|System: Wii (WiiWare)|
|Dev: Curve Studios|
|Release: December 06, 2010|
|Screen Resolution: 480p|
by Steve Haske
Water is not something we pay much attention to in games. Weather effects are commonplace, so much so we expect them to be there and often complain when they're not. Water effects, too, are generally something that, as gamers who appreciate impressive graphical displays, will give us pause when playing a game, often to the point of actually stopping in our tracks for a moment when we see some watery display that's particularly impressive. Yet despite the fact that we take such a common element as water for granted in our games, there's clearly part of our collective psyche that always goes back to it. Even when it's not in the foreground, water has an endlessly recursive role in gaming. In part it's a marvel to witness a realistic digital recreation of something that can be so wildly unpredictable, fluid ,and at times even chaotic. Just think about, say, Sony's bathtub and fish tech demos for the PS2 and PS3, respectively, or how amazing it was the first time you saw the sheet rain bouncing off Snake on the deck of the tanker in MGS2, or even the water retention of Nate Drake's clothing in Uncharted. Though there are plenty of instances of water's incidental presence in games, few focus on it directly to any degree. Endless Ocean and Bioshock use water as a backdrop, either strictly purely as setting or as a thematic metaphor. Heavy Rain's water was both a plot device and an atmospheric technique to create mood. And then there's Hydrophobia, which acts as little more than a glorified tech demo for the HydroEngine's highly impressive water effects.
Imagine my surprise, then, on discovering Fluidity, an unassuming Wiiware platformer/puzzle hybrid where you control a sloshing body of water. Well, "control" isn't quite right—you actually tilt the game world and use gravity to control the flow of the water. Needless to say, it's an interesting concept.
Fluidity's premise is silly. Aquaticus, an enchanted book, has become overrun with black goo known as the Influence. However, as you might expect, the game's narrative, such as it is, is ancillary to the gameplay. In order to regain strength, Aquaticus tasks you, the gamer, with discovering rainbow drops, which are basically akin to collecting stars in Mario. This means that gameplay progression naturally works the same way as any classic platformer—the more rainbow drops you find, the more locked doors open up, allowing you to explore new areas. Fluidity's design is less like a traditional platformer and more like a game like the Wii's Boy and His Blob remake.
From the outset, you indirectly control your water, using the Wii-mote horizontally and tilting it left and right to do the same to the world. You can also make the water "jump" by giving the Wii-mote a quick downward shake. With these basic moves, it's up to you to funnel water through pipes; douse goo-slugs, whose intermittent flames can set things on fire; activate basic water-powered mechanisms like mills and rotating platforms; and the like. But the game doesn't stay easy. Not by a long shot. Soon you're given the ability to charge your water pressure, which allows you to consolidate all your water into a convenient ball, as well as clearing obstacles. Soon you'll be manipulating elongated streams to jump across gaps by way of mid-air consolidation, collecting water in reservoirs before shooting it out through nozzles in order to reach higher ground. Then the game throws another curve ball at you, introducing state changers, which turn your water into a block of ice (adding another layer to Fluidity's platforming design) or even a electrically-charged cloud.
The scenarios also get more complicated. What starts out with simple tasks like, say, dragging a cog along the surface of the water in order to activate a lift soon becomes much more involved, and often in ways that you wouldn't necessarily expect. For example, you may have to use the water to activate a series of mechanisms on two separate stories in order to pick up (insofar as floating something on a liquid surface constitutes picking something up) a couple of rubber ducks, which then must be transported to an overhanging bucket attached to sliding mechanism. Once the ducks are in the bucket, you must slide it over to where the bathtub is before activating the switch that will dump the rubber fowl—and your water—into the tub's basin. Fluidity's design really utilizes water in some surprising ways—there's even a pinball scenario, and a scene where you have help someone sneak into an Influence facility that's overrun with security cameras. Yes, that's right. Fluidity has stealth. Kind of strange for an innocuous-looking 2D Wiiware game, right?
What may be the coolest aspect of Fluidity, though, is Curve's wonderful art direction. At first glance, Fluidity's basic aesthetic may not look that exciting, but when you actually see the water sloshing around in action, it's a pretty cool sight. The cartoony style is reflected in the way that light and shadow move as the water is moved around, and when you see it jump, crash into a wall, or break over a series of rocks, the effect is all the more impressive because of its stylized approach. The levels of the game, chapters in Aquaticus, actually look like elaborate picture diagrams in a science textbook, complete with tiny-print informational blurbs on the pages. In any case, the effect is no less effective for all its subtlety.
As you get further into Fluidity, the game gets harder, but that shouldn't be a deterrent to playing such a fascinating title, particularly one that might just as easily be overlooked. It doesn't necessarily reach the loftily hardcore status of Super Meat Boy, but between the challenging design, great aesthetic and physics, and unique ideas, Wii owners in search of a challenge would do well to check this one out.
CCC Freelance Writer