When I was a lad I took GCSE and A-Level Physics. GCSE Physics was fun, dropping stuff from heights, mucking about with magnets, maybe making a paper plane? I may have been drunk for that lesson. Afterwards, a short report and you're done. Then, when you turn up for your first A-Level lesson, a tyrant called Roger Muncaster hits you in the face with his book and your brain instantly melts from the sheer theoretical tedium of it all. This is a bit like playing Puddle.
Puddle is a member of that relatively new genre, the fluid physics game, that has you manipulating some kind of liquid be it coffee, water, mercury, fertilizer, TNT, and even some bodily fluids (no, not that one). The aim is to navigate from your starting point to another point while avoiding various things that will reduce your amount of remaining fluid to zero; there is also a clock running, and both factors are taken into account when awarding you gold, silver or copper medals at the end of the level, which are "cleverly" designated by their periodic table symbol.
Levels are mostly quite short, but if get below a certain amount of fluid remaining and you have to go back to the start. If you find a level particularly intractable you can simply use a "whine" and skip to the next level, all levels can be re-played to improve scores or reclaim a "whine". You probably won't want to do this, unless you are insane.
The controls are simply tilting left and right, by default using the GamePad motion controls. This is where the problems begin; the world tips quite slowly, and not 1:1 with your movements. The range of tip is also limited, so you may spend the first minutes tipping your gamepad to 90 degrees and wondering why the damn thing is only doing about 30 degrees on the screen. A quick journey into the options reveals that the analog stick is an optional control method; engaging this asap make the controls instantly more natural.
You kick off by tipping over a cup of coffee, although it looks more like diarrhea. Fortunately you quickly move on to water. The slow tilting is still there however, and the fluid physics are rather slow moving too; there is nothing going on graphically that a DS wouldn't be capable of so I assume this is a conscious decision based around playability. Water does not move this slow in real life. The glacial pace of the gameplay doesn't always save you from dropping your entire load into some fire or something that you just didn't see and had too much momentum to stop yourself from hitting. And so you start again. Or maybe you just breeze through straight away. The difficulty level is hardly that lovely smooth gradient that we would prefer, but to me this is just par for the course with all but the very best physics-based gameplay.
As you chart the course of your blob of fluid through its various guises you have plenty of time to realise how little fun you're having. Whilst there is some inspiration in the types of level on offer, the level design itself is entirely uninspired, sometimes repeating sections just to make each level a little longer. A bit like re-doing that Physics homework that you fucked up the first time. Later levels introduce props and slight variations on the behaviour of your blob or on the control mechanics, but the same overly simplistic level design and slow moving physics are the basic characteristics throughout.
It's very easy for me to sit here and write about what a good game is. A good game makes you feel cool, like you just pulled off something difficult or did something with some style. Balancing the difficulty level in a physics-based game must be quite difficult, but anyone who has played competing products such as Hydroventure (aka Fluidity) will know that this genre of game can be a lot of fun, but that needs the developers to consider including fun in the first place, and I don't really think that happened here. Fundamentally the game is too slow and nothing particularly interesting happens during that time. This is about as much fun as an A-Level Physics lesson on the theory of the algebraic concept of fields. Must try harder.
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