If there’s one thing I’d love for more games to experiment with, it would be physics. For whatever reason, when a game incorporates realistic physics, whether it be for simple reasons (Oblivion and Skyrim) or as a basis for the entire game (Mercury Hg), it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Puddle seemed to be another fun outing into the world of physics, giving the player control of some sort of puddle of liquid and tasking him or her with sloshing around to the end of the level. Is Puddle worth a shot or should I think up a water-based pun for failure?
Puddle does have a lot going for it, from the start. Rather than controlling your puddle directly, you tilt the entire world around you with the left and right triggers. This affects more than the liquid itself, which provides some interesting puzzle opportunities. While the levels really don’t have any sort of logical flow from one to another (one level you’re flowing around as water, the next you’re some sort of green acid-ey… stuff), they do have a surprising amount of variety. For instance during one stage you control a blob of nitroglycerin, so you have to watch your speed and how much it gets jostled around, or risk the entire thing exploding in your face.
It’s depressing, then, how many glaring problems the game has that makes it so much less enjoyable than it should be. While the game throws some interesting ideas at you, sometimes it isn’t too obvious what the levels wants you to do. For instance, one level has you trapped in a boiler with switches at either side that activate a heater in the center that evaporates your water. After trying to keep as much water as you can flowing to the end of the level, would your first thought be to suddenly start disintegrating your water now? Additionally, many of the simpler, platforming-style levels are far too frustrating and require too precise of movements for the rather imprecise control scheme to continue being fun after the fifth retry or so, especially since the loading times are about thirty seconds apeice.
A more serious problem that I think should have been nailed during playtesting involves the “Restart Level” button in the pause menu. The first time I used it my Xbox popped up with a warning message that quitting the game may clear all unsaved data. O…kay. I’m just restarting the level, but thank you for the warning. Oddly enough, rather than restart the level, the entire game restarted. Later on, when I was about halfway through the game, I had to manually restart the level again. Sure enough, I was dumped back at the main menu, with one difference: all of my save data was gone. Not even a trace of it, as if I had booted up the game for the first time. This sort of thing isn’t even annoying; it’s inexcusable. Why would a game have something that not only so obviously works incorrectly, but could clear all user data as well?
Overall, Puddle has some really nice ideas, and I really want to like it. But having to start over from scratch due to a programming error, plus some of the borderline broken difficulty makes it really hard to enjoy.