult Puddle gives you a run for your money.

Puddle's simple mechanics might make it seem like there isn't much to the game but the simplicity in controls allows for the variation in levels and liquids to become the main focal points of the gameplay. The game begins with a cup of coffee with no instruction on what to do next. Once you figure out that you have the ability to effect the environment by tilting the screen you have a pretty straight shot to the finish. 

As you progress through the levels and chapters you face more and more obstacles, from simple burners that will evaporate your puddle to lasers and explosives that completely disintegrate what ever liquid you are manipulating. The liquids themselves play a big part of the gameplay as well. Some are slow and stick to surfaces which allow you to hang from corners to avoid obstacles, while others can literally explode if they make too hard of a contact with a surface. Not only is finishing these levels difficult but at the end of it all you are given a score of how well you did. The scoring system takes both the amount of time you took and your remaining amount of liquid into account but my favorite part of the scoring system is the developer's humor. Just like a typical scoring system you are given a bronze, silver, and gold medal based on your score, but the twist is that each medal is  peeled forwarded a bit to reveal that they are just made out of chocolate. Some might find chocolate medals more appealing than their metal counterparts but I just find it cruel.

About halfway through the game this combination of obstacles, various liquids, and unique levels really hit home in a chapter of the game where you must navigate through a human body. The first couple of levels in the chapter were visually pleasing and had some really unique game mechanics. Each time you would hit a yellow dangling piece of some tissue, a gastric reflex would kick in and a rush of puddle-eliminating fluid would fly up through whatever tube of the body I was in. When I eventually made it to the blood stream, or at least what I thought was the blood stream, the game mechanics completely changed again and I was faced with a new challenge. Not only did my ability of tilting the world left and right move my glob of liquid, it also raised the human's heart rate. I now had to suddenly go from using the physics of the game to complete my task to using my host's heart rate to move me to my exit. I was completely blown away by how far the developers were willing to go to make each and every chapter unique with interesting gameplay and level design like the Human Body chapter. What made this adventure more exciting however was the incorporation of all aspects of the game into a story.

Puddle doesn't have a typical story. Instead of having a plot about coffee avoiding random obstacles to reach an exit, each chapter of Puddle has an intro and outro animation to give a purpose to each liquid. I found these animations to be quite enjoyable as they would connect the various environments and liquids throughout the game almost as if they were a chain events that were destined to be completed. Each time I finished a chapter I was given an interesting and sometimes humorous animation showing the fate of my liquid and how it's end made possible for a new liquid's beginning. These animations also simultaneously gave an explanation for the next chapter's environment which made each chapter feel integral to the story. Not only do the animations succeed on moving the story along, most beginning and ending levels in each chapter have interesting objectives that make starting and finishing each chapter that much more fun. For example, on the opening level for the second chapter you are given the task of swinging a fiery bucket of sodium chlorate and copper oxide near some emergency sprinklers to release the water held within them.

Final Say: Puddle won't be for everyone. It is a difficult, 2D, physics-based game centered around manipulating liquids through various obstacles and environments. Although this might sound dry at first, the amount of variation of gameplay throughout the game really makes the experience. Not only can I fail to bring up another physics-based game that has this much variety of gameplay, Puddle did it with just two buttons. If you are a fan of puzzle games or just a gamer who likes a decent challenge, I highly recommend Puddle.