Created by a group of French students at ENJMIN, winner of GDC 2010’s Student Showcase division and now being developed for Xbox Live Arcade by Neko Entertainment, Puddle has had quite the journey before finding its way onto your Xbox 360. Focusing on the physics of fluid, Puddle gets some things right but seems to lose others in all of this translation.
The concept behind Puddle seems simple at first, getting a small amount of liquid from point A to point B, but it quickly becomes evident that there is a complex engine behind that little puddle. Your Puddle behaves much like liquid would in the real world, albeit a little more viscous than normal but I’m not going to split hairs here. Your Puddle can easily split into multiple streams, will break into beads if you move too quickly and generally splash all over the place if it gets moving too fast.
Puddle’s controls are very simple, using the left and right trigger tilts the screen and gets your liquid moving. That’s it, you now know how to play Puddle. The game itself, however, is far from simple. While moving your puddle through each level you’ll encounter any number of strange obstacles such as hot pipes that will cause your liquid to evaporate, plants that will eat it, surfaces that react with it and fire that will set it ablaze.
We’re not only talking about water here, sometimes your swishing acid or nitroglycerin around and we all know what happens when you mess around with nitroglycerin don’t we? (it explodes.) Moving your Puddle through the levels often requires a delicate touch, there are plenty of sections where moving too fast will send your liquid flying into some sort of obstacle or hostile set piece. Equally, moving to slowly in some sections will send your Puddle dribbling to its death. The level design in Puddle is truly top-notch and the game features a ton of challenging puzzles to conquer. There are 48 stages, in all, across a number of different environments and you’ll be competing for Gold, Silver or Copper medals on each level.
Neko Entertainment nailed the core gameplay and physics in Puddle but there are a few things that make the game feel like it was rushed or unfinished. First the camera can get confused quite easily. The very nature of the game causes your Puddle to break into separate droplets and sections, the problem is that the camera doesn’t seem to have a hard rule as to which piece of liquid it’s going to follow when this happens. Often it gives up and just sits there while your liquid runs off screen. If you are very good at the game and keep your liquid together you may not notice this as much but in the more difficult levels (which includes most of the levels in the game) this can be very frustrating.
Second, Puddle really only has one game mode. There is a level editor of sorts, called the Laboratory, included but it really feels unfinished. You can unlock pieces via the main game to spice up your level but you can only create one at a time and there is no way to share your creation or really even play it, water just continually falls out of the spout and moves through your level. If there was a point to this mode, I couldn’t figure it out.
There are no multiplayer modes in Puddle.
As far as the main game mode, physics and level of challenge go, Puddle is great. Unfortunately the camera makes the game frustrating at times and there is a general feeling that the game was rushed out. When restarting a level you get a default message from the Xbox 360 operating system about losing unsaved progress, rather than the game itself, for example. Puzzle game enthusiasts will find a lot to like about Puddle but it really could have used a little bit more time in development.