It’s immensely refreshing when something like the Puppeteer arrives; a game that is hugely accessible, wonderfully charming and effortlessly enjoyable. Comparisons to Sony’s other quintessentially quirky platformer, LittleBigPlanet, are both obvious and fair, though it shouldn’t be considered anything other than a compliment. With a striking and delightful style that is immediately eye-catching, the Puppeteer then keeps your draw in and on the edge-of-your seat with its combination of deliciously delivered dialogue, scrumptious stages, grand gameplay and intelligent ideas.
Both visually and auditorily it’s reminiscent of a magical theatre, presenting a faux stagecraft style that delights and astounds. Audience tracks laugh, gasp and cheer offering a sense of meaning to your actions outside of the confines of a videogame. Meanwhile, the constant and brilliantly animated recreation of the stage harps back to the play-esque approach. You’ll traverse imaginative and vibrant environments as you snip your way through dark castles and poisoned forests, up waterfalls and through the skies, along the back of a giant snake and more. Comical animations are prevalent and the attention to detail is a joy to behold. The whimsy is enhanced by narration and voice work of expert values.
A young boy-turned-puppet named Kutaro is our protagonist for this thrilling tale, who has cruelly had his head torn off by the maleficent Moon Bear King – who in turn captures the souls of children to serve as puppet guards in his celestial castle. With the help of some unhinged characters you have to reclaim the shards of an all-powerful Moonstone in order to defeat the evil bear.
Being a headless puppet, you need some cranial assistance which is found in the myriad of varying heads available. No additional powers are granted by any of the heads but there are points during the entirety of the game that you will need to use the head’s ‘special ability’ (achieved by simply pressing down) to unlock bonus stages, access secret areas or bypass difficult elements by having the correct head equipped at the right time.
It adds a minor element of strategy to the game, as each of the three heads you can have at any one time also acts as Kutaro’s life; get attacked and you’ll lose your head similar to how Sonic the Hedgehog loses his gold rings – with a short period to reclaim it. This means you should always be a little weary as to which head you have equipped in case you end up losing it. Some heads aren’t unlocked until later on in the game despite their requirement being earlier on, which does encourage some replayability.
Divided into acts and curtains, the format follows a linear plot driven path with the Moon Bear King’s generals acting as expertly devised and executed boss battles before the curtain closes. Enemy variety is kept to a disappointing minimum though throughout and leaves the diverse gameplay elements feel a little wasted.
With progress comes new abilities, each of which adds yet another layer to the perfectly paced campaign; yet, potential feels wasted and a lack of ambition at times seeps through. In order for it to remain accessible there’s never valiant attempts at combining the different powers, instead usually relying on a particular one – or maybe two – at any given time.
Outside of a few technical frustrations, it’s nearly impossible not to recommend the Puppeteer, especially if you’re looking to dance into a world of imagination. Although unlike LittleBigPlanet this SCE Japan Studio’s title only offers a one-dimensional platforming arena, but presents far more variety with regards to puzzle solving and mechanics.
With the traditional jump platforming mechanics established rather swiftly, the rest of the gameplay revolves around a pair of magical scissors called Calibrus. Other than acting as a rather bland weapon, they provide a mode of transportation as you cut through elements to move through the air. Perhaps it’s some of the papercraft puffs of smoke or some foliage; either way it’s a delight to navigate with Calibrus and grants a level of diversity and ingenious layout that is highlighted by the terrific boss battles.
Along with Calibrus you unlock additional abilities as you progress through the story, with shields and bombs playing a part. The combination of these are simply magnificent when it comes to engaging the slew of the Moon Bear King’s generals in the game’s multitude of boss battles. Usually boring or overly difficult encounters, Puppeteer manages to craft both wildly enjoyable and expertly paced fights. Unfortunately, they do typically end with an array of quick time events that can feel a little bit anticlimactic.
There are some on-rails missions that, whilst shake up the formula somewhat, do feel a touch out-of-place, but otherwise the Puppeteer is a glorious title that will have a smile plastered across your face from beginning to end. It’s at times too simplistic in its gameplay approach but that also ensures it’s a game that I can recommend to essentially anyone. Much like the Pixar films, Puppeteer can be loved by all, but unfortunately it just falls short of such iconic quality.