If a video game kept seeming better and more delightful the more you played it but then it's final chapter was virtual water torture, could you say you liked the game? Damn the ending. Fluidity is a nutty winner.
Fluidity is a downloadable Wii game whose creators bravely thought you might have fun controlling a sloshing pool of water in levels set in the pages of what looks like a science textbook. These bold game makers figured you'd also be thrilled to upgrade that awesome pool of water into... form of an ice cube! And then! Become a cloud! Curve Studios' creation is essentially a series of sidescrolling platforming challenges designed with the properties of H2O in mind, built on a structure that resembles the one in Super Mario 64. And the game is hard.
Patient fans of Super Meat Boy and other tough modern side-scrollers. Fans of Sony's LocoRoco or the iPhone's Rolando who want to see the Wii's tilt-based riff on the same blob-rolling and blob-bouncing. Also: fans of water and fans of excellent art design.
It's a downloadable game that's worth your time on the Wii. There haven't been a ton of those this year. Oh, and Nintendo officially classifies the game as "hydro action," which is the kind of absurd genre labeling that makes me care.
You control water? That's fun? Yeah. Holding the Wii Remote at its short ends, you tilt left or right to tilt the book — the Aquaticus — whose pages have been infected by dark goop. You hoist the Remote to make the water jump. The levels are full of jumps, lava, poison clouds and other hazards that might cut your pool in half and put you close to life-losing dissipation. Essentially, you're running and jumping but in another form. Thanks to smart level design, the "running" and "jumping" is fun. Once you can change into slippery ice or gain the ability to attack enemies as a lightning cloud — or earn a bunch of other abilities — you have to think a lot about which moves to use. I liked the tactical variety.
And there's a stealth action sequence, right? How did you guess? Yes there is a stealth action sequence. And a fire-engine sequence, a basketball level, a pinball challenge and a lot of other unexpected permutations of what I thought was going to be just a simple hydro action side-scroller. The surprises in level design are excellent.
Seriously, stealth action in Fluidity. It's like Splinter Cell in this one level, if Sam Fisher had a puddle as a sidekick. I'll prove it to you right here.
But the game became too hard? It did. The game is tough throughout, but near the end it broke me. I've never understood why many game developers make the ends of their games so hard. I prefer grand finales to frustrating ones, and I don't mind if a game's ending is as unchallenging but spectacular. See: Super Metroid or Gears of War 2. I do mind when a game, like Super Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door or Fluidity here, is so tough that I eventually give up on finishing it. The problem wasn't just that a few of the jumps required in the game's final goop-clearing boss stage are tough. The problem is that, after each failed attempt, the developers inexplicably force you to replay more than five minutes of complex gameplay before you try it again. And when you lose your four or so lives, you get to re-play at least 20 minutes of gameplay to try again. Infuriating.
That end-game difficulty didn't ruin the rest of the game, though? No. Fluidity is structured like Super Mario 64. You travel its levels looking for hidden collectibles that unlock new levels. Getting a rainbow drop in Fluidity is like getting a star in Mario 64. It's a satisfying victory over some tricky challenge and it boots you back to one of the hubs of the game so you can venture toward the next obstacle course. Collecting enough drops unlocks new pages in the game's four themed chapters and eventually new chapters. i don't' care that I didn't clear that last level; there are plenty of other rainbow drops within my watery grasp.
So if I don't mind a tough game, I will enjoy Fluidity? Probably. The art design is wonderful. I was delighted to discover each new panel of the game's book world and found the contents within always charming. Controls and camera problems were a little annoying, though. I'm no fan of being required to hoist the Wii remote to jump. It's an imprecise action that the Wii tech often mis-reads, a problem when the game sometimes needs you to make jumps at just the right time. I also noticed that the game's camera sometimes got confused if my pool of water got split. In theory, I should retain control of just one part of that pool, but sometimes the camera focused on the other part — the part I could no longer control. Not a deal-breaker, but vexing when it happened a few times.
Fluidity is a very good game and deserves to be considered alongside Donkey Kong Country Returns, Kirby's Epic Yarn and Super Meat Boy as one of 2010's most interesting and well-made side-scrollers in a year surprisingly rich in games of that older style. It suffers from an archaic flaw — the intensifying of its own difficulty due to forcing the player to re-play significant chunks of levels they can pass easily just to get back to that one tough jump. If you don't mind maybe not being able to finish the game, though, Fluidity has many hours of clever, attractive levels. The game was wonderful, when it wasn't making me angry.
Fluidity was developed by Curve Studios and published by Nintendo for the Wii's download service, WiiWare, released on December 6. Retails for $12. A copy of the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Obtained 56 rainbow drops, 22 puzzle pieces and am at peace with not having cleared the final boss level. Really, I am. It doesn't bother me at all. Nope. All those hours I spent trying to do it, not a problem. Uh-uh.