Review: Hydroventure (WiiWare)

A tidal wave of fun

WiiWare is no stranger to quirky, innovative games, with the platform delivering such wonderful titles as World of Goo, Lost Winds and the BIT.TRIP series. These titles all take full advantage of the Wii Remote, pairing novel gameplay concepts with smooth, accessible motion controls. Yet such stellar releases don't come along all too often, and WiiWare certainly has been offering up a considerable amount of dreck as of late. Thus Fluidity comes along at just the right time, promising to crack this latest gaming drought with a lovely shower of originality and controls that are as cool as ice.

In Fluidity, a dark inky substance called the Influence has infested the book world of Aquatica. With the help of an ancient magic, the player takes control over a fabled force said to have sealed away this evil hundreds of years in the past: water. As the only remaining drops of H2O, the player guides a body of the wet stuff over various puzzling 2D landscapes, collecting more drops to add to their pool while battling enemies and avoiding pits of lava and acid.

Tilting the controller right and left in turn tilts the game world, and gravity is used to turn objects, activate switches and control the water. At first you can only move side to side and jump, done by flicking the Remote upward, but as you explore more forms and abilities unlock, like the ability to turn into ice or steam.

The core mechanics of the game work very well, with surprisingly realistic water physics. Moving uphill takes momentum, water will seep through cracks in the ground and little droplets can leave your pool as you jump and splash about. Losing water is exactly what you don't want to do, though, as moisture that's left behind too long eventually evaporates into thin air, and if you lose all your water it's game over.

At first it's really easy to lose control of your pool, making for some frustrating moments of sending your water flowing over an edge or spilling off a platform. Soon enough, though, you gain your first ability, which lets you charge your water up into a ball. This is useful for keeping a tight pool, but also can't be used for too long or else you explode into tiny droplets that must be pooled together again. You can build up reserves by collecting the water balls scattered about the levels, and if you collect enough you get an extra life.

Progressing through the game is done by collecting Rainbow Drops, usually earned by solving an environmental puzzle, such as returning a fish to a bowl or setting a gear in place. Other times you'll meet inhabitants of the book world that ask you to do them favors, like putting out a fire. Some Rainbow Drops have been smashed into pieces, which must be collected to make it reappear, and there are lots of different ways to earn them, leaving you to explore the open-world maps at your own pace. This gives the game a familiar Metroidvania feel to it, as you'll be collecting new moves and abilities as you play and then revisiting past locations to gain access to more areas. The result is a nice, organic pace that tasks you with figuring out what areas are accessible with your current set of powers.

Once you've collected enough Rainbow Drops in a world, you unlock a door to the Influence's core. Here there are a set amount of enemies to be defeated, and once they are finished off the next world is unlocked. Enemies come in a variety of shapes and sizes, the most widespread of which are the slimes; these little critters sludge along on the ground and will periodically ignite, and to take them out you simply wash over them, timing your attack to avoid their flames. More enemies come about later in the game, and you'll have even more ways to take them out by then, liking turning into a rain cloud and zapping them with electricity. These new forms offer new puzzles too, keeping the gameplay fun and fresh. Soon you'll have to shift between various forms numerous times to solve the game's bigger brainteasers.

There's also a handy map to help you navigate, which shows unvisited locations and the drops you've yet to score, and the screen can be zoomed out during gameplay to give you a wider view of the room you're currently in. Oddly, though, if you hit a raindrop you've already collected, the game still congratulates you and sends you back to the beginning – while not a huge issue, it sometimes causes you to retrace the same areas due to a careless mistake. Thankfully there are several teleportation books scattered throughout the map that you can quickly travel between once discovered. The game worlds are pretty big, with each world's map spanning three pages, plus hidden areas and unlockable “playrooms”.

Playrooms are earned by collecting puzzle pieces, and serve as a welcome side quest to plodding through the main story, and are usually mini-levels that give the player a specific challenge to complete. The puzzle pieces are usually are pretty hard to find though, hidden behind walls or hanging in hard to reach places, and there are even hidden games to find in levels too, like a full-fledged pinball machine buried underground. These hidden extras make for some great replay value, and you'll want to revisit these worlds for quite some time even after defeating the Influence core.

That's not to say that the game isn't without its drawbacks. The biggest problem for potential players is likely the steep asking price: coming in at 1,200 Wii Points, Fluidity is one of the pricier games on WiiWare. Also, there are some unsavoury moments of camera confusion when your pool gets separated into two equal parts, the camera splitting the difference and hovering between them both, obscuring your view. Still, this only happens some of the time, and before long you'll be spending most of your time as other states than just water anyhow.

Conclusion

Fluidity is easily one of the more original games on WiiWare and comes with hours of replay value, a slick physics engine and spot on controls. The huge 2D maps are full of secret areas and unlockable extras, and the pacing of the game keeps the action from ever becoming too repetitive or dull. What starts off as a simple tilting affair soon evolves into some of the most refined gameplay mechanics ever slapped onto the Wii Remote. From simply directing the flow of a stream of water you'll soon be blasting through doors as a block of ice, launching off spirngboards and zapping enemies with bolts of lightning from a raincloud. Fluidity may come with a steep asking price, but it's an experience that shouldn't be missed.