Review: Fluidity: Spin Cycle is a twisting, turning good time

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It’s hard to imagine how a game about water and its various forms could actually be interesting, but that was exactly the case when Fluidity launched on WiiWare back in 2010. Admittedly, while I thoroughly enjoyed the ideas and mechanics that Curve Studios presented in that game, I wasn’t a fan of its open nature and required backtracking. Thankfully, that’s changed with the next chapter in the series, Fluidity: Spin Cycle, a game that takes the parts of its predecessor that worked and combines them in all new ways that make the overall experience much more inviting and a hell of a lot more entertaining.

You play as Eddy, a drop of water tasked with saving rainbow spirits trapped within the confines of a magical book. Despite the lengthy introductory cutscene, this plot device merely acts as a backdrop for the gameplay. That said, the narrative is certainly an improvement over the original game’s, and it allows for minor characters to make appearances in the storybook setting and ask for Eddy’s help. Because, ya know, video game heroes don’t have anything better to do than help greedy treasure hunters and senile explorers. (Seriously, those are two of the characters you help in Spin Cycle.)

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The first Fluidity required you to tilt the Wii Remote to control a small body of water. Spin Cycle utilizes the gyroscopic functions of the 3DS and has you controlling Eddy in much the same way. This time around, though, control feels a lot tighter. As you tilt the 3DS from left to right and vice versa, you get an instant and precise reaction in the game, something that was a bit lost in the WiiWare predecessor. The touchscreen also comes into play, with different icons allowing for a variety of actions. These include hitting switches, bunching your puddle of water together, and causing a small explosion of fluid. There are moments when performing these actions is a bit trickier than others, and I can’t count the times I accidentally pressed the Home button on the 3DS while tilting the handheld and trying to activate levers. Most of these actions are also mapped to the face buttons on the 3DS, and jumping is conveniently relegated to the L and R buttons.

Levels in Spin Cycle start off simple enough, easing you into the game and teaching you the basics. It doesn’t take long for the challenge to take off, though. You go from traversing a simple level from start to finish to engaging in multifaceted sequences of events consisting of short puzzles that are elegantly stringed together. These Rube Goldberg-esque moments are absolutely brilliant and shine as some of the most exciting parts of Spin Cycle. They can definitely get a bit frustrating, but with enough tenacity, you should be able to come across the solution. There were a handful of instances where I needed to shut Spin Cycle off for a few minutes, only to return to it and figure out exactly what I needed to do to progress.

The complex nature of later levels is made even more engaging when you actually have to rotate the 3DS entirely. These are some of the most incredible stages in Spin Cycle, and they’re a total blast to play through. Lamentably, the issues surrounding the touchscreen and bottom buttons on the 3DS persist to an even greater degree here. Problems are especially prevalent if you’re playing on the 3DS XL. You could argue that this type of gameplay element would be better suited for a tablet or phone, but the aforementioned gripe notwithstanding, rotating the 3DS to control Eddy is a sheer joy.

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A lot of these step-based levels require Eddy to take on different forms. Like the first Fluidity, Spin Cycle isn’t just a game about controlling water as a liquid -- later in the game you must employ ice and vapor forms, switching between the different consistencies multiple times to successfully traverse specific areas within each stage. It all comes together to create some fiendishly clever brain teasers that will leave you superbly satisfied upon completion. It’s a bit of a shame, though, that said satisfaction sometimes comes at the price of utter punishment. Then again, if you’re a fan of puzzlers, you probably know what to expect in terms of difficulty.

Spin Cycle doesn’t rely on an open level design like its predecessor and is instead broken up into four chapters with 15 stages each. This decision on the part of Curve was an absolute godsend and does away with being forced to backtrack just to open up previously inaccessible areas with a new ability. This essentially means you don’t have to deal with filler gameplay and can progress through levels smoothly and without interruptions. Of course, you shouldn’t take that to mean that you’ll burn through the adventure rapidly. There are several hours worth of gameplay in the main campaign alone, and unlockable mini-games add a nice change of pace to the base gameplay. Additionally, every stage is littered with collectible water droplets and puzzle pieces, urging completionists to scour every last inch of every last level. As if that wasn’t enough, you’re scored at the end of every stage based on your completion time and droplets collected, so if you want to snag that five-star rank, you’re going to have to get really good at manipulating Eddy’s multiple forms.

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The hours you’ll spend engaged in Spin Cycle are accompanied by a pleasant soundtrack that’s catchy and fun to listen to the entire time. The game’s music is great, and the soothing sound of water floats on as you twist and turn the 3DS to solve the devious collection of puzzles constantly thrown your way. The art style in Spin Cycle is also a treat, with some nice backgrounds, colorful landmarks, and stylish themes fitting for the storybook style of the game.

If you fancy yourself a puzzle fan, it goes without saying that you should play Spin Cycle. The game is a refreshing entry in the physics-based medium, forcing you to think a bit differently by making you twist and flip the 3DS while chipping away at multi-step objectives that will keep you busy for a long time and really test your brain teaser mettle. Even if you don’t play these types of games all too often, you’d do well to check out Spin Cycle. A few control annoyances aside, this is still a jolly triumph in handheld game design, and it belongs in your 3DS library.

Want to talk about indie games, Kirby, or cheap pizza? Follow me on Twitter @dr_davidsanchez.

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