Review: Hydroventure: Spin Cycle (3DS eShop)

Water way to go

2010 WiiWare title Hydroventure (or Fluidity as it was known in North America) was a fine example of how to harness the unique properties of a console’s hardware to deliver a refreshingly original experience. The water-based gameplay was accentuated by clever puzzles and hidden collectables, making it one of WiiWare’s undisputed highlights. The talented guys and gals at UK-based Curve Studios are back with this portable sequel, and while it replicates a great deal of what made its predecessor so compelling, it has enough of its own charm to make it a must-have download for 3DS owners.

The biggest change in Hydroventure: Spin Cycle is the more robust storyline; this time around, there are lush 2D cutscenes which establish just why you’re controlling a puddle of water and how you’ve become trapped inside a series of dusty books. Your character also has a name (Eddy, in case you were wondering) and a face this time around, although his physical form is only manifested at the start and end of each level — for the rest of the time, your avatar is just a mass of liquid, just as was the case in the previous title. Tasked with rescuing the Rainbow Spirits entrapped through each weighty tome, Eddy must negotiate through narrow passages, solve brain-bending puzzles, deal with deadly ooze-like enemies and utilise the special abilities he learns along the way.

Hydroventure uses the 3DS’ motion controls to influence Eddy’s movements within the game world. Tip the console to the left or right and Eddy’s watery form slides in that direction. Jumping is also possible by tapping the shoulder buttons, and you can also pull together all of Eddy’s droplets into one large ball of water. In this form, an explosion can be unleashed that destroys parts of the environment, opening up passageways or triggering events to help solve the many conundrums laid in your path. These two functions — as well as the flipping of switches and other peripheral abilities — are mapped to the 3DS touchscreen, which means you’ll need to keep both thumbs free during play.

The controls throw up what is possibly the only major fault you can level at Hydroventure: Spin Cycle: the occasionally awkward nature of its multi-faceted interface. Although some levels only require you to tilt your console from side to side, others feature a full 360 degrees of rotation — considering the design of the 3DS itself, the inherent issues should be abundantly clear. Unlike a tablet device — which presents itself as a single flat piece of tech and is easy to manipulate with two hands — the 3DS is hinged in the middle and turning it rapidly isn’t as easy as you might assume. Also, the placement of the Select, Home and Start buttons on the 3DS XL can cause headaches; we lost count of the number of times we suspended the game by accidentally brushing the Home button during a rotation move. The volume slider is also prone to unintentional contact, something which isn’t game-breaking but can prove to be a distraction during play.

Of course, there’s little Curve Studios could reasonably do about this problem — the design of the 3DS was set in stone long before Hydroventure: Spin Cycle commenced development. And besides, once you’ve become accustomed to the controls you learn to avoid touching the wrong parts of the console during play. Given the interface hiccups and their relation to the shape of the 3DS itself, it wouldn’t surprise us one bit if Curve is currently preparing a version for iOS or Android, but the way in which the game uses the console's physical inputs — such as the shoulder triggers, circle pad and touchscreen — means that Hydroventure: Spin Cycle remains a title crafted with the 3DS firmly in mind, despite the niggles.

Control concerns aside, Hydroventure: Spin Cycle treads a very similar path to its forerunner. Eddy can collect blobs of water to replenish any he loses along the way, and there are hidden puzzle pieces in each stage that unlock “Playroom” mini-games, which serve as a welcome respite from the taxing main quest. The game is set across four distinct worlds (represented by novels, each with a central theme) comprised of sub-stages. As you move through the game, the complexity of these stages increases dramatically, and the tougher challenges can take several minutes of solid play to overcome. Each level is set against a time limit, with a bonus awarded at the conclusion should you manage to reach the Rainbow Sprite with time still on the clock. Complete the stage with plenty of spare water blobs and a fully-formed Eddy, and you’ll be well on your way to earning a coveted five-star rating for that particular level.

What makes Hydroventure: Spin Cycle so remarkable is the way in which the developers pull everything together to create fiendish puzzles that appear insurmountable until you unlock the solution — at which point the wonderfully simple logic behind their design never fails to raise a smile. Eddy is blessed with a surprisingly diverse range of abilities, including the power to transform into a block of ice or a cloud of steam at predetermined points. These skills allow for ever more complicated brain teasers, extending the scope of the game immeasurably. Considering the sheer number of stages, Curve has done a commendable job on maintaining the quality all the way through; even those stages that take mere seconds to finish are actually more taxing than you think, especially if you wish to find all of the puzzle pieces, beat the time limit and bag that elusive five-star ranking. To cap it all, tricky boss fights at the conclusion of each book add even more spice to proceedings, calling for fast reflexes as well as quick thinking.

Visually, Hydroventure: Spin Cycle marks a significant improvement over its WiiWare ancestor. The environments are particularly noteworthy; they’re bursting with incidental details and animation, and boast an impressive degree of depth — something made all the more remarkable when you consider that the game doesn’t utilise the 3DS’ autostereoscopic abilities. Curve has wisely kept this a 2D-only affair, no doubt because the constant rotation of the console would break the 3D effect so often it would essentially be rendered pointless. The audio is similarly effective, although its presence is more subtle than the eye-catching graphics. The music tracks that accompany each stage are lighthearted and enjoyable rather than infectious, which isn’t a bad thing — they suit the action perfectly, and don’t distract from on-screen events.

If you wanted to be particularly mean, you could point out that a lot of content in Hydroventure: Spin Cycle is lifted wholesale from its forerunner; it has similar enemies, abilities and level concepts. It feels very much like an enhancement than an entirely fresh take on the concept, which is nothing to be sniffed at — Curve has done a fantastic job of making what was already a highly appealing piece of software even more accessible, immediate and engaging. Although some of the ideas showcased here are found in the WiiWare original, the way in which they are presented and factored into the core gameplay is so effective you could also believe that Nintendo was responsible for the game’s creation — and that’s just about the highest compliment one can pay when praising game design.

Conclusion

Hydroventure: Spin Cycle’s control issues can’t be ignored — there’s little doubt that the levels which require you to rotate the 3DS console through a full 360 degrees would be better suited to a tablet-style device, and these are responsible for the only genuine moments of annoyance you’ll encounter with this game. Given the near-perfect structure, constant challenge, top-notch presentation and incredible longevity (finding all those puzzle pieces and getting five-star ratings on every level are pursuits that will take months), you’ll quickly learn to live with any lingering interface complaints.

The 3DS eShop is home to some truly amazing titles, and Hydroventure: Spin Cycle is another upstanding addition to that stellar selection. It successfully builds on the foundations laid down by its WiiWare parent and delivers a physics-based puzzle experience which challenges the very best the genre has to offer.

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