Puddle Review (XBLA, PSN) -- Oozing Right Along

Neko Entertainment's puzzle platformer has its moments, but drowns in tiresome difficulty.

Know what's great?  When an independent game darling gets its time to shine in the spotlight thanks to a generous publisher.  We're seeing a lot more of these hit the gaming scene, and personally, I love it, though a little more advertising for said product wouldn't be a bad thing.  This time around, Konami has published Puddle, a 2010 Independent Gaming Award darling made by Neko Entertainment.  Just in playing it for a few minutes, you see where its appeal lies.  Unfortunately, it doesn't really let on how tough the journey gets until you really get into it.

So there's no genuine story here, you're just given control of the land, trying to tip water back and forth, out of a glass, into a series of pipes, over obstacles and past dangerous, drip-ending threats.  Think of it as LocoRoco, but without the quirky music or those annoying blobs that cry when they come into contact with, oh, anything dark.

What's really impressive about this game is what kind of liquid effects Neko Entertainment has literally poured into it.  Watching this water go back and forth is an amazing visual effect.  It reacts just like the real thing, splashing up against walls and breaking into blobs before touching and reforming itself.  It uses the utmost realistic physics imaginable, and reacts the same way the real thing would.  I could imagine that the developers sat around an aquarium a lot, just trying to get the splish-splash of it all just right.  It really does impress.

For that matter, so do the level designs.  They have kind of a kitsch science design about them, with moody, darkly-lit backgrounds in the later sections of the game, powerful lighting effects (the torches actually give off glowing effects, especially on your water as it streams by) and cool little environmental touches here and there, which remind you that you're not out of the woods yet.

What's more, the structure of each stage is interesting.  Not only does your environment change within each new challenge, but also the water itself.  You'll start out just trying to purify yourself after falling out of a coffee cup, but soon you'll move on to a more powerful liquid alloy, and in some cases, "rat water" (that's the kindest way I can put it), trying to get to the all-important exit with as much volume as you can muster.