The Independent Games Festival, or IGF, has been a launching pad for memorable Xbox Live games in recent memory. The inspirational annual gathering of the indie video game industry, founded in 1998, gave early recognition to titles like Limbo, Minecraft, World of Goo, Braid, and Castle Crashers.
Joining this crowd of great minds was the French team behind the game Puddle, Neko Entertainment, who presented it at the 2010 IGF. It won the highly esteemed Student Showcase prize and, after some development changes, was consequently picked up and published by Konami.
Puddle is a physics-based, liquid-pushing puzzler for both Xbox Live and the PSN Store. And while we’ve seen our fair share of games in this genre in recent years, Puddle has an elusive blend of simple controls, durable gameplay, and challenging problem solving that truly makes it stand out. More importantly, the game also features a courteous learning curve and profound presentation, as demonstrated by the opening ‘pseudo-tutorial’ stage.
With no instructions you are presented with a cup of coffee sitting on a table. After watching it a while, you start playing with buttons and eventually learn that the environment and surroundings can be rotated by the left and right trigger s. In doing so, you’ll notice that the liquid coffee will start to move, creating small waves splashing between the walls of the cup.
Eventually by rocking back and forth with a sense of rhythm, you’ll create enough momentum to free the hot caffeinated beverage from its ceramic prison and send it splashing to freedom below. This introduction is titled ‘Coffee Break’ and it demonstrates the subtle genius that permeates Puddle from start to finish.
This gameplay premise of transporting liquid safely to a goal as quickly as possible makes up all of Puddle. Fail to transport enough liquid and you’ll have to restart the stage. But it’s the execution and variety of this simple dynamic that keeps you coming back for more. As the levels progress, you’ll encounter numerous obstacles that will deplete or alter the state of your liquid, causing you to adjust and constantly problem-solve on your feet.
Even the type of liquid changes dramatically, from water, to a poisonous pesticide, to a thick liquid metal - each with their own unique properties. The physics for the various liquids are affected by speed, mass, friction, and gravity, just like their real-life counterparts. This even goes so far as to include the science behind these liquids, such as water having a boiling point and liquid metals having low melting temperatures.
Early on you’ll face furnaces which will boil your water, reducing the mass via evaporation and possibly preventing you from a successful completion of the level. But later on you’ll need these furnaces to keep your liquid metal fluid, else they will cool down, change viscosity and probably prevent you from reaching the end goal.
On top of temperature based riddles, players will also be navigating their ‘puddle’ past obstacles like gaps, other liquids, and plants, as well as exploring the inner workings of laboratories, sewers, power stations, and even a human body.
For when the game gets tricky (and it does), frustrating halts in gameplay and controllers thrown out the window are prevented thanks to ‘Whine and Skip’ tokens. Using a ‘whine’ allows you to bypass a stage and move on, however there are only a limited number to use and these do affect your online leaderboard scores. With enough patience, players should be able to prevail through Puddle’s 50 odd puzzles, but it is comforting to have these ‘free passes’ for when you’re close to ripping your hair out.
The game even features ‘boss fights’, which aren’t what you’d expect and to avoid spoiling them, we recommend you give this game a go for yourself. And no, they don’t involve drowning things with puddles. Throughout the game you’ll be rewarded for your efforts with one of three medals, cleverly named Au, Ag, or Cu (Gold, Silver, and Copper - for those who didn’t don’t remember high-school Chemistry.) Shiny medals aside however, most players will feel significantly rewarded by simply completing the progressively difficult puzzles.
Finally, Puddle also includes a fun, mad scientist-like ‘laboratory’ mode, where you can experiment with differing materials and obstacles from the game. The more gold medals you earn, the more items you can unlock to experiment with.
Overall, Puddle is beautifully simple but challenging, addictive, and guaranteed to work those cranial muscles thanks to the logic and scientific themes in every level. For 800 Microsoft points, it’s definitely worth a try if you’re a fan of physics-based puzzlers.