Review: Hydropuzzle17 Jan 2018 2
Released 25 Dec 2017
When I first received news that my next review assignment was to write about a game entitled Hydropuzzle I immediately assumed that the game was going to be a clone of one of those countless puzzle games. You know the ones I mean, in which the player is given the task of directing the flow of water through a convoluted system of pipelines. Not for one single moment did I entertain the idea that the game was actually going to be inspired by an obscure cult Polish film. Yet, that is indeed the case, since Hydropuzzle is a game written as a tribute to Andrzej Kondratiuk's 1971 film Hydrozagadka.
For those of us that may not have heard of the film (which is probably the vast majority of people who do not speak Polish), maybe a short plot synopsis may help to set the scene. The film is set in Warsaw during a summer heatwave. To make the soaring temperatures worse, the city’s water supply is mysteriously disappearing. This leads to scientists calling upon the help of a superhero known as As. As As (sorry I will stop doing that) is informed of Warsaw’s desperate plight he gives up his day job as a mild-mannered engineer and immediately sets about solving the mystery. In short, Hydrozagadka is a comedic social satire, poking fun at both communist Poland and the ideals of the American dream.
To reflect modern times, the game replaces the hero’s engineering background with that of a technological genius who spends his time solving puzzles and cracking codes. The central aim of the game remains the same as in the film, as you set out to discover why the city is running out of water. The game certainly sounds intriguing; with an eclectic cast of characters that includes an enigmatic professor, an evil doctor, a brave king from an unnamed desert nation, a drunken gateman, radioactive fish and a cyber-crocodile.
Despite the starring character’s superhero status, he seems to spend most of his time following a Twitteresque social media platform, rather than outrunning express trains or deflecting asteroids. This lack of physical activity may be seen as a sad sign of the times but amongst the usual inane tweets, you will come across several intriguing clues and puzzles. These will usually revolve around cracking codes and unlocking passwords. The game begins with a fairly simple password hacking puzzle that involves replacing symbols in a passage of text with the appropriate letters and then rearranging them. However, do not get overly confident as the difficulty soon ramps up and you will be yearning for simpler times when a superhero’s job was far more straightforward.
Accessing actually how long Hydropuzzle is going to take to complete is a tricky puzzle in itself. There are only half-a-dozen puzzles to tackle and if you are the sort of person who effortlessly cruises through the morning’s cryptic crossword then you could easily see everything that the game has to offer in well under an hour. Having said that, the solutions can be very obscure. I don’t want to give too much away, but some answers require knowledge of mathematical numerical systems, minimalist programming languages and ancient gods. Because of the tricky nature of these brainteasers, the game actively points you in the direction of online sources for background information and clues. This turns out to be one of the game’s highlights and I certainly learnt some fascinating facts whilst playing. However, the puzzles can still be accused of trying to be too clever for their own good. Personally, when I eventually gave up and cheated on an especially tough conundrum I didn’t get that head-slapping moment of realisation; more like a confused “What the heck, I’d never have worked that out in a month of Sundays.”
So, what we are left with is a wacky superhero disaster-preventing scenario linked together with a handful of logic puzzles. The puzzles seem to swing between two extremes. You either realise immediately what is expected and then set about your task, or you hit a brick wall and spend ages feeling utterly bemused. Getting helplessly bogged down in a seemingly unsolvable puzzle is a real concern, and because the game follows a strict storyline you do not even have the chance to take a break from a puzzle and try a different one instead. Everything has to be tackled in a strict order, which means that once you are stuck your willpower begins to ebb and the only recourse is a quick search of the Internet to discover the solution.
Overall, for a low budget game, the presentation in Hydropuzzle does not fare too badly at all. The simulation of social media conversations is believable and works very well. Also, the small comic strip cut scenes are stylised and well drawn. The interface works well and when you have to manipulate numbers and symbols it all works smoothly enough, although not entirely instinctive for those used to a touchscreen. One glaring issue is the lack of any sound whatsoever; it is an odd decision as without the merest beep you often feel that you are playing in a void. Finally, the game saves your progress but there does not appear to be any way of restarting from the beginning.
Hydropuzzle is obviously a labour of love, and if nothing else it made me aware of an interesting sounding film that I would probably never heard of otherwise (I just need to brush up on my Polish). I do feel a little mean-spirited giving this game such a low rating. Unfortunately, if it is judged purely as a game then it falls short on most counts. The game is priced cheaply and if you are the sort of person who loves pondering over your favourite cryptic crossword then you may get some fun from Hydropuzzle. However, for the rest of us, the puzzles are just too obscure and frustrating and the structure too rigid.