It’s high time I wrote about some of the puzzle games I’ve been tearing through recently. Although “tearing through” is probably an exaggeration. It’s more like syrup dribbling through a heap of used coffee filters. Anyway: the first is Puddle Knights.
Nutshell: Clever mechanic that tickles same neurons as a Sokoban game or Snakebird. I cheated on the final level.
I was told I could have a review key, if I so desired, for Puddle Knights (Lockpickle, 2020). These days I’m inundated with such mails – I can barely keep up with the puzzle PR pushed through my letterbox and considered nailing it shut on more than one occasion. The name also sounded uninviting. “Puddle Knights” was thematically on point but far too mundane to quicken the heart. It sounded more like a throwaway casual game than an intense mind-busting affair. Dung Masters. Dirt Quest. Bird Brains. Puddle Knights.
However, something about the premise intrigued and so I took a leap of faith… into muddy puddles. In Puddle Knights, nobles must get to their shiny-glowy-teleporty-portal without walking across muddy patches. To do this, your knights must lay down their capes to cover the puddles and allow the nobles clean passage. This perfect puzzle idea is full of little nuances that make it much more interesting.
As you might expect, there’ll be more mud than cape, so you’ll need to reuse a knight after a noble has passed over one puddle. But once a noble is standing on a cape, the knight cannot move and tug at the noble’s feet, so you must place your capes carefully so that nobles don’t fix your knights in place unnecessarily. However, if another knight is standing on a cape, the knight can move causing the fixed portion of cape to tear off; this torn section becomes a permanent covering on the ground. These basic concepts conjure more complexity than you might think.
Although you’re not pushing blocks around, Puddle Knights still requires Sokoban thinking. You are either juggling actors in a tiny amount of space or dealing with capes that seem just too short to do what you need to do. And, occasionally, too long. Having multiple knights with capes trailing behind them evokes Snakebird although none of your Snakebird skills are applicable here: it’s an entirely different challenge. However, there are specific manuevers that prove to be useful over multiple levels like you find in Snakebird; some of the Puddle Knights levels attempt to teach them. (A notable example is the crucial pirouette move in World 6.)
The theme is brilliant: I can’t think of any other story that describes the mechanics so efficiently and I suspect that the theme, of putting down capes for people to cross muddy puddles, was the original genesis of the concept. The graphics are crisp and readable although in the later levels I did miss a few open pathways – thus causing a great ten-minute-long confusion – simply because the ground and boundaries are both a mix of grey and brown. You can rotate each level as you wish but that can cause your brain to jam up and interpret it as a different puzzle instead of the one you’ve already been working on for half an hour.
Puddle Knights does not stop with capes. Raised platforms will give your knights a headache and drawbridges, effectively one-way passages which can only be operated by knights and kept open by their capes, are maddening. There are 100 levels stretched over 8 worlds, many of which are optional to make progress. Optional levels usually challenge you with shiny metal capes which don’t tear.
The most difficult puzzles are reserved for the end where the capes have holes; a noble will not walk on damaged cape. I guess I have a trace of trypophobia (honestly, don’t Google this in image search) in my psychology because I find these holed capes a little disturbing to look at. Now while most Puddle Knights challenges require investigation to find “the problem”, I found there were a few which needed a little too much investigation to find the solution – that is, more Monte Carlo than smarts. I found this issue worsened with the holed cape levels.
In fact, it got so bad, the final core level was beyond me. After spending hours on it and establishing what I thought was the correct midpoint of the solution, I had regressed to guessing. I couldn’t reverse engineer what I wanted from the ending as certain moves seemed to be impossible and so I surrendered to a walkthrough. It was Nova 7 all over again.
Still, do not worry. If you complete every level including the optional ones, World 8 opens up and offers a small set of fascinating edge case bonus levels. I thoroughly enjoyed these even thought they were not as difficult as many of those that came before. And this made for a much better ending than the official last level. I’m a fan of a fun endings rather than a super-charged pain-challenge ending – final boss levels marred my feeling of closure in both Cosmic Express and Snakebird.
So, overall, I loved Puddle Knights and found it compulsive. Puddle Knights is currently available for Windows and Mac from Steam. I received my copy for free.
Next Puzzlework: Tametsi
You can also watch me explain how Puddle Knights plays in the video below.