We play through Vessel, the liquid-physics platformer from indie developer Strange Loop Games, and see if its devious puzzles sink or swim.Ozzie Mejia
March 8, 2012 3:30 PM3
There’s no greater feeling of satisfaction than the “Aha!” moment that comes from solving a particularly excruciating puzzle. And that moment often happens after a prolonged bout of pensive thought. The best puzzle games are full of these moments and Vessel is no exception.
Vessel puts players in the role of a brilliant scientist named M. Arkwright. Arkwright’s greatest invention is the liquid automatons known as the Fluros. One day, chaos rises in Arkwright’s factory as the Fluros start causing trouble. The player is tasked with navigating around Arkwright’s world to find the cause of the Fluros’ sudden change in behavior.
I quickly found myself awestruck with Vessel’s Steampunk world. Arkwright’s entire factory is based on steam engines, pipes, pumps, and conveyor belts, leading to some interesting and tricky scenarios. The Steampunk backdrop isn’t solely used as flashy window dressing, but proves to be a major contributor to the puzzles used in the game.
The bulk of Vessel’s puzzles involve playing around with dozens of Rube Goldberg-inspired machines that fill Arkwright’s factory and surrounding world. The key to solving many of these puzzles involve using the Fluros in conjunction with the scientist’s trusty water cannon. Later puzzles throw in additional mechanics like lava, steam, and additional varieties of Fluros. Arkwright has a restrictive inventory, consisting solely of Fluro seeds (just add water!) and the aforementioned water cannon, but the ways to solve each puzzle are numerous.
It’s also refreshing to see plenty of variety in each puzzle, thanks to the different mechanics introduced throughout the game. I didn’t feel like I was doing the same thing repeatedly and that went a long way towards motivating me to stick with some of the more difficult puzzles near the end of the game.
That brings me back to the notion of the “Aha!” moment. It’s easy to get intimidated by some of Vessel’s later puzzles, some of which require dozens of steps and moving parts to complete. Since the game doesn’t offer any explicit hints, some might be tempted to walk away. However, doing so would mean forsaking the great sense of accomplishment that comes with completing the most mind-bending portions of the game.
Vessel’s puzzles are a treat, but what has left a long-lasting impression on me are the Fluros. Throughout the game, the Fluros prove themselves to be endearingly charming. Sure, they’re wreaking havoc and causing a lot of trouble, but Arkwright’s journal attributes this to nature, rather than any sense of intentional malice. Take the drinker-variety of Fluro, for example. They come in two different colors and explode whenever they run into each other, leading to some hairy sequences later in the game. The way that they gleefully skip towards the nearest source of water makes it hard not to be charmed by their apparent innocence.
Vessel is a tremendously entertaining 2D puzzle game. The campaign is a lengthy 10-15 hours, which is a plus, given that I can’t see much reason to return to the game a second time. Despite the fact that it’s not very replayable, the game boasts some wildly inventive puzzle mechanics and lovable new characters. Strange Loop Games spent over two years working on Vessel and the result is a high-quality title, certain to make a splash among its peers in both the indie and mainstream scenes.
[This Vessel review is based on a PC copy of the game provided by the publisher.]