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Review: Puddle

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A recent arrival the Xbox Live Arcade and Playstation Network, Puddle is a physics-based puzzle game which revolves around a small quantity of liquid – a puddle, if you will – and the act of getting it safely from start to finish.

Originating as a student project, Puddle won the 2010 GDC Independent Games Festival’s Student Showcase Division. Since then, it has been picked up by Konami and developed by the team at Neko Entertainment, refining it into the product we see today.

The mechanics of Puddle are simple – you rotate the world around your puddle to the left and right to move it, and do your best to avoid the numerous obstacles waiting to soak up, evaporate or otherwise interfere with your poor collection of liquid. This theme is played out through different locations and types of liquid from basic water, to paint, to one later level that has you inching your way through with a volatile puddle of nitro-glycerine.  You’ll also encounter the occasional ‘boss fight’, which will require you to sacrifice part of your remaining liquid or survive for a set period of time before you can move on.

Level design is kept simplistic and within a restricted colour scheme, mostly presented in silhouette form. This keeps focus on your puddle whilst also giving a classy modern feel to the game overall. Background music is a mashup of soothing ambient sound and energetic numbers, as suits the level. Overall the game is designed simply, with focus pointed where it’s needed.

Don’t let my use of the word simple trick you into thinking this game is easy, though. Puddle is ready, willing and able to punish you if you’re not taking enough care as you play. The difficulty curve spikes early and quickly, with very little effort given to adjust you to the game’s mechanics. Take too long crossing an obstacle or rush through a level too fast and your precious liquid will separate, evaporate or dissipate and force you to start over. The puddle itself doesn’t seem entirely convinced of the need to keep itself together. Try as you might, you will always be leaving dribbles of liquid behind as the puddle inevitably stretches out. The addition of free passes to the next stage – condescendingly called ‘Whines’ – does allow you to jump ahead, but they are issued sparingly. Use with caution.

The camera also seems all too keen to focus only on the front end of your puddle, so you will often find yourself losing large amounts of trailing liquid as the camera forces it off-screen.  For twisty-turny portions of levels this can present almost a greater threat than the actual level hazards. Add to this the strangely extended loading times between attempts on a level and you may find yourself put off from completing the game.

If you’re keen on liquid simulators specifically though, there are other titles out there that have done this genre with more variety or enjoyment factor, specifically Hydroventure for WiiWare. That game’s addition of multiple forms your liquid can take and the ability to draw all your liquid together are two elements I found myself sorely wanting for whilst playing Neko Entertainment’s title. In the end, Puddle is definitely a well-put-together game but is not for the faint of heart. Maybe give the trial version a go before committing to the whole game.

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aka Ponk – An Adelaide-based gay gamer who works for The Internet. Budding 'artist' and games-as-art believer, Writer of Things, and all-around geek. I'll beat you at Mario Kart, and lose to you in any shooter you can name.