Review by Rick Lane
There’s nothing better than a game that takes a simple idea and runs with it. Puddle does more than that. It runs, drips and oozes its idea through almost every conceivable formulation.
Levels characteristically take the form of a laboratory or industrial setting – somewhere with a lot of pipes and tubes. By tilting that scene left and right and letting physics do the hard work, you guide a volume of liquid through various courses. Along the way a multitude of hazards from furnaces to buzz-saws threaten to simmer and splatter your solution. Fortunately, only a fraction of the liquid needs to reach the exit in order to progress, although this amount and the speed of its arrival will affect the overall score.
That’s the sum of Puddle’s mechanics, but it’s how it pours this concept into dozens of different scenarios that makes it so engaging.
The liquids vary greatly, each with a series of challenges designed around it. One involves sloshing corrosive weedkiller through an overgrown thicket, breaking branches to form traversable routes and to avoid carnivorous sundew plants. A sterner challenge lies in the form of nitro-glycerine, which you must cautiously navigate through a scientist’s laboratory without causing it to explode. The game’s handful of one-off levels are similarly inventive: I enjoyed rolling a snow-globe through a sewer without shattering it, and attempting to fill an inkpot while it travelled on a conveyor belt.
What really elevates Puddle above many other physics puzzlers is not these individual puzzles, but how they are cleverly threaded together. One stage begins with guiding the ink from your inkpot across a complex blueprint. Upon completion the camera zooms out to reveal a rocket design, and on the following level you play as the fuel inside the finished spacecraft. The entire game progresses in this contraption-like manner, adding a sprinkling of adventure to the proceedings. It all feels so aptly fluid, that the few instances where the levels don’t gel together are jarring.
The only other issue is the controls. Puddle uses the left and right mouse buttons to tilt the screen in the corresponding direction, but there is no way to adjust the extent of the tilt aside from repeatedly releasing and pressing the buttons. Consequently, great care is required in timing movements; otherwise the liquid might accelerate too quickly and separate into smaller globules, usually leading to a slippery end. Admittedly, this is difficult to remedy due to the binary nature of PC controls, and the developers have included an option to skip a certain number of levels, which helps alleviate any bouts of frustration.
It’s over fast: aside from a laboratory mode that lets you tinker with liquids for as long as you please, Puddle is a flash-flood affair. Nevertheless, there are torrents of fun to be had while it lasts.
◆ Expect to pay: $11 / £7
◆ Release: Out now
◆ Developer: Neko Entertainment
◆ Publisher: In-house
◆ Multiplayer: None
◆ Link: www.puddle-game.com
Addictive, if soon over. An intoxicating cocktail of molten merriment, Puddle is a glass-half-full kind of game.