If Puddle was a person, it would be a hyperactive four-year-old. Indeed, this perky puzzler-cum-platformer practically percolates with restless aplomb. But does this energetic attitude keep the experience afloat, or will the title’s soggy antics leave you drowning in misery?
At its core, this physics-based outing is a pretty standard affair. You’ll tilt the stage to and fro, attempting to guide the titular puddle through a series of trials and tribulations. As such, the difficulty predominantly stems from the pleasant challenge of attempting to stop your liquid from getting spread from one end of the level to the other. Each stage has a strict limit dictating how much of your initial aqueous allowance you can lose before you’ll be forced to start again.
Moreover, there are numerous different fluids that you’ll have to contend with, each sporting their own distinct characteristics. For instance, jet fuel has a tendency to constantly fall downwards, while lava must be continually heated or it will solidify and disintegrate. Overall, it’s a relatively simple core mechanic, but one that proves surprisingly satisfying; there’s something strangely fulfilling about clearing a level without misplacing a single drop.
Interestingly, the PlayStation 4 version of the title allows you to use either the DualShock 4’s touchpad or inbuilt gyro-sensor to control the action. Both of these options work as advertised, but neither really adds anything meaningful to the experience, and you’ll probably find yourself just opting for the traditional control scheme.
Obviously, a game such as this sinks or swims on the realism and reliability of its physics, and in this regard, Neko Entertainment’s aqueous expedition is thankfully water tight. While we’re not entirely convinced that the game can perfectly replicate the behaviour of nuclear waste being guided through a labyrinthine obstacle course floating through outer space, it’s certainly close enough.
Yet while this core mechanic isn’t particularly new or interesting, it’s the title’s almost child-like overzealousness that’ll really wet your whistle. This is a game that almost always gets bored much quicker than you do, created by a development team that clearly has the attention span of a newborn goldfish. You’ll be balancing a highly breakable beaker in one level, and then crafting a complicated cocktail in the next. New ideas are thrust forth at a stymieing rate, and then ditched before you even have time to begin processing them.
However, in some ways it’s this unabashed ambition that is one of the game’s greatest downfalls. The constantly changing gameplay styles mean that the difficulty is erratic at the best of times, and downright dastardly at the worst. What’s more, several levels are entirely too long, with the absence of a checkpoint system only exacerbating this irritation.
Most frustrating of all, though, is the puzzler’s lack of communication. Sometimes you’ll lose a significant portion of your puddle purely because the level design, combined with a slightly shonky camera, didn’t adequately signpost an incoming threat. Attempts are made at warning you of what to expect, but it’s still entirely too easy to go careening off a ledge without meaning to.
As for its presentation, the title is serviceable, but not particularly remarkable. It’s by no means an ugly game, however its simple style is saved only by the sheer diversity mentioned earlier. Crucially, apart from the aforementioned frustrations, the visuals never get in the way of the action. Similarly, you’re unlikely to remember any of its tasteful tunes for long after the initial downpour, but the game’s music is almost always fitting, and often creates a nice atmosphere.
With its solid physics-based core and seemingly never-ending stream of new ideas, Puddle is a perfectly competent puzzler. There are certainly frustrations to be had, but the variety is often enough to gloss over these issues. A bit more visual and auditory polish might have elevated the experience, but as it stands, the title is a worthy addition to the ubiquitous genre.