Puddle, the latest game from developer Neko Entertainment and published by Konami and Mindscape, began life as the Student Showcase prize-winner at the Independent Gaming Festival at the Gaming Developer’s Conference 2010… and now it’s a fully-fledged piece of art available to you for download from the XBox Live Arcade for a measly 800 MS Points.
At first glance there is not a lot to the game, and the beginning animation does a perfect job of focusing on the subject matter, with an anonymous worker pouring a cup of coffee, placing it on the table, and walking away with the camera zooming in to focus on the cup of coffee and away you go. One look at the controller map (Left trigger = Tilt Left. Right Trigger = Tilt Right) and you get a misleading sense of the simplicity of this game. It’s not a hugely original concept as there a numerous mouse-trap/magnificent machine/liquid manipulation games out there. However, that feeling lasts only through the first couple of tutorial levels because it is as soon as you start facing your first slightly challenging puzzles and having to use your brain that this game really comes into its own. And once they start, the puzzles become harder and harder.
All the puzzles revolve around physics, momentum versus gravity and the viscosity of the liquid of choice for the level. For example, there are numerous hot surfaces throughout the early levels where you are controlling a puddle of water. Go too slow and the liquid will boil away. On the other hand there are numerous jets of flame from the ceiling. Gain too much momentum and you will fly straight into them. Getting a gold medal on some of these levels will mean repeating the level many times over to get the hang of each particular puzzle, one at a time. If a level is too hard for you, you do have a finite number of skips, called “Whine & Skips” in the game. You only get two, so if you run out and can no longer continue, you have to go back to the levels you skipped and complete them to free up a “whine”.
Then there are the “Boss” levels. The end of the first chapter sees you inside a boiler where you have to swing back and forth to get enough momentum to ignite the flames in the center of the screen. Then you have to time it just right so the water flys through these flames before they are extinguished. Not quite as easy as it sounds, especially considering you only have a short time to build up enough pressure inside the boiler to make it explode and therefore end the level, allowing you to proceed to the next environment.
Each environment is refreshingly different and each has its own challenges, and some of the environments I’ve encountered are:
Office/Laboratory - Your tutorial levels where you travel through pipes and deal primarily with water and avoid hot surfaces and flames.
Nursery/Garden – Navigate your way through the garden, across branches and vines. You switch from Weed Killer, which eats away at branches that allows you to drop down towards your goal, to Fertiliser that makes flowers grow lifting you up. Your challenges here Snapdragons and Thorns.
Laboratory - You begin this level as Petroleum in a beaker before being converted to Nitroglycerine. Dangers here range from flames, requiring you to get to cold air jets to cool down, to lasers. Not to mention that if you fall too far as Nitro … Bang!!
Human Body – Very well done level that has you flowing through a human body in X-Ray view. Not entirely sure what the liquid is that you’re controlling, but it’s apparently not very nice as one of the challenges you will face is regurgitation. Other challenges you face include Needles that are trying to draw blood and tumours or blood-clots. Another interesting thing about this level is that the left and right triggers don’t just tilt the camera, they control the pumping of the blood through the body. Pump quickly to raise the liquid off the ground. Stop pumping to lower the liquid back down.
Sewers – Back to pipes and flames, but this time your liquid of choice is Rat-Goo. Yes, that’s right. Rat-Goo. The only thing I’ll say about it is that it is a lot thicker and gelatinous than water and some puzzles require you to cling to ceiling of a ledge to avoid traps.
My one minor gripe out the game is the lack of camera control. While this does allow for unexpected twists and keeps you guessing as to what is coming next, there are times when half my puddle made a jump, the other didn’t and while the half that got stuck behind could have been saved, you can’t exactly go back to save it. Having said that, it does drive home one of the main rules of the game: Keep your Puddle together.
In summary, Puddle is a highly-recommended game. The controls, while basic, are right up there with Trials HD for knuckle-whitening intensity. The graphics are reminiscent of Limbo or Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet in their gorgeous simplicity, and the sound - while nothing stands out - is a perfect accompaniment for the level of concentration you will need for each level. You’ll never look at a cup of coffee, or water… or even “Rat-Goo” the same again!!