Puddle Review

There's a lot to love about Puddle, but its better qualities are often drowned in a sea of frustrations.

by

Any puddle of liquid is nothing but a multitude of drops, and in the new downloadable game Puddle, the significance of each individual, precious drop is brought home. Here, you must guide substances of all kinds through a diverse assortment of treacherous environments, and if you let one too many drops fall victim to the dangers that surround them, you're sent back to the start of the grueling obstacle course you're navigating. It's a tense and delicate process, requiring a great deal of focus and offering a rewarding sense of accomplishment. But despite an impressive amount of variety in its visuals and in the challenges that it presents you with, Puddle sustains the same high-tension note too consistently and for too long, and the result is a game that too often shatters its own mesmerizing spell with frustrations.

Puddle is controlled using only the left and right shoulder buttons. These cause the entire environment to tilt in one direction or the other, which typically makes the liquid whose journey you're supervising at that moment slide downhill, or gain (or lose) momentum. Comparisons to the WiiWare game Fluidity are unavoidable, but there are a number of differences between that game and Puddle. Whereas Fluidity gave you the ability to make your water leap, transform into blocks of ice, and so on, Puddle never introduces such abilities. Instead, its variety comes from the fact that you frequently move from one type of liquid and one type of environment to the next.

You start by guiding the contents of a cup of coffee into a drain, which is easy enough. But soon, you're moving a chemical solution through a lush forest, trying to avoid absorbent plants and speed past the snapping jaws of Venus flytraps. You must also escort some nitroglycerin through a busy laboratory, careful all the while not to handle it too roughly and trigger an explosion. A later scenario has you helping a liquid pass through parts of a man's body; at one point during this section, you must race to stay ahead of a destructive ball of acid, and a bit later, you must rapidly tap the left and right triggers to generate the blood pressure necessary to propel the liquid through veins at just the right speed. Puddle never wants for variety; you guide some ink to the proper place on a designer's technical diagram, move propellant through the fiery innards of a rocket, and aid numerous other puddles on their journeys.

Totally pointless flames in the sewers: your tax dollars at work.

Most scenarios present their own distinct challenges--helping orange goo drift through the zero-gravity interior of a spaceship is altogether different from hurrying molten metal through a foundry, moving quickly from flame to flame to ensure the metal doesn't cool and harden. The frequently shifting properties of the liquid you're controlling, and the differing dangers you face in each new environment, keep Puddle fresh across its eight chapters of six levels each. And while the game, to its credit, doesn't explicitly impose any meaning on its events, it's easy to find a subtle statement about the relationships between nature and industry, between creativity and science in Puddle's winding path through so many different scenarios.

No matter the liquid you're manipulating and the dangers you're navigating, there's a hypnotic beauty to Puddle. The liquid moves at a fraction of the speed it would in real life, letting you appreciate the captivating ways in which droplets realistically gather, spread, flow, and skitter across surfaces. And while your attention is always focused on the liquid and its movement, the striking environments don't go unnoticed. The X-ray vision of the human body sequence creates a convincing sense that you're observing events taking place inside a person, and a sense of serenity sets in as you watch the orange globule drift in zero gravity while the planet Earth can be blurrily discerned through a window in the background.

But this sense of serenity is too often broken. Puddle is difficult and it demands focus; the slightest error--moving just a bit too slow or a bit too fast--can result in failure. There's value in this kind of grueling challenge. When you successfully guide your liquid to the exit, you may breathe a sigh of relief, like a scientist who has just completed a dangerous experiment in which the slightest mishandling of volatile chemicals might have resulted in catastrophe. But Puddle offers no relief. The completion of one nerve-racking stage means the beginning of the next. No one level takes more than a few minutes, start to finish, but some will likely take you dozens of tries, and eventually, being kicked back to a level's loading screen for the umpteenth time as you prepare to give that level yet another go can be infuriating.

Puddle's imaginative visuals may make a splash, but you should try to avoid making one with that ink.

It's especially irritating when your failures can be attributed to a lack of awareness about the dangers ahead, because Puddle doesn't give you a good way to prepare for them. The camera always observes the current position of your liquid, which is problematic because you often don't know if speed or caution is called for on the stretch immediately ahead. You often fail as the result of an obstacle you didn't know was there until an instant before you spilled right into it. Of course, you then know to watch out for it the next time, but there may be plenty more like it between you and the level's exit.

The frequent frustrations of Puddle mean that only the most patient of players will have what it takes to reach the end. That's a shame, because it presents a fascinating journey through forests and foundries, into outer space and inner space. But each time you find yourself getting fully absorbed in this game's demanding and delicate action, the unbalanced and frequently unfair level of difficulty ripples the surface and snaps you out of the moment.

The Good
Beautiful and varied visuals
A diverse assortment of environments, liquids, and challenges
The Bad
Unrelentingly high difficulty gets tiresome
Too much reliance on trial and error
6
Fair
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Discussion

6 comments
INF1DEL
INF1DEL

"It's especially irritating when your failures can be attributed to a lack of awareness about the dangers ahead, because Puddle doesn't give you a good way to prepare for them." My thoughts exactly. Cool idea, and I really like the visual design, but I couldn't even finish the sewer level on the trial and a couple of the others took quite a while. Mostly because of this^.

juliankennedy23
juliankennedy23

When the Demo is frustrating as all get out I can only imagine what the actual game is like,

carolynmichelle
carolynmichelle moderator staff

@tommyas I totally understand. Yeah, getting kicked back to the loading screen each time you fail gets kind of ridiculous. It's too bad this game couldn't do what games like Super Meat Boy and Trials do and just kick you back to the beginning of a level instantly when you fail.

Voice_of_Wisdom
Voice_of_Wisdom

punishing difficulty? this reviewer must be crazy. The difficulty level is just right. Excellent game btw

tommyas
tommyas

The frustrating difficulty is really there and unfortunately for me, it is a deal breaker. I wanted to get this game, I always wanted a game like this on a ps3 but the demo was so frustrating that I just cannot be bothered. Waiting seven or so seconds after each death like that is just unbearable.

Puddle

  • PC
  • Xbox 360
  • PlayStation 3
  • PlayStation Vita
  • + 4 more
  • Wii U
  • Macintosh
  • Unix/Linux
  • iPhone/iPod
Puddle is a platform game where you move liquid from one side of a level to another.
ESRB
Teen
All Platforms
Crude Humor, Fantasy Violence, Mild Blood
Check out even more info at the Puddle Wiki on Giantbomb.com