Is Puddle a little wet behind the ears, or does it make a splash? 411's Stewart Lange gives you his thoughts inside.
Developer: NEKO Entertainment
Rated: E for Everyone
Well, let me say before I start this review fully that I don't find a lot of time for gaming. Don't get me wrong, I try to, but between a 45 hour a week job, an MMA column, my stint on Fact or Fiction here on 411 Games, the Wife not to mention trivial stuff like eating and watching movies, my time is slightly limited. As a result, I've found that I tend to favor games that either present little challenge, or at least allow you to negotiate the difficulty to your liking. Forza 4, Skyrim and Saints Row: The Third being three examples of titles I'm currently playing.
Sometimes, however, I quite like to have a bash of something that sucks me in and crushes my spirit. Take Limbo as an example, or 'Splosion Man. You could beat them, or you couldn't. Braid is another great one. The puzzles were almost basic in their simplicity- until you looked harder and realized that to really complete the game you'd need to delve a little deeper.
So this brings us to Puddle. The very first level involves you rocking a table- using only your Left and Right triggers- to spill a cup of coffee and creating the eponymous Puddle. It's here that things get a bit difficult. You have to continue to control the tilt of the environment to negotiate the puddle of water through a set of pipes to reach your goal. Simple? Sounds it. There are numerous obstacles in the way, all of which impair your progress by taking water away from you, such as furnaces that evaporate away some of your water. Lose too much and you fail. Again, sounds simple. It really isn't. The game is unforgiving in it's difficulty, which isn't an issue in itself. The problem with this is that Puddle gets the fundamentals of the puzzle game spot on, which makes it all the more annoying the game itself has such a major problem.
Like all good puzzlers, what Puddle does is immerse you through both an ambient soundtrack and basic, yet pretty graphics. The visuals of the game are reminiscent of Limbo, with a fairly steady background behind a moving, living foreground. The music scoring the game is so slight you don't notice it until it has sucked you in. The only game I can compare this to is Hexic HD- I never even noticed the music in that game until I switched it off, at which point the silence is deafening without it.
The graphics come further into their own when you notice how the water you are controlling moves around the environment. It always looks really, really fluid (no pun) and reacts exactly as you expect it to. The physics of the game truly are spot on and considering it's a first attempt by Neko this is extremely impressive. You also start to “care” about the puddle of water you control, despite it being by all accounts a character-less form, it's yours to look after and when you lose half of your target by wrongly negotiating an obstacle it's extremely dis-heartening.
But back to this games biggest factor- the difficulty level. While some gamers eat up the challenge a game like this presents, it's not for everyone. There are points where losing half of your water allowance seem to be an inevitability rather than a lack of skill on my part. The high level of frustration created by dying so often is heightened by the fact that the game takes quite a while to reload upon restart. There are no mid-level checkpoints- which is fine as most of the levels are quite short- but if you've “fluked” past one part only to die at the next then it's more of a chore than a joy to retry. It's unfortunately this that proves to be the biggest negative against the game as whether you're the sort of person that loves to try over and over again or not, the loading times will kill your involvement quicker than you'd expect it to.
Overall, this is a solid first effort and despite it ticking more boxes than not, the issues that Puddle suffers from are just too major to ignore and ultimately prevented me from immersing myself in this game- instead it only became playable in short bursts as I fought with the game to keep my controller in my hand and away from the opposite wall. It does, however, show enough promise that despite this particular effort not being for me, I do look forward to this team of developers releasing further titles as so much of this title just oozes quality. You never know, some of the soda-masochists amongst you may have even found your 2012 Game of the Year.
Water effects and graphics look fantastic
The physics and presentation are spot-on
The music sucks you in
Instant, severe learning curve may put players off
Long loading times
So much of this game is done well, I don't want to say anything bad about it, but the difficulty coupled with those loading times just put me off. Like Dark Souls, you'll feel like a king once you beat it, but my worry is that a lot of players will be put off before they get to that point.
I feel like this game deserves more, but the one or two fundamental flaws are too big to ignore. Love a challenge? Give it a burl.
The game looks and feels great.
It does what is says on the tin, it's just extremely hard.
The soundtrack sucks you in, refusing to let go.
I'll not lie, I wouldn't have stuck with it without this review.
Unless you love pain, you'll not take much fun out of this..