With Fluidity, Nintendo reveals to the public its most complete representation of the Wii this generation (or at least, its WiiWare service), a duality of pleasure and frustration, both defined and hindered by its controls, a tarnished gem amid more deplorable shovel-ware brethren it has no choice but to relate with.
Developed by London based Curve Studios, Fluidity is a 2D puzzle platformer seemingly inspired by particle flash games, and has the player controlling an ever-fluctuating bundle of water in its three primary forms (liquid H2O, solid ice, and a vaporous cloud) via world-tilting horizontal Wii Remote gestures, guiding the precious fluid around an obstacle and enemy-laden magical storybook broken down into “panels” that are spread out over large and open themed stages. The personality of the game falls heavily upon the shoulders of the storybook itself, a magical tome that enlists the player’s help—and offers simple, friendly advice via text—in order to wash off a nefarious spilled ink, known as the “Influence,” that is polluting the tranquil yet oddly industrial page-scapes of Fluidity’s chapters.
Background elements such as animals and tire swings playfully interact with the molecular main “character” and assist passively, though it can be difficult to pick out certain interactive platforms and objects from the well-drawn but otherwise sterile art elements, which—in the wake of retail releases like Kirby’s Epic Yarn—have the life and engagement of an airplane safety placard, falling just short of capturing the visual inventiveness and charm that the Wii platform’s lack of HD firepower occasionally coaxes out of developers (arguably one of the system’s largest strengths). The game’s dulcet smooth-jazz influenced soundtrack deserves an honorable mention, however.
Progression is simple enough: After collecting a designated amount of Rainbow Drops, a “boss” challenge awaits, which usually involves snuffing out a set number of enemies and unlocking the next environment. Golden puzzle pieces are also strewn about each level, and are used to open bonus challenge rooms with self-contained objectives, such as successfully transporting stranded goldfish back to their bowls. The stages themselves are immense and brimming with clever, thoughtful layouts and variety for the water’s different states and abilities that are unlocked as the player collects more Drops—a “stick” mechanic for the block of ice enables wall jumping, for example. Unfortunately, that industrial tendency of environments mentioned above results in many gear and pulley based puzzles that, while perfectly utilitarian and unique on their own, seem more like a design restraint than a liberation.
Fluidity’s largest suffering is (surprisingly?) the motion controls that dictate the slope of the playfield and the use for other abilities such as jumping, which I found to be either numb and imprecise or shockingly brisk—and usually occurring at exactly the wrong moment. Some camera centering issues further muddy the experience (for instance, the camera snaps to a fixed focal point when moving from panel to panel, despite which direction your globular liquid form may be careening toward) and had me testing different configurations of angle steepness and tilting speed in the options menu, something not appreciated when it becomes a necessity.
Fluidity offers a mostly solid WiiWare puzzler with some satisfying moments and an overall pleasantry in its execution, pierced with primitively unresponsive motion controls and, more disappointingly, some unrealized potential in its design. When water is animated so well, with individual beads of liquid separating and congealing with a kind of hypnotic beauty, having it ride cogs and jump over pits can’t help but feel a little bland. Simultaneously representing the best and worst of WiiWare, Fluidity manages to be neither—though this part’s hefty $12 price tag reveals more about the whole than maybe Nintendo wants it to.