If you missed it, Neko Entertainment originally released Puddle earlier this year on the PS3 and 360 to moderate critical reception. The puzzle game had some charming graphics and interesting mechanics, and it’s approach to puzzle solving involved some ingenuity and quite a bit of brute force. The game’s tedious nature and tremendous difficulty spikes reared their ugly head a bit too often, however, and held it back from greatness.
Not to be discouraged, Neko has spent several months deliberating over what exactly would make Puddle a better experience, tweaking varying aspects of the game in order to better please its buyers. The fruits of their labor are found in this week’s Vita release of the game, but the question lingers: did they succeed in their efforts to improve Puddle?
Let’s start with the basics. In Puddle, you’ll be controlling various liquids in wildly different scenarios, trying to reach the specified goals. Whether you’re controlling a chalky substance clearing out indigestion in a human body, or an agent orange-like substance destroying forest life, the goal is almost always to lose as little of your fluid as possible. There’s always a meter in the top left showing you how much of your viscous mass is left, and if you dip below it, you’ll be starting the level all over again.
The game isn’t lacking in variety and, in general, ingenuity. I never felt once that I was going over the same old trick; this in part to the rapidly changing goals, as well as the constant evolution of “playable” liquids. If you don’t smile at some of the cool scenarios this team thought up, there’s probably something wrong with you.
You might be surprised by this, but the game has “boss fights.” While few and far between, these events are invigorating, and can get pretty tense as you’re trying to figure out how to escape or best the issue before the timer runs out. It’s always a pleasure when puzzle games mix things up like this, as evidenced by Portal, and again Puddle excels in making sure you don’t get bored.
The controls themselves that get you through all these events are some of the most simplistic in Vita gaming. All you’ll be doing is using either the shoulder buttons, touch screens, or analog sticks to “tilt” the screen, causing the fluid under your control to move. Really, that’s it. I found the touch screen controls to be far too imprecise for my liking, but it’s nice that the team utilized as many control options as possible.
As far as replay-ability goes, there’s really only two main factors: level rewards, and “whines.” If you’re obsessed with completion, you’ll find yourself obsessively trying to achieve a gold rating for each level, which proves early on to be quite difficult at times. “Whines” are what constitute as level skips; if you’re doing just terrible, you can whine your way out of it like a crybaby and skip that level. However, you only get four “whines” for all 50 levels; use them wisely, because you can only get them back by beating the level you failed to surpass.
Unfortunately, the actual game isn’t without it’s problems, even with the efforts the devs put in. The game can still become blindingly difficult at times, all due to varying factors. My biggest complaint is the physics of things; often, the game will have specific instructions on how to handle certain events, but the nature of the game is sporadic enough to make this a jumbled mess sometimes. For example, “move as slowly as you can” isn’t that great of a hint when you go sliding a thousand miles an hour right when you tilt.
In addition to this, I encountered quite a bit of slowdown in seemingly odd spots. One moment, a huge mess of things might happen with no trouble, but a few minutes later when I’m sliding about happily some unexplained freezing happens out of nowhere. Coupled with the often excruciating loading times for every level and even menus, you might find yourself waiting to actually play more often than you’d like. And, above all, the length of the game is still questionable; it wouldn’t be unreasonable for someone to fly through the whole thing in just a couple hours.
Still, to put it bluntly, the best version of Puddle is by far the Vita’s. And surprisingly, it’s not all due to the dev’s efforts to change the gameplay: the game is simply much better suited as a portable title. As I played through the Vita version I came to realize that, even if the team didn’t update the game, it’d still be notably better on the portable.
The game is a perfect fit for the Vita’s lacking digital titles, and the visuals pop tremendously on the OLED screen. Yeah, you might be sick of hearing that, but it’s impressive to say the least when a system is still wowing you with it’s graphical abilities this far after launch. According to Neko, the game runs at significantly better graphical standards than the Tegra 3 can pump out, so you can rub this in your friend’s faces who flaunt their phones and tell you the Vita’s useless– just don’t go comparing it to Gravity Rush or Uncharted: Golden Abyss.
Perhaps it’s a signal of stress relief, but the ability to just put my system into sleep mode or mess around with something else on my Vita for a while felt infinitely better than rage-quitting on the PS3. This is largely due to the puzzler’s level formats; while there are a significant amount of levels, none are intrusive on your time, lest you are failing them constantly. If so? Put the Vita to sleep and calm down for a minute!
While the changes the team made largely address the difficulty spikes of the game, and it’s unfortunate that certain bugs hold it back from playing flawlessly, the Vita release of Puddle is still a welcome title for the fledgling portable. At a fairly reasonable price, it provides some solid gameplay and some genuinely cool concepts, all the while improving upon some of the faults the original had. If you’re a fan of puzzle games, or are merely looking for a new Vita game to occupy your lonely memory card or your time for a few hours, you really can’t go wrong with giving Puddle a try.
Final Grade: B
- Puddle Hitting Vita Next Week, New & Improved