Clever levels and awesome environments; large variety of different liquids; beautiful visuals; atmospheric soundtrack
Imprecise controls; artificially frustrating difficulty; camera issues
Splish splash. Liquid flows all around every day. It’s in the sky, in our veins, and in the ground. Do these liquids of all kinds have adventures when we aren’t looking? Probably not, but Puddle for Wii U imagines a world where it does. This is a world where our spilled coffee winds its way through a drain and into the wilderness. It’s a world where liquids go on a quest, causing a massive and convoluted Rube Goldberg reaction that spreads from a sewer to a factory, and even into outer space.
The idea of Puddle is very simple. You control the world by slightly tilting it left or right, and a liquid follows gravity and goes where it flows. Every level follows this basic idea, but each environment presents unique obstacles, and the various liquids you will control throughout the game have wildly different properties. For instance, simple water evaporates if heated for too long, nitroglycerin explodes if jarred too suddenly, and lava disappears if it is not constantly heated. Each type of liquid bases its properties on real chemistry. In fact, the entire game of Puddle is chemistry-inspired. Your scores are calculated out by moles of liquid remaining, and you are given an elemental score of Au for gold, Ag for silver, or Cu for copper. This is a small touch, but it does give a chemistry geek like myself a nice chuckle.
The world Puddle creates is nothing short of fascinating. Each and every level puts you into a new area with interesting and clever obstacles to surmount. The variety in levels never gets old and there is a ton of variety in the liquids that you guide. Playing through Puddle with no knowledge of what comes next is great, because some of the liquid types and areas will really catch you off guard. There is a very loose story painted here, but it’s nothing more than one liquid setting off some sort of reaction which leads to the next level. The liquids take a grand journey, and like I said before, you’ll be surprised at where you end up.
The world of Puddle is also beautiful and atmospheric, both visually and aurally. It looks amazing in high-definition, and while it’s a side-scroller at heart, multiple layers of color and texture give a great depth to your surroundings. The vaguely electronic soundtrack is very low key and inhabits the background of each level. You won’t be humming any of the music from Puddle any time soon, but its tunes synch up incredibly well with the game’s atmosphere.
But Puddle‘s gameplay may be too simple. The amount of control you’re afforded is extremely limited, and it’s a constant fight against the physics of the environment. Often, your liquid will careen into places you hadn’t intended. This is the point of the game, managing multiple factors with limited input; but this can often get way more frustrating than it should be due to some design oversights. Often, some new quirks of a liquid or level will be introduced, and you are given little time to adjust. Any indication of how to manipulate new liquids are in small blurbs on the loading screen, which are terse and easy to miss.
Puddle is also punishingly difficult. The first few areas ease you into the controls, but the game hits a difficultly spike about halfway through and never lets up. It takes serious trial-and-error to get through some of these levels, often to the point of unfairness. Some obstacles you just can’t avoid unless you lost against them before, and the imprecise controls mentioned before don’t help at all. It would have been nice to have a more organic difficulty, but many of the deaths you’ll incur while moving your liquid around will just be from sudden changes in the liquids with jarring losses. This is padded a little bit with the inclusion of the “whine” feature, which allows you to skip a level. This feature can only be used 4 times through the whole game so it has to be used wisely.
These problems can be worked around with practice and knowledge, but there were two major oversights. One is the issue of Puddle‘s camera. A camera in a side-scroller is a rather simple affair, and the one here is fine until your liquid splits into multiple parts. This is a rather frequent occurrence, as your liquid can get caught in an obstacle or divided up in some other way. When this happens, the game camera seems to have no idea what part of the liquid to follow, and it can lead you to lose sight of the larger portion of your liquid. The other issue is the fact that I would sometimes get stuck in a level, unable to move. This was a rare occurrence, but it was not a glitch. Some parts of the levels just seemed to allow your liquid to settle and be unable to move again. A game based on momentum should not allow this to happen.
You might also think to compare Puddle to Fluidity, another liquid based game. This game isn’t Fluidity. It doesn’t really play the same, and the conceit of the game is very different. Fluidity had far greater control over the environment and allows you to do much more than Puddle. This game eschews the tight control in favor of more variety in the levels and abilities. Each game has its own flavor, though, and they are both worth playing.
Now, onto the Wii U peculiarities of Puddle. This game has been out on other platforms, but on Wii U it has a couple unique features. The first is Off-TV Play– whatever appears on your TV also appears on the GamePad, and you can switch between them at any time just like New Super Mario Bros. U, and it looks great on the small screen. Another Wii U exclusive feature with Puddle is motion control, which is not so great. Tilting your GamePad is a very loose control method, and your angles are preset to tilt at certain degrees, so it’s not like how much you tilt matters. I recommend sticking with the default shoulder button control.
Despite the concerns with controls and the difficulty, Puddle is still a good eShop game, especially when the eShop is a place that’s still rather sparse on content. The $8 price tag will give you about 5 hours of gameplay to get through the main story, and you can double that if you’re looking to get all the high scores and earn a place on the leaderboards. There are a few challenge stages, but 95% of the game content is in the main levels.
Puddle is both relaxing and frustrating, and it can be immensely satisfying to play. At times I was excited, and other times dreadfully nervous. If you are looking for a game to tide you over in between major Wii U releases, this one is a decent bet provided you have the patience.