By: Casey Curran
The second I heard I would be playing a game called Puddle, I knew exactly what to expect. An art focused game that attempts to put style ahead of substance while making gamers see how classy it is. And that’s exactly what I got, giving me a sign that either I have been playing too many video games or have suddenly become psychic. Now, since I know that I could not possibly have played too many video games, I would like to thank Puddle for letting me realize my true abilities and plan a Vegas trip to take advantage of this.
Puddle controls very similarly to the Locoroco games on the PSP. You control the physics of the world rather than a character by using the right and left triggers to tilt the world in the corresponding direction to guide a puddle to the end of a level. The issue that comes up is how hard it is to be precise with this. The puddle is usually a long pool of liquid, and it is next to impossible to guide it without losing a little. The game is more about broad movements than precision, yet whenever I needed to be precise, I found myself fighting the controls.
Puddle can best be compared to games such as Flower in how it creates a graphical style, music and sound effects meant to relax the player rather than engage them. For the most part, this style does work. The cool color tone and soft sounds are very relaxing indeed, which blend in well with most of the gameplay.
Animations especially play into this well, as everything has a bit of a slow movement, which is a joy to watch in motion. However, when the gameplay asks for a tricky puzzle or a precise movement, this does break the flow of the game, which creates a bit of a schizophrenic tone.
At its core, Puddle is not exactly about providing the player with a challenging experience, but instead one meant to calm and relax. Moving a puddle down the path does, for the most part, feel relaxing. If the entire game was like it was at its most relaxing moments, I could call it a solid experience, but only for a small group of people.
The game is about more, however, which disrupts the calm, and rather than complement the game’s strength in the relaxing segments, offers an awkward shift that dampens the other aspects. Puzzles are both physics based and what kind of liquid you are controlling. If you were to move around weed killer, for instance, moving across vines would cause them to shrivel and disappear, potentially removing their extensions blocking your path. While these puzzles are not terribly taxing on the brain, they do fit the tone well enough, offering a neat spin on a simple gameplay mechanic.
However, the physics-based puzzles can prove to be more frustrating. The game asks you to move around a little too much liquid at once, causing a lot of it to splash around. You are permitted to lose a good amount of fluid, yet this does not change how trying not to leave too much liquid behind can prove very frustrating.
To make matters worse, the way your remaining liquid is tracked proves counter-intuitive as it only measures what is shown on the screen. One bit, for instance, had my remaining liquid split into two halves. The second half was right on track to catch up to the first, yet because the first moved down a little too far below before the second could catch up, I had to restart the level. I can see why the developers chose this method as how much liquid lost is tough to track, yet the way presented does not entirely work, either.
Ultimately, it’s the controls that get in the way the most. The liquid moves in a way that made me feel I was never in control. While the game could (and often is) be designed in a way which embraces this idea, the sections where the lack of control become apparent are very noticeable and very frustrating.
Puddle is basically Locoroco as imagined by Thatgamecompany without quite finding the sweet spot. If you enjoy the core gameplay of the former or the atmosphere of the latter, then you may find some enjoyment out of it. At the end of the day, however, the gameplay is not as sharply designed as Locoroco while the atmosphere does not stay as consistently engaging as Flower or Journey.