Fluidity in Motion
At first brush, Vessel reminded me of the physics-based liquid platformer Puddle back in 2012. But similarities turned out to be only skin-deep in this case. Both games heavily feature various types of fluids, and both are a perfect fit for that “downloadable summer title that takes a few hours to smash through” category. Vessel casts you as the role of an inventor who must combine various types of liquid with unique properties to advance through some truly mind-bending puzzles, while Puddle actually gave you the opportunity to be the liquid – two wholly differing experiences!
I wouldn’t play half as many puzzle games as I recently have if they weren’t being given away as part of either Xbox’s “Games with Gold” promotion or Sony’s PlayStation Plus service. Not that I dislike them; I enjoy my brain being challenged every now and again. But Vessel really gave me a mental workout. While the beginnings are rather humble in terms of puzzle-solving, I was really impressed and thoroughly stumped by some of the later sections, which get very intricate and nit-picky to solve.
The basic premise is that the protagonist/inventor M. Arkwright created a new semi-form of life, called Fluros, who have brought him fame and riches when they started being mass-produced and widely marketed to assist with dangerous or menial labor in human factories and other industrial businesses. Now, however, problems have started surfacing because of Fluros reportedly behaving in ways contrary to their design, in some cases sabotaging or taking over the factories, orchards, and mines they have been assigned to. Professor Arkwright must travel to these locations, find the Fluros (some of whom have evolved to develop unforeseen new properties, and set things right again. To do so, he can use a Luigi’s Mansion style back-mounted device that sucks up Fluros in their liquid forms, stores them, and expels them again for later use.
With several different types of Fluros, each with unique properties, instincts, and abilities, and multiple varieties of liquids to use throughout the game, many puzzles take some serious cunning to find the right combination of Fluro and liquid that will get a particular task done. Add to it a light platforming element (after all, the professor has to get from puzzle to puzzle somehow) and you’ve got a game that’s anything but a throwaway summer freebie.
Still, it’s not the most fun I’ve ever had with a puzzler. No complaints in the graphics or music department really, and the challenge was certainly up to snuff. But the story left something to be desired, and yes I do realize that’s not typically the foremost element in this genre, though other games like Portal 2 have done a commendable job in this regard. Even more importantly, I felt that plain old fun was inherently short in supply, particularly as the difficulty cranked up. While I felt satisfaction besting the puzzles – though I have to admit that I did seek out some online help with that last beast of a puzzle – I just never felt completely at home in the game world, and it hasn’t etched itself into my mind as a place I’d really want to return to at some point. Bummer.