Puddle is one of those games that may have passed you by. It was actually released at the beginning of August last year, and, like some of the indie titles appearing on the Playstation Store, it didn’t really get a whole lot of marketing. It’s a physics based puzzler that won awards at the Independent Games Festival in 2010 and has since been ported to almost every device, including PC and mobile. I guess the best way to describe Puddle would be LocoRoco but on a crazy liquid roller coaster. The concept is simple – get said liquid from A to B through relatively short but extremely perilous levels. It sounds simple on paper, but in practice it’s anything but.
The first thing you’ll notice when you start playing Puddle is that it looks incredibly distinctive. Though many elements are often cast in shadow, there’s a tone of setting that runs through each and every one of the game’s 49 levels. Gameplay in Puddle is deceptively simple and involves you simply tilting the world left or right to manipulate your surroundings (hence the LocoRoco reference). Control can be mapped to either the shoulder buttons, rear touch pad or tilt, although I found the shoulder buttons easily the best fit as later levels require rapid and accurate movements.
Although Puddle initially has you manipulating water, in order to keep things fresh throughout the liquids (and their particularity) changes frequently, so frequently in fact that a couple of levels have you controlling elements other than water (though I don’t want to spoil all the surprises for you). Each level within each world is linked in a way that ties them together in what could loosely be described as a story. It’s clever and captivating to watch it all unfold, as although you begin with water from a cup that has spilled over it’s interesting to see how the game ties this into the levels involving plant fertiliser, lava, nitro-glycerine and more.
It’s the inventive streak the developers manage to maintain throughout that truly hooks you. Each particularity has it’s strengths and weaknesses; lava for example must be heated repeatedly as cooling causes it to harden into rock, or nitro-glycerine which moves freely must be maneuvered carefully throughout the sliding labyrinths to avoid exploding. Each level has it’s own feel to it and sometimes you really have to think of the fastest and safest way to the end; from sliding platforms, to flame pits, to switches that must be pushed. Danger is everywhere in Puddle.
In order to perform well in each level you’ll have to continually balance your speed against the risk involved. At the end of each level you are assessed on not only the time taken, but also the amount of liquid you have remaining. It means that completing a level by being extremely cautious will not give you necessarily a good score; you’re forced into finding the most streamlined route. The scoring system in place here is similar to other games but it’s a nice touch that you’re given your final score in elements rather than stars (you’ll be aiming to Gu, Gold each level.)
Further adding to the variety is a series of boss-like levels which are again unique. One boss level for example has you controlling a series of spinning lasers, trying to aim for a target to destroy a machine, all while making sure you don’t fry the liquid inside it. Another example has you controlling the hose of a fire engine in order to (you guessed it!) douse flames. Add to this a whole section of the game where you have to alternate left and right movements to pump blood around the body and you have something that feels and plays differently in each and every level.
Is there anything wrong with Puddle? Well, it’s not a particularly long game, though there’s a free trial available and it’ll still only set you back £5.49. It’s also rage inducing at times due to difficulty spikes which can occasionally make the whole experience feel a little unbalanced. In an attempt to alleviate this you’re granted four “whines” at the beginning of the game which you can use to skip levels when you get stuck. If you then go back and complete a level you whined on you get the whine back, so it’s a feature many may want to utilise. Also, the difficulty spikes extend to the scoring; some levels you may breeze through and get gold on your first play, whereas others you’ll struggle to score bronze.
Although the art style is stunning, Puddle also experiences brief bouts of slowdown, though thankfully these are fairly isolated in their appearance. All in all I’d say Puddle is a great game at a price that’s low enough to warrant a purchase. The fact that there’s a trial means you can always jump into the Playstation Store and have a go without spending a penny, so I’d definitely recommend taking a look.