As random as it sounds, liquid has always been a fascination of mine. From very early on I can remember poking the surface of water, marvelling at the transition zone between dry and wet, appreciating that particular beauty that the surface tension of water can provide. As a substance it’s really quite fantastic and wholly underappreciated by much of the world, including the gaming fraternity. For every Bioshock there’s a Hydrophobia, but we’ve never really had the liquid itself be the star of the show. Step forward Puddle, Neko Entertainment’s puzzle game that made its debut on the PSN and XBLA earlier this year. Now available for download to the Vita the game takes on a whole new lease of life on Sony’s handheld, making good use of the various control options the device offers.
For those who missed the initial release Puddle sees you take control of a variety of liquids and has you guide them through various danger-infused landscapes by tilting the game screen left or right. Simple so far? The catch is that each type of liquid has its own particularity which can have a massive effect on how you approach the level in question. Fertiliser, for example, must stay in contact with whatever seed you are in the process of pushing, while nitroglycerin has an amusing tendency to explode with very little encouragement. While some of the particularities are particularly boring (ink’s ability to dissolve when rolled over red hatching for example) others are simple and compelling – the ‘Rocket Fuel’ level for instance sees you controlling propellant which is dense enough to constantly be pulling itself down into a slower moving fireball.
From the off it’s obvious that the port quality is high. While the concept and mechanics of Puddle are arguably simple enough it’s good to see the game make the transition to Vita intact, thus offering hope that more recent PSN games could see the same treatment. Graphically Puddle is a treat to behold on the Vita, the levels taking on a whole new depth due to the quality of the screen. One of the innovations this Vita version offers is within its control system, with Puddle now offering you four methods of liquid control. You can tilt the screen either by using the internal accelerometer, the rear touch screen, the left analogue stick or the shoulder buttons. While each method feels viable when examined alone, the shoulder based input gave the greatest control over the majority of liquids and it’s likely that should you try that method you will soon forget the others even exist. So, kudos for including the Vita-specific options, but the tried and tested hard button input for a game designed away from touch screen devices wins again.
The range of liquids available does provide sufficient differentiation between levels, but too often the actual puzzle elements within the levels are repeated almost ad infinitum. A series of jumps that require you to pay attention to the front AND back of your liquid trail? Check. A fast bit of track followed by a bit where you need to slow down quickly in order to pass? Check. Too often throughout the levels Puddle shows itself to not be a true puzzle game, rather it’s a series of obstacles you need to experience enough in order to remember what to do when you get to them. Multiple paths or solutions are sadly missing and the linear nature of the levels makes replayability only a desperate prospect – even attempting to gold medal the levels for the trophy hunters will begin to feel like too much of a chore fairly fast. A few in particular will see you wanting to fling the Vita at the nearest wall, with the rage coming not from the difficulty of the game itself, but rather from the translation of control input to gameplay –the ‘Tension’ level in particular sees you navigating around the human body, using the left/right input to control the pressure of the capillary system rather than the liquid itself. A great idea on paper, in practice it lacks any kind of intuitive rhythmic input with the liquid itself bunching almost randomly in each attempt.
From water to biological goo and everything in between, Puddle represents liquids familiar and strange. It’s a competent (and at most points solid) game, but throughout Puddle actually feels like more of an uninspiring platformer with a liquid protagonist rather than something with which to tax your brain. It’s a shame because some of the levels, taken alone, do actually provide innovative gameplay that you won’t be seeing elsewhere. Most of the levels however fail to straddle the line between frustration and ease, falling far too far into either camp to provide that buzz so yearned with games of this ilk. While the Vita’s library is still fairly light on low price downloads feel free to check it out, but Puddle is more of a drip than a deluge and if you wait long enough something will be along soon that can drench you faster.