brokenbrute's Puddle (Xbox 360 Games Store) review

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From a coffee cup to outa' space, you'll go everywhere in puddle

Puddle Review

Pros

+ Impressive gameplay variety

+ Original and creative level design

+ Amazing fluid simulation

+ Loads of replay value

Cons

- No tutorial or guidance

- Poor sound and music

- Can be unbelievably frustrating

Originally designed by students at ENJMIN, France, Puddle won the Student Showcase Award at the International Games Festival in 2010. This indie puzzler sees you guiding all manner fluids by tilting the world, from the content of a humble beaker to rocket fuel in the darkest reaches of space, and back again. It's truly impressive to see the level of scope and variety that Team Puddle and Neko Entertainment have cultivated from such a simple concept.

Puddle takes influence from many places, there's the fluid motion of Mercury, (though on a 2D plane) and elements of LocoRoco, combined with a quaint and personality infused art style similar to World of Goo. This creates is a game which looks cute and sweet though is more than difficult enough to make grown men shriek like children, and their throw controls in frustration. Though, due to gameplay which at heart is simple and elegant, and a hint of badgering from the game you'll pick up the controller, and try again, and become completely addicted.

Sure, you'll find yourself failing, a lot! The game even displays how many times it's bested you on that level, though, through some unexplainable urge you'll want to carry on, allowing you to skip two levels at a time (a mechanic jokingly called 'Whine and Skip') helps prevent tedium setting in. Finally completing a level, be it after the 2nd, or 80th attempt feels satisfying every single time, sure Puddle is frustratingly hard in places, it's a game where unless you take a break you'll end up kicking the cat or throwing the controller (again). At no point does it feel as though your being cheated, as though the developers have given you a task that can only be completed by pressing a magnifying glass to the screen and counting the number of pixels between yourself and the exit. Intentionally or not Team Puddle has created a perfect game to play with friends - so you can pass the controller between each other - its almost cathartic to watch a friend fail in new and exciting ways, and then pass on the controls when the difficulty becomes too intense.

Puddle is broken up into chapters, each demonstrating new mechanics. It almost feels as if Puddle is a selection of mini-games with a constant thread, variety which manages to be simultaneously refreshing - making every puzzle feel genuinely new - though also slightly scrappy. Puddle makes it hard to get a feeling for one facet before you move onto another, though admittedly uncommon to say, Puddle would benefit from less mechanics but more time to interact with each.

With new mechanics comes new wonders at every turn, there aren't individual set piece moments, instead every level feels as though it was hand crafted to awe. One example, in the early stages you control a fluid swallowed by a scientist, from there you'll spend the next 5 levels navigating around his gut, trying not to stimulate is gag-reflex and be violently expelled.

Whether your inside a gut or controlling the fluid within a snow-globe (the game has both and pretty much everything in-between) the fluid animation is perfect, to a point where it's almost impossible to draw a comparison other than to that of particle simulation. The 'puddle' flows, has momentum, separates and concertinas, all of which the camera handles remarkably well.

If anything, due to the wonder and excitement that Puddle provides its difficult to find fault that doesn't seem completely irrelevant. Admittedly, in places the music and sound design is worryingly close to someone finding the sound effects buttons on a MIDI keyboard for the first time. Also when the game starts the player is completely left without instruction, which could be solved by a simple tooltip explaining that you tilt the world with the triggers, the entire game has an aversion to explanation, instead providing context through its visuals.

Puddle's late January release means that for many it's slipped through the metaphorical net and a lack of publicity from its publisher (Konami) certainly hasn't helped. It's such a shame that Puddle - which provides hours of replay value along with the 8 hour campaign and 'playpen' laboratory mode - has passed under the radar for many. With beautifully engineered gameplay, and animation combined with just the right level of the bizarre, Puddle continues to show that indie games are filling the creative space which the larger titles have left behind.

Puddle supports PS Move and Sixaxis and will come to the PS Vita some time this year. Currently on PSN and XBLA.

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