This game made my brain hurt.
But whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing depends on what kind of game it is, and what triggered the hurt. If a sports game makes your brain hurt, that’s probably not a good thing! On the other hand, if it’s a puzzle game, it’s probably part of the fun…as long as it doesn’t hurt so much you give up.
And that’s what we have here, a cute looking puzzler by LockPickle: Puddle Knights, available now on Steam for $12.99. This is a game that most certainly does feature puddles, and knights, and in some of the most unlikely places as luck would have it. Let’s jump in to some puddles – or better yet, jump into the review!
The story behind Puddle Knights is a simple one, which the game conveniently presents to us on one screen that you can see above. Then the game begins. It’s your job to direct these ladies and bishops across dozens of levels, with the help of some dashing young knights with stylish – and often long – capes.
This game keeps everything simple, from the story to the controls and everything else, so you can stay focused on the puzzle solving. In this case, while the premise is very simple (and perhaps a bit ridiculous in a funny way) it’s a good thing. Everything outside of the actual puzzles themselves is rooted in simplicity and it works in the game’s favor not to have a more detailed story. Who are these ladies and knights and bishops? Who knows, but it’s not important. All that’s important is they get to that hygiene conference clean, no matter how long it takes (Who cares that toothpaste and showers haven’t been invented yet)! Some players might have wanted some cutscenes or a more elaborate story, but this is case where I think less is actually more.
A Hop, Skip, and Rip
The gameplay in Puddle Knights is quite simple. Most puzzles take place on a single screen. Press the spacebar to switch between the characters on screen, move them from one tile to another with the arrow keys and, when the lady or bishop gets to the glowing warp tile, you clear the level. Sounds easy, right? Well, yes and no. The controls are easy, but the puzzles on the other hand….
They start off easy enough. First is the lady or bishop. They can only walk on clean ground tiles. But you’ll find spaces that are full of mud, and they will refuse to walk on them, as if they were lava. That’s where the Puddle Knights come in. They (usually) have long capes, and can drape them over the mud tiles so the ladies or bishops can walk over the mud without getting dirty. So you have to switch between all the characters in the level, moving the knights but also being aware of where their multi-segment capes end up, to get the lady or bishop to the goal.
The puzzles are divided up into worlds with different environments. Each new world introduces more mechanics, which are the feature of most levels in that world. Things get very tricky very quickly! You start with just one knight and it’s easy enough, but then you have two, then you start having to tear pieces off of the capes, deal with drawbridges, and even stack characters on top of each other, among other things. Optional advanced levels change things up more with things like metal capes that can’t be torn yet still otherwise act like regular fabric capes.
This is puzzle solving at its finest – simple moves, but you must uncover a complex pattern to solve them. The game kind of reminds me of some classic early puzzle games like Sokoban. You have to be careful not to box yourself into a corner or you’ll have to undo some moves or reset the level. The game has a solid difficulty gradient; the puzzles gradually get trickier and trickier as you go, a mark of a good puzzle game. I think I’m pretty smart, and by world three, I found myself staring at some of the levels for a pretty long time, repeating the same moves a lot while trying to find a solution. This game will eventually stump you, so fair warning!
My main issue with the gameplay (beyond getting stumped on quite a few levels) was minor: Some of the rules are not fully intuitive, at least at first. For example, if one knight stands on the cape of another, and then that other knight moves, the cape will rip, leaving part of it behind where the knight was standing on it. The part that didn’t make sense to me is that only the knights can do this; if a lady or bishop stands on a knight’s cape, the knight can’t move at all unless he or she steps off of it. (I suppose they aren’t heavy enough, as they can stand on unsupported cape segments in the air as in the screenshot above…) There are a few other nuances I didn’t quite get at first, but it was more fun figuring those out. This was really minor, and once you figure out you can’t do it, it’s fine, it was just the one thing that didn’t fully make sense to me.
The graphics in this game are very simple, and it will run on a very low end machine by today’s standards. But the graphics are simple in a very good way. The characters and environments are both cute and charming, but they’re also very clean (Like a lady after a completed level!) and so they generally don’t distract you from or get in the way of your goal (though in rare cases, height differences can be a bit tricky to judge)
The sound and music are equally simple. Standard grunts, ‘mm-mm’s, and ‘nope’s from the characters, and some nice, soft, very chillax-styled music in the background. Each track is made for the theme of the world it’s in and, in all cases, it’s good music for thinking, being relatively slow and gentle.
All of this fits together almost perfectly and creates just the right mood and atmosphere. There’s really not much else to say – the audiovisual experience does everything it’s supposed to do and does it exceptionally well. I have to commend the LockPickle team for a job well done here.
Onto the Goal Tile
Everything about Puddle Knights is very polished and refined. No bugs or problems to speak of, just fun puzzles to solve. It was a really fun experience and makes you think in a good way. There’s nothing like staring at a stage for a while and then having the solution eventually jump out at you in a “Eureka!” moment. All told, the game offers a very satisfying experience that is pretty well worth the cost of entry.
Really, the only bad thing I can say about this game is the missed opportunity to have a level editor so you can create puzzles to stump your friends. That would have given this game the only thing it needs more of: replay value. Once you’re done, you’re done, so an editor would have given a big reason to come back. But this game isn’t about the destination, it’s about the journey, and it’s one journey I can definitely still recommend.
Review copy provided by LockPickle for PC. Screenshots taken by reviewer.