The puzzle focused platformer has become a bit of a favorite among the indie community in recent times. We have seen block puzzles, jumping puzzles, wind based puzzles and of course, physics based puzzles – which is what we are looking at today with Vessel.
Vessel is a puzzle based platformer from Strange Loop Games that mainly has you completing various liquid based physics puzzles. Obviously they mix things up a bit with different kinds of gizmos and gadgets, but the majority of puzzles involve you using liquid and these liquid based beings called fluros to hit switches to open doors and stuff like that.
You play the game as Arkwright, the inventor of the Fluro which are automatons that he created to work in his lab. You seem to have this odd obsession with your Fluro invention and how it will improve the entire world and you go about repairing factories to gather parts for you ultimate invention, the accelerator.
The entire thing takes place in a flashy looking steampunk environment. You go through your expected industrial factories, to a bio powered orchard, and pitch black mines where you have to manipulate light to find your way.
Now I said a little earlier that this was a liquid based puzzle game as opposed to just water and that is because you will be messing around with everything from the aforementioned water to molten lava, yeah, that sounds quite dangerous and later on in the game when you have lava based fluros running around, the game will get very challenging.
This game is not for people with short attention spans. It is hard hitting with its puzzles and they just get harder and harder as you go along and they just keep coming at you. There is really nothing else to this game. No mini-games, no action sequences, and no extended story sequences. The story is basically presented to you through the form of numerous journal entries. No cut scenes here, just you, the fluros, and the increasingly complicated puzzles as you go along.
There are things in the game that could be considered boss fights, but they aren’t really fights as much as they are just more dangerous puzzles. These sequences are about as close as you will get to anything you would expect out of a traditional puzzle out of this game.
The puzzles themselves are extremely well designed and as mentioned before, can get very challenging. If you are a puzzle junkie than you will love this aspect of the game as you solve the puzzles and get that moment of satisfaction that only figuring something out on your own can bring you.
What you won’t love though is the slippery and unrefined controls. The puzzles are hard enough to figure out and flying around and missing jumps due to poor controls doesn’t make them any easier. It certainly isn’t a deal breaker as the game has a very forgiving checkpoint system, but it’s an annoyance that is worth nothing.
The game also seems to want you to be exact when you are aiming water for example. You can be aiming a water cannon, go across a bunch of hazards, hit the switch, and have to go all the way back just because your water cannon was off by a pixel.
What makes a lot of the puzzles really enjoyable is that the game gives you plenty of toys to play around with aside from the various environmental switches. Early on in the game you get Fluro seeds which let you create a fluro anywhere as long as there is a supply of liquid. These seeds can also be used to attract a flow of water to follow a direction you want it to as they attract liquid through walls and various other objects. You also get the pressurized backpack which allows you to manipulate the use of water and other objects on your own without larger environmental machines.
Once you get these objects, that is when the real game begins. This allows for the puzzles to become truly challenging and these objects are even changing throughout the game giving you all kinds of options.
The seeds you get early on are just the tip of the iceberg as you will collect all kinds of them throughout the game. In addition to your basic water fluro seeds, you will get lava seeds, light seeds, and dark seeds, the latter of which can help you manipulate light and dark to direct the flow of fluro.
Your pressurized backpack is also fully upgradable and can carry all kinds of different liquids in addition to just water. You can upgrade your nozzles for wide spray, focused spray, and distance for example and you can also increase the carrying capacity of your tank.
Most of the environments in the game are industrial based, but the visuals themselves are quite sharp and have an appealing shine to them. Now, I don’t know if it was the physics engine or just poor optimizing, but this game had a tough time running on my machine. I had to make sure to turn the resolution and graphics down to get it to run smoothly. I don’t have the best machine in the world, but a 2D platformer shouldn’t be this taxing on your computer. It’s certainly something to keep in mind.
The sound design in this game is very well done. You are treated to all kinds of great industrial sound effects as well as great effects for flowing water, evaporating water, and combusing chemicals as you go along. It all sounds very impactful and just spinning a valve and hearing those clicks can make the whole experience a fun one.
The music is equally as good. You are treated to mostly atmospheric ambiance which goes from haunting melodies to soothing pianos. It all stays in the background and sometimes you forget it’s there, but the piano music can really help calm your frustration as a puzzle is wracking your brain into oblivion.
This was a tricky game to review. A lot of this game involves you getting sucked into the audio and visual experience as you work your brain to solve a puzzle and the game is a lot longer than you would think a game of this type would be. I would be lying if I didn’t mention that I looked up the solution to some puzzles just to make sure I got this review out in a timely fashion.
It was admittedly a frustrating undertaking but the brilliance of this game also shined through. If you are really into puzzle games and have an evening to grab a nice glass of hot tea, relax, and let yourself get sucked into this world you will have an experience you won’t soon forget. The puzzles are genius at times and the game gives you enough neat things to play around with that you won’t really get bored.
I view this as one of the better puzzle/platform games I have played and if you take my advice above and play this at a leisurely and deliberate place, I think you will love this. Check it out and remember to play with a gamepad. The keyboard makes the already slippery controls that much more awkward to deal with.