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[Note: Fluidity: Spin Cycle goes by the name Hydroventure: Spin Cycle on the European eShop.]
I hear you asking yourself, “Can sloshing around as a small puddle of water really be any fun?” Short answer: Yes, it can. And since you’re talking to yourself you are obviously understimulated and in need of a good puzzle-platformer — like Fluidity: Spin Cycle — so this works out nicely.
Those of you who played Curve Studios’ first foray into water based puzzles, Fluidity, on WiiWare back in 2010 will feel instantly at home in Spin Cycle, even though certain changes have been made to better suit the handheld format. As opposed to the original game, which featured four huge, sprawling levels that the player was free to explore in an open-ended way, Spin Cycle gives you four different worlds with fifteen smaller levels each, that you beat in an entirely linear fashion. Fans of the old game’s Metroid-like progression might feel that this is a step back, but having the game cut up into bite sized challenges makes it work much better for quick sessions on the go, and the core gameplay thankfully remains the same.
You, the epitome of wetness, traverse side-scrolling, puzzle-ridden environments in order to reach the Rainbow Spirits who have been imprisoned by the malevolent, black Goop. Initially this is easy enough to accomplish, with levels being little more than a matter of successfully pouring your pool of water from one end of the level to the other, but as you gain more abilities the complexity of the levels increases. Starting out you only need to worry about escorting stray cogwheels back to their door-opening mechanisms to advance, but before long you will need to capitalize on your ability to switch between the three states of water.
You might have to freeze yourself into a solid block of ice to weigh down switches or destroy walls, or vaporize into a fluffy cloud in order to rain down on remote water wheels or get machines running by striking them with bolts of lightning. The system is quite self-explanatory, yet still deep and varied enough for you to feel good about yourself when you figure something out, especially later on. The puzzles aren’t the only thing you need to think about, though; blobs of Goop populate the levels, and will reduce your precious body of water to nothing if you let them. Finishing them off is just a matter of drowning, freezing or electrocuting them when they let their guard down, but their strategic placements and your fleeting, often liquid nature will make you hunt down drops of water for health replenishment every so often.
Controlling the game is intuitive and precise enough overall, but not without its kinks. Basic movement is handled by simply leaning your 3DS left or right, causing the entire game world to tilt. The handheld’s gyroscope is sensitive enough for this to work as good as flawlessly, and the feeling of actually pouring yourself around is strangely rewarding. Context-sensitive actions, like opening doors or gathering your water is done by either pressing the A- and B-buttons, or two button-shaped fields on the touch screen, essentially being stand-ins for the physical buttons in case you’re afraid of wearing them down. The problem here is that there are situations in which you are forced to use the touch screen no matter what you prefer. As soon as you want to transform into another state, you will be forced to use the touch screen to select your form, which can be a bit distracting as it will require you to look away from the top screen, and will make you change your grip in case you prefer using the buttons.
The game’s biggest issue, however, is its most advertised feature: The full-rotation puzzles. Certain levels in the game allow you to rotate your 3DS a full 360 degrees, which on one hand makes for some very creative and fun challenges, but also for some unnecessary frustrations. While the innards of the hardware can handle this sort of thing just fine, the outer shell of the system was simply not designed to be used as a controller while being rotated back and forth, something I was soon reminded of. After having put a couple of thumb prints on the top screen, accidentally rendered myself half deaf by sliding up the volume to the max, and performed some type of grappling move on myself while trying to reach the touch screen, I resorted to tilting the system forwards and backwards instead of actually rotating it. This only made me look slightly less like a monkey trying to understand how the little men got inside the videogame, but made manoeuvring easy enough to be tolerable.
The full-rotation levels are also slightly weaker than the regular ones when it comes to the presentational side of things. Where the full-rotation challenges are limited to dark, purple-heavy visuals with only trace amounts of their respective worlds’ themes, the regular ones are bright, colourful and brimming with detail. Taking inspiration from children’s story books, Curve Studios have created a vivid and imaginative game world that is not only pleasant to look at, but also helps give the missions some extra variety. Before the game is over you will have helped a maintenance droid water his plants, raided a dragon’s treasure chamber, infiltrated a mysterious facility alongside a secret agent, and much more. Exploring levels like these are an absolute delight, and you’ll find yourself eager to see what the next one might look like.
The soundtrack is equally playful, and does a good job of maintaining an appropriate atmosphere. It shares the general style with the first game in the series, with airy melodies hovering over bouncy basslines, but also takes an extra step towards meshing with the visual designs. The ancient jungle temples of the first world are accompanied by pan flute and wooden percussion, and the futuristic space levels play synthesizer tunes with a hint of German electronica group Kraftwerk in the background. It’s always catchy enough to be likeable, but doesn’t stand out to the extent that it becomes distracting when you try to piece a solution together.
Fluidity: Spin Cycle is a very enjoyable puzzle game, and a worthy sequel to the original. It may not share the freedom of exploration with its predecessor, but makes up for that with a ranking system judging you by the amount of water gathered and time spent playing, which is sure to keep you coming back to perfect your efforts. You can also seek out all the golden puzzle pieces hidden inside the levels to unlock four bonus playrooms, where you can practice certain special abilities and shoot for high-scores. Finding the puzzle pieces is only as hard as locating a telltale crack in a wall most of the time, but the playrooms themselves should expand the playtime by an hour or two, for those who are addicted to replacing high scores with even higher scores. Those who aim to beat the game, and unlock all of the playrooms can look forward to about 15 hours of gameplay, which is a decent value for the asking price.
Fans of the original, gamers fond of solving puzzles, and people who want a new conversation topic for the next time they talk to themselves should definitely check this one out.