GAME NAME: Puppeteer
DEVELOPER(S): SCE Japan Studio
PUBLISHER(S): Sony Computer Entertainment
PLATFORM(S): PlayStation 3
RELEASE DATE(S): September 11th, 2013
Every once in a while, you come across a game that is more than you originally expected. It’s not just a game, not just an experience, but a work of art and a brilliant performance; it’s just a genuinely magnificent experience to be a part of. Imagine being transported back in time to when the circus just came into town. Imagine the rush of excitement, the pure joy that shoots through your system when you first see the colourful tents. Imagine the sights and sounds of all of those animals and performers as you walk around looking at them with amazement and feeling the very essence of fun erupt from your body. This is Puppeteer – a brilliant display of colour, whimsy, fun, art in motion and most importantly of all, a spectacular performance.
From the get go, you realise Puppeteer is no ordinary game. Your first impression will probably remind you of Little Big Planet, but that vision fades very fast. You play Kutaro, a little boy whose soul was stolen by the wicked Moon Bear King who traps Kutaro’s soul in a little wooden puppet to serve as his slave. The story starts many years ago when the Moon Bear King declared war against the Moon Goddess and stole her Moonstone, the source of her power. He defeated the Moon Goddess, took her Moonstone and become the Tyrant of the Moon. After his ascension to the throne, the Moon Bear King started capturing the souls of children, turning them into puppets and, subsequently, transforming them into horribly disfigured monsters which he used as guards.
Now, many years later, the unlucky Kutaro finds himself in the hands of the Moon Bear King who promptly rips his head off and tosses poor Kutaro’s wooden body into a dark and moldy dungeon. Yin Yang, the flying cat, comes to his rescue, telling you that in order to stay alive, you’ll need to find new heads until you can retrieve the head that was taken from you. This is where your adventure begins.
The game plays out like a brilliantly performed and well voiced puppet show, even including stage lights, the opening and closing of curtains, a spot light that follow Kutaro and the “ooooh’s” and “aaaah’s” of an audience. The story also, appropriately, consists of Acts and Scenes, exactly like a theatrical play. At its heart, Puppeteer is a platformer, and an excellent one at that. The camera is stationary, so instead of moving around in an environment, the environment changes as you move around. Environments change rapidly, which keeps you on your toes, making it really challenging, but still fun to play. Each act has a different theme, from a desert to the ocean and a haunted forest; each scene will take you through certain places like a swamp, a Mexican city and the intestines of a giant snake.
Early on, Kutaro will gain access to a pair of magical scissors called Calibrus. Your Calibrus do more than just cut, crop and chop your enemies, they’re also a vital tool to getting you from point A to point B. Parts of the world look like moving pieces of paper and cloth, and in order to cross chasms or reach higher levels, you’ll need to snip on the material to get yourself across. It sounds easy, but can get tremendously challenging in later levels when you need to a bit of simultaneous navigation and character coordination.
Other than Calibrus, you’ll need to find heads. Heads have two purposes. The first is acting as a life gauge; you can hold up to three heads. Each time you get injured, the head pops off and you’ll need to rush and get it back before you lose it. The second use is to activate certain bonus stages, change the environment a little or activate rewards such as extra heads or little stars – for every 100 stars you get an extra continue.
Over the course of the game, you’ll get four permanent heads, each with their own ability i.e. shield, used to deflect shots or protect against melee hits; a hook, to grab objects; a bull mask, to give you the power of stomping; and a ninja mask to let you throw bombs. When you unlock all these powers, it makes for brilliant platforming. For example, you’ll have to stomp on a switch, which activates a furnace door, snip across steam vents and throw a bomb into said furnace. Each combination is wonderful to employ and easy enough to master the moment they become available – there are also a few mini-tutorials upon collecting these heads and is guided by an ugly, but loveable, witch called Ezma Potts. These mini-tutorials are a lot of fun and very funny.
What makes this game so brilliant is the script and voice acting. It was clearly written with love, humour and wit and performed by talented and passionate people. Almost every character is memorable, from the main cast to the minor characters. I fell in love with the narrator almost immediately. Then I met Picorina – a cheeky teenager that was transformed into a pixie by the evil Moon Bear King. The bickering between the narrator and Picorina is particularly entertaining, especially when you forget that it’s actually just a puppet show – that is how well the game sucks you in.
And that’s not all; the boss fights in this game are incredible. Each one is vastly different from the last, yet each captivates you and entertains you all at the same time. The main bosses are the Moon Bear King’s 12 deputy generals – each of them represents an animal from the Chinese Zodiac. The boss battles are beautifully executed and range from a close quarters battle with a tiger, running up the back of a giant snake, fighting a rooster on a clock tower to a throw down in a Mexican wrestling ring. And it’s not just about the fighting, even during the battle, the bosses will continue to gain your attention with their witty remarks and overly exaggerated acting, you’ll never love a set of boss battle as much as you will these.
It’s hard to find fault with such a brilliant game, but there are a few issues. They’re only small issues, like the fabric not being fluid enough, the underutilization of the spare heads system and it is a tad too heavy on the QTE front, but they are eclipsed by the terrific acting, story and style of the game.
Puppeteer is a brilliant game that will entertain both young and old. It’ll take you about 10 hours to complete the game if you don’t go back for more. And when you’re done with the game, there’s bonus levels for you to discover, heads to find and a few in-game stories that give you added detail about each of the main characters and makes for wonderful listening, making it worth your time and money. It’s the complete package; there were no necessary updates (when I played it); no hiccups to speak of; and no DLC as of yet, just pure crazy, whimsical fun.