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Platform(s): PlayStation 3, WiiU, Xbox 360
Genre: Puzzle
Publisher: Neko Entertainment
Developer: Neko Entertainment
Release Date: Jan. 31, 2013

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox One is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.


Wii U Review - 'Puddle'

by Brian Dumlao on April 5, 2013 @ 12:15 a.m. PDT

Puddle is a physics-based mixture of puzzle and platform elements, with the player steering a puddle of liquid to an exit point by manipulating the game environment.

One of the real standout titles on Nintendo's WiiWare service was Fluidity. It was a game where you controlled a small body of water, but thanks to some clever puzzles and a charming narrative, it became a great physics game on a system that didn't have too many of those outside of the Boom Blox titles. Nothing similar has come along since, and while Nintendo is coming out with a sequel, the 3DS gets the game. Nintendo Wii U owners looking some something similar have two options: download Fluidity through the original Wii Shop or grab Puddle, a mechanically similar title available for the system via the Nintendo eShop.

The concept behind Puddle is that you control of the world to guide a puddle of liquid to the exit in each level. The only requirement is that each level has a meter that shows the minimum amount of liquid that must still be present in the puddle at the end to pass. Thus, it becomes your job to make sure you keep the whole thing together while avoiding anything that threatens to permanently separate the puddle or diminishes the puddle in any way. At the end of each level, you're given a grade based on the amount of time it took and the amount of liquid remaining.

Though the concept is rather simple, the development team has managed to keep everything fresh. For one thing, you're not stuck playing with water. Rocket fuel, nitroglycerin and pesticides are some of the elements you can experiment with. Each of those new liquids has different movement properties in addition to other traits, like instant explosions when exposed to heat or the ability to retain radioactivity. Another thing that varies the gameplay is the addition of objectives. This is more prevalent at the beginning and end, where the goal differs from the standard point A-to-point B objective. Some stages ask you to build up enough steam pressure to blow up a container. Others ask you to use the liquid within a container to move it to a certain part of a stage, and others ask you to create a container filled with one color or start a sprinkler system without spilling any liquid in the process.

The various liquid states and sub-goals provide a challenge for players who aren't used to these types of puzzle games. The best part of these challenges is that you're given the bare minimum of hints. You might be told that certain plants ingest liquid fertilizer, for example, but you'll have to discover that rapid movement through the plants saves your liquid from being absorbed. A few hints are scattered through each stage, but they're hidden well enough that they won't immediately be found by any but the most observant of players. In a way, this gives you a better sense of accomplishment when you finally solve a level. The developers threw in what they call "whines" to help players skip these levels to move on. However, to keep things balanced, only four whines are available for the entire game, so may have to eventually solve that troubling puzzle.

The liquid state changes occur quite often. This constant change means that you're kept on your toes, as one strategy that you've used for one liquid type has to be changed around for another liquid with new properties. On the other hand, the frequency of the liquid changes also means that you won't be able to appreciate the fluid you have before switching to something new. Each of the eight initial worlds has six stages, and with the exception of the opening world, you'll find at least 2-3 liquid changes in each. It keeps things moving along, but some will find that more time with each liquid and more levels to explore each state would have given Puddle some more "meat."

One of the sources of the game's problems lies in the camera. At first glance, the amount of zoom seems fine, as it strikes the right balance between getting enough of a view of the environment and a good view of the liquid blob. Once the liquid starts to break up, however, the camera stays at the same level of zoom instead of getting a wider shot. It becomes more problematic when you realize that the camera tends to focus on the lead part of the liquid as opposed to the largest mass, often making you guess where the rest of your liquid has gone. It doesn't turn out to be that much of an issue if small droplets are lagging behind and the rest of your mass is well above the minimum required for passing the level, but once you're skirting the line between passing and failure and you lose sight of those droplets, you'll wish the game had a manual zoom feature.

The Wii U version comes with some changes and improvements that make up for the delay in getting to the console. Gameplay is mirrored on both the GamePad's screen and the TV, so you can easily take advantage of off-screen play without entering a command to. An achievement system is in place to make up for the fact that the console doesn't have one, and it also makes the unlocking of secret stages easier to gauge. Load times are also faster than on previous consoles, and there's an online leaderboard that complements the level medals. The only thing missing from previous releases is the title screen lab, where you could take pieces earned in various levels and place it on your title screen to create some interesting puzzles. Considering how versions outside of the Xbox 360 one started to phase that away, very few will notice its omission.

The game offers some variation on the controls, though each scheme has a quirk or two. You can use the GamePad's gyroscope to tilt the world in either direction, but in some levels, the motion controls don't allow for finesse without overdoing it. Also, the world's tilt already has a set limit, so tilting the pad further than necessary won't really help. The analog stick provides some precision to get through some obstacles without losing much liquid, but it doesn't allow for quick tilts when the need arises. The triggers allow for quick movements, but they lack precision they're binary. Despite this setback, it seems to provide the gamer with the best chance of making it through a level. One disappointment is that you can't have multiple control schemes active at the same time. The game allows you to switch between each of the three on the fly, but having both the triggers and analog stick control active would have been better.

There isn't much to be said for the sound. The music rides the line between serene and frantic, but the score doesn't lean in either direction. It works well enough but isn't very memorable, nor is it the kind of score that overtakes the game. The effects make up a bulk of the soundtrack, and they give each environment some character.

Graphically, Puddle is pretty well done. The environments are plentiful, and each shows off a decent amount of variety. The levels that take place in the human body, for example, look amazing thanks to the X-ray filter. Meanwhile, the garden level takes a page from games like Nightsky and Limbo in using stark black silhouettes to their advantage. The effects aren't plentiful, but they look good, and while the performance boost of 60 fps coupled with 1080p resolution makes the game look sharp, don't expect to be wowed if you've already played the game on other platforms. The various forms of liquid still look unrealistic, but the behavior is good enough that you won't mind.

Puddle is a mechanically sound game that's good for fans of physics puzzles. The presentation is solid, and even though the controls aren't the most optimal, they get the job done and provide enough options. The variation in environments, objectives and substances goes a long way in making things interesting, but you'll wish that you got to spend more time with the various liquids. At times, the rather stark jump in difficulty can be something of a turn-off, but if you can handle that, you'll find this title to be a good distraction — especially since this is the cheapest version among the available platforms.

Score: 7.5/10

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