One thing I’m very excited about on Wii U is that we are finally—finally—
seeing Nintendo embrace third party support. While the Wii U isn’t getting all of the big cross-platform releases quite yet, the launch lineup and upcoming release schedule have far more than the GameCube or even Wii ever did early in their lifecycles. And it’s not just the big titles either; while we saw a steady trickle of indie content on WiiWare during that console’s waning years, Wii U is getting indie content right out of the gate, games that are releasing simultaneously on 360, PS3 and even Steam.
Case in point: Puddle, a physics-based puzzler developed by Neko Entertainment and published by Konami for…well, just about everything. Puddle is on platforms ranging from Mac OS X to PS Vita, but as always it’s Nintendo’s penchant for doing things differently—specifically the GamePad’s extra screen and motion controls—that could potentially set Wii U’s version of Puddle apart from all the others.
Puddle is a fluid based physics game. The concept is simple: guide a liquid through an obstacle course to an exit, while avoiding hazards and conserving as much of the liquid as possible. A meter in the top left of the screen indicates how much liquid you have left, with a marker to determine the bare minimum you need to finish the level. If you drop past the marker, it’s game over. You guide the liquid by tilting the playing field left or right, taking gravity and conservation of momentum into account.
The levels start out pretty basic, with normal fluids like coffee and water, and mundane hazards like hot surfaces that can vaporize said water. These levels act as a tutorial, teaching you how to build momentum while keeping all of your liquid in one puddle as opposed to scattered into several disparate droplets—easier said than done. Once you’re out of the tutorial, Puddle’s difficulty ramps up considerably, as you progress into new areas with more exotic fluids. Each set of levels—or environment, rather—lasts just long enough to get interesting without becoming tedious or wearing out its welcome.
The second environment appears to be a backyard, and you play the first section as a weed killer and the second section as liquid fertilizer. You’ll be killing off extraneous branches to progress and later on nurturing seeds into growing platforms. The third area is a laboratory setting; it starts out with you transporting flammable oil in a beaker, and ends with you delicately manipulating a puddle of nitroglycerin. As you might imagine, moving the nitro too fast will cause your entire puddle to explode, but at times you must use this property to (carefully) remove obstacles by sacrificing just a small fraction of your touchy combustible fluid.
The third area was my favorite. You start out mixing a cocktail which ends up in some guy’s digestive tract, where you must time peristalsis contractions and the opening of esophageal sphincters. Eventually this stage scales down to the circulatory system, where you guide what looks like radioactive dye by mimicking heart rate, shifting the controls back and forth to speed up or slow down the body’s pulse. You must also avoid syringes that threaten to suck you right out of the bloodstream. These levels weren’t nearly anatomically accurate but the concept was a lot of fun.
As you’d imagine, from there you end up in a sewer as…let’s call it biological residue, which has a thicker consistency…yeah. The later levels transition to a fragile snow globe, a pool of ink and even rocket fuel in zero gravity. The coolest part is that the art style changes for each new fluid—drastically. The water levels are pretty basic plumbing, but the backyard levels look like something out of Limbo, the digestion and blood levels are a grainy, glowing X-ray, and the ink levels look like colorful drafting blueprints. The in-game hints and messages change to fit the art style as well; I liked how the ones in the X-ray levels looked like notes scrawled in sharpie by an observing technician.
It’s impressive that Neko got so much mileage out of a simple concept, through innovative level design, easy controls and attractive art direction. That said, is the Wii U version superior to any of the rest? I suppose that depends on personal preference. The motion controls are a nice touch—tilting the GamePad left and right to move the liquid—but to be honest I was more comfortable with using the shoulder triggers or analog stick. Puddle doesn’t put a big emphasis on analog movement, so there isn’t much difference between gently tilting the GamePad and abruptly putting it on its side; how quickly and how long you tilt to the left or right seems to matter more than how gently you do it. Puddle can also be played entirely on the GamePad, and without any special modes or setup either, which seems to be the Wii U’s main defining advantage this early in its lifespan.
Other than that, Puddle plays pretty much the same on Wii U as it does on other platforms. I’d personally recommend the Wii U version over the other console ports just because it lets you play on the GamePad while someone else watches TV. The Wii U version is also a couple bucks cheaper than the other versions: $7.99 as opposed to $9.99 on PSN, XBLA and Steam. Puddle is a solid physics puzzler with a lot more content than you’d expect, lovely art direction and gameplay that feels just right as long as you know when to take a break now and then. If you enjoy games like Peggle, Mercury Meltdown and The Splatters, Puddle is a good addition to your growing Wii U library.