What immediately strikes you about Puppeteer is the unique visual style that Sony’s SCE Japan Studio has brought to the table in trying to recreate a theatre in your TV. Your display is framed by a great big red curtain, and props and characters pop in and out like you really are watching a live-action theatre, with over the top characters and booming orchestral music providing a real sense of drama.
It definitely does give it a feel all of its own. and SCE Japan should be applauded for creating a game that stands out, from an aesthetic perspective. All the little details are there, like the audience laughing, gasping and throwing things at the stage; one particularly nice touch is when you pause the game and the curtains swing shut for an ‘intermission’.
The story itself is classic fairy-tale fare, but with a nasty streak to it that really adds a layer of darkness. The Moon Bear King has taken over the world in a typically malevolent manner and has taken to kidnapping the souls of children to serve as puppet guards in his castle on the dark side of the moon. The protagonist, Katuro, is one such unlucky soul, during the opening scenes he has his head bitten off by the Moon Bear King. Luckily he finds a pair of powerful magical scissors named Calibrus, which he uses to try to reclaim his head and set him on his way to returning home.
It sets the scene for a grand tale with some larger-than-life characters, and all told the story is fairly gripping in its simplicity. There are quite a few cutscenes for a platformer, something which does add a bit of depth to proceedings but does break up the gameplay a bit, an aspect which may be particularly galling should you wish to replay levels to hunt for all of the secrets.
Puppeteer is one of those games that will truly make you feel like a child again, it’s hard to resist its playful lure.
The game itself brings to mind Little Big Planet in both the way it looks and plays, relying on the use of background and foreground to differentiate layers, while also adding depth to the world. Thankfully the jumping mechanics are significantly better than Sackboys floaty waddle, giving you much weightier and decisive inputs; when you take a hit or miss a jump you can be fairly sure it was your fault. To be honest it doesn’t hold a candle to Rayman Legend’s insanely tuned mechanics but it does a good job in its own right.
Katuro’s pointy friend Calibrus does provide a unique method of traversal though, cutting along fabric and other materials indefinitely. This gives ample scope for launching you across vast tapestries as you carve your way through, like an even more demented Edward Scissorhands.
Katuro’s lack of a head adds an extra dimension to the game, as you can find and wear different heads in order to grant you special abilities. You can carry up to three at a time and they essentially act as your health, lose all of your heads and take a hit and you’re kaput. Heads range from teetering hamburgers to a peelable banana, giving hints at some of that insane Japanese charm we came to love during the PS1-2 eras. There’s a lot of variety in the heads available to you, but unfortunately not so much in the powers they grant you. Sure they may all have different effects, but their basic premise is just simply pressing the down arrow to use their skills where appropriate. It would have been nice if some of the heads would have actually granted you new abilities, the bat head not allowing you to fly is surely a missed opportunity.
Puppeteer is perhaps guilty of being a little too easy; when you get hit one of your three heads rolls off and you just need to pick it up to regain your lost health. While this does take away a lot of challenge from the game it does feel as if the game is almost designed for you not to do, instead pushing you through set piece after set piece, hurtling you towards its conclusion in the same manner as the theatre it’s based upon.
Combat in the game is remarkably basic, it’s certainly nothing to write home about, the scissors and later unlockables providing ample room for some more creative brawling. It seems that the team at SCE Japan save all of their combative creativity for the often incredible and always varied boss battles. Every one is a joy from both a visual and gameplay perspective, an amalgamation of all the great ideas they’ve struck upon into one cohesive whole.
One thing I do have to mention is the price, for what is roughly a 12-15 hour adventure of your first go through, this game is a bargain. Launching at just £24.99/$39.99, this is a cut price for a fully fledged game that is more than worth full whack. For a price like that I think it’s difficult to resist, and definitely worth any platformer fans time, purely for its unique take on the genre.