Puddle preview: Liquid assets

Discovered among the demo units at Konami's pre-E3 event yesterday, sandwiched in between much less surprising titles like Burgertime: World Tour and Red Bull X-Fighters World Tour (with names as generic as their gameplay) was Puddle, an intriguing little game wrapped around a splashy concept.

The Konami rep running Puddle didn't have a lot of information on the game's origins, but a little Googling reveals something surprising: Puddle was a winner in the Independent Games Festival's Student Showcase at GDC 2010 earlier this year, put together by a team from the French school ENJMIN. The Konami display listed Neko Entertainment as the developer for the release on display, so presumably the French developer has hired those students to release the PC title (still available for download) on Xbox 360 and PS3.

The PS3 version is Move compatible (the Xbox version is controller-only, I was told), and that's how I played it. While the version on display was clearly still a work in progress, with most levels missing and lots of placeholder code in the UI, it was enough to see there's something special about this game.

On first glance, Puddle's very similar to WiiWare's Fludity; doubly so with the Move controller in hand. You still tilt a level to move around a limited amount of fluid, turning a 2D map on its side so that liquid can flow down, around, and through various cracks. But Fluidity was bright and colorful, and allowed you to control the liquid directly at times, clumping it up or jumping across gaps.

Puddle doesn't share any of those actions -- you feel much more like you're moving the world only, and leaving the liquid to follow the immutable laws of physics. Puddle's environments are much harsher and more realistic than Fluidity's, from an x-ray level of a human body to a stark scientific lab, and even a dirty industrial foundry to move and slide through.

And the gameplay itself is a little harsher. In the human body, you come across variously glowing receptors that can't be touched with your liquid, and red burning acid that will burn your charge apart. At one point, you've got to break through a gate, but you can do so only by dodging little yellow dangling tonsils moving up and down above you. It's a timing puzzle, and you've got to slide the liquid through -- enough to open the gate and make it to the next stomach-y chamber.

In the foundry level (later in the game) things get even more interesting. Your liquid starts out as molten lava, and instead of acid, you're dodging cold bursts of air that will mold and freeze you solid. But as you move through the various levers and platforms setting off switches, the liquid's very shape starts to darken and harden, molding it into a much more solid form. Only by reaching another pit of forge fire can you melt down again, ready to slide off and find the next checkpoint.

It's intriguing, and it doesn't hurt that the whole thing is wrapped in a very thick layer of science-y rhetoric: The medals that you get at the end of each stage are rated not in copper or gold, but in Cu and Au, and each stage has an appropriately scientific reference associated with it.

Puddle will be one to watch for -- if Konami's placement at the pre-E3 event is any indication, you'll probably have to look hard to find it when it does come out as a downloadable title later this year. But it may be worth the extra effort.