Every generation of hardware has its showpiece mechanic, for the last generation it was seesaw puzzles (Holy shit guys! Fulcrums!) and this generation its fluid dynamics (Holy shit guys! Water!). We’ve killed with water in Hydrophobia, we’ve built with it in Vessel, and it was even the protagonist in last year’s Puddle by Neko Entertainment. Well now it’s time play with fluids once again in this VITA re-release of Puddle. I didn’t get the chance to play Puddle when it was on the consoles so this will be brand new experience. Let’s jump in, get our feet wet, and see if this game holds water.
Alright now that I’m done making terrible puns let’s talk about the gameplay. Your whole goal here is to guide a volume of fluid (of which there are various types) through a level by adjusting the tilt of the world. Each type of fluid has its own properties and will flow and move in accordance with them. In my time with the game (I managed to get about halfway through) I saw things like Weedkiller, which ate through tree branches; Nitroglycerin, which was thick and blew up when it moved too fast; and even Ratgoo, a sewer sludge that could cling to moss. These constant changes to your “character” for lack of a batter term are a really interesting facet of the game. In fact my absolute favourite aspect of the entire game was just seeing what new fluid was going to come up next. In all honesty that’s kind of it in terms of complexity here though, it’s pretty simple just tilt the world and try not lose all your liquid. Almost all the levels essentially boil down to just threading a needle, they do try to shake things up now and then but overall it’s just avoiding obstacles and it does get repetitive quite quickly.
Despite the basic nature of the game it can be very difficult in spite of and sometimes even because of the simplicity of the controls. Thankfully you have a lot of options when it comes to controls and there’s even a neat little system for skipping levels. In terms of controls you have four options: the analog stick, motion controls, the shoulder buttons, and the rear touchpad. All of these options work and what you’ll use will pretty much fall to personal preference, I stuck with the analog stick though every method had its merits. In terms of skipping levels, the system here is pretty creative. You have four “Whinies” each of which allows you to skip a level, once you’ve used them all up you’ll have to go back and beat a level you’ve skipped to earn that “Whinie” back. It’s an ingenious system as it gives you both the freedom to explore more of the game while still making sure you have to experience every level. It does mean you will probably get stuck on a level only to skip and then get stuck on it again later but it does at least give level skipping some real consequence.
In terms of presentation things are certainly quite stylized but it all does blend together quite a bit. This is primarily due to a heavy use of silhouetting in this game (at least in the parts I saw), while a lot is shown in the background you’ll also just see a lot of black shapes which does start to wear rather quickly. The fluids themselves look quite nice though I feel like they’re a little too rounded on the edges, regardless of actual viscosity of each liquid they all seem like they have too much surface tension to appear realistic. In terms of sound design everything is very ambient which is nice but it does lack an overall flair to make it stand out. While this does hurt it as an actual cohesive experience it does actually make it great for playing on the go as you happily be able to play it muted or listen to a podcast or something and not really miss anything in the game. You will miss the really well done SFX though, the water sounds great and the relaxing dripping is half the point of buying this title.
In the end I think there is a lot of potential here and that this is a very well made game but I simply did not have fun with it. Perhaps it is the inherent chaotic nature of fluid dynamics or the overall lack of complexity to the gameplay but it just did not grab me. The game is difficult enough that you will get stuck and be left without any way to move forward, when you hit that point and your only option is to go back to the levels that pissed you off previously you’ll sadly have to make a value judgement about whether it’s worth your time to bang your head against that wall or not. Let me state once more that I think this is a well made game, especially for something done by a bunch of guys who just got out of school. It’s a great effort and I’m looking forward to seeing what they do next. That said I just don’t think fluid dynamics is an entertaining enough concept to comprise the near entirety of a game. So for an experience that was maybe not as fluid or dynamic as it’s core mechanic, Puddle gets a 2 out of 5 stars. While this is a decent game to play on the bus even within the VITA’s limited library there are better experiences at an equivalent cost.