Puddle

By: on January 28, 2012

[gameinfo title=”Game Info” game_name=”” developers=”Neko Entertainment” publishers=”Konami Digital Entertainment” platforms=”” genres=”” release_date=”January 25, 2012″]

Puddle’s journey behind the creation of this physics puzzler is almost too good to be true. After wowing judges in 2010 at the Game Developers Conference and winning in the Independent Games Festival Student Showcase Division, Puddle was acquired by Konami Digital Entertainment and put into development with Neko Entertainment to work on creating a commercial version of the award winning submission.

Although technically a platformer, anyone playing Puddle would be hard pressed to make any comparisons with more conventional side scrolling titles. The goal is simple: take some liquid and move it from one side of the screen to another. Sure, there are sometimes alternate goals (evaporate the water, push some plants, hit a switch), but the vast majority of the game is spent carefully maneuvering a stream of water from one side of the world to another. Your basic drop of water doesn’t have a lot of say in where it goes though. Instead of controlling a character, you tilt the world itself left or right, causing the water to flow up hills and around dangerous bends.

It couldn’t be more simple. And yet, the game manages to create complexities. Often by simply changing the type of liquid you’re controlling will create a vastly different set of problems. Water behaves different from explosive nitroglycerin which is itself different from plant fertilizer.

Unfortunately, the game doesn’t do the best job of describing the intricacies of the system. It takes a significant amount of trial and error to discern between the varying properties of your different liquids. There are no on screen tutorials outside of a few “helpful” signposts. The game doesn’t go nearly far enough to really clue players in to what exactly the goals of a stage are.

Although it is easy to complain about video games offering players too much hand holding, a novel concept requires a little bit more explanation than the typical run and gun title. The decision to leave players to their own devices and hope they’ll learn the rules of the world causes much of the early game to be unnecessarily tedious, requiring an unnecessary amount of time to perform simple tasks that should be a cakewalk if not for the lack of in-game documentation.

Most of the puzzles themselves, though, are solidly designed and fun to solve. One of the major complaints I have is the games spotty physics. The liquid behaves realistically in small spaces but seems unusually buoyant and “floaty” when in the air. Players will quickly become accustomed to the wild arcs when jumping from ramps and platforms, but it never becomes as natural as it should.

Special praise has to be given to Puddle’s ingenious level design. There’s often quite a bit of platforming action to be had even in compact levels. One stage leads to another organically, making the entire world seem connected and realistic. Exits logically lead to the next start point, adding a surprising amount of continuity between levels.

Score: 6.5/10

It seems almost unfair to criticize Puddle too harshly. This attractive, addicting indie game was obviously a labor of love created by a scrappy group of students. A fun puzzler with a unique concept and a novel control scheme indicate big things from the first time devs behind this award winning title.

About Len Cannon