Developer: SCE Japan Studio
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Systems: PlayStation 3
Release Date: September 10, 2013
A review copy was provided by the publisher for this review
Platformers may have seen a bit of a resurgence in the last couple of years, but this resurgence has been mostly delegated to the indie scene, and most that are made by full-fledged developers are typically portable affairs. The fact that Puppeteer is neither is what makes this game so interesting, and the game's launch time makes it have to stand up against the likes of top-notch triple-A titles.
Does Puppeteer deserve the shelf space in this high release time, or is it a mediocre mess that's not worth the space?
Puppeteer certainly starts on a very high note--after having a small introduction about how the Moon Bear King stole one of the Moonstones from the Moon Goddess and plunged the Moon into an age of darkness, you're introduced to the main character Kutaro, whom promptly hits his head and has it ripped off and eaten by the tyrant. If that sounds gruesome, it's really not: Kutaro is only a wooden puppet (or more specifically, a child's soul stuffed into a puppet) after all, and it's easy to find him a replacement noggin. Upon doing as such, Kutaro is recruited by the Moon Witch, a woman of questionable morale, to retrieve the magical Calibrus from the Moon Bear King's quarters... and after somehow doing so, unwittingly becomes the hero tasked with bringing down the Moon Bear King and his animal generals.
The first thing you'll notice about Puppeteer is its incredible graphical style. This game simply lives and breathes the style of a puppet show, and never stumbles or disappoints. Its style also allows for some interesting flair, with detailed puppets flying about the screen and scenery changing just in the way it would in an old-style puppet stall. The puppet show style also allows for Kutaro to transverse some fantastical environments, and everything about the setting and graphics succeed at impressing the player.
However, a nice coat of paint does not mean much if the game itself doesn't play well, especially in the case of a platformer. Thankfully, Puppeteer plays as well as it looks. The title has its fair amount of running, jumping and searching with your flying companion, but you also use your magical pair of scissors to get around. You can cut into the scenery to get higher, or find seams to fast travel through the terrain. While this may seem disjointing to the gameplay, it all flows very well, especially when you get the hang of snipping away to get around.
Of course, you'll also have to fight enemies in your quest to overthrow the evil Moon Bear King, and Calibrus is your main form of attack. You can use the scissors to snip and attack at your enemies, and to free the 'soul balloons' from Grubs and Weavers that are the trapped souls or children. Trying to attack with the scissors can be a bit cumbersome at first, but much like traveling around it'll become second nature soon enough.
But while Calibrus is your main form of attack, it will not be your only one. Along the way, you'll obtain Hero heads, which give you new abilities, such as bombs or a grappling hook. These are used in battle as well as on the environment to help open up new areas. There aren't any puzzles per se in Puppeteer, but sometimes there are obstacles that'll require you to use some Hero powers to get by, especially later in the game. All of these areas are clearly marked, however, so you're never likely to get stuck.
Speaking of heads, Kutaro will collect many different types throughout his adventure. While he is missing his own precious heads, he'll learn to make do with a variety of other heads, ranging from lions to trees to cakes. These heads don't just look different, however; they also each have a unique Head Action to give a reason to find them all. These Head Actions aren't offensive, and only sometimes help in beating a boss, but instead are used in the stages to help find secrets and even bonus levels. The areas to use these Head Actions aren't hard to find (though holding onto the head itself may be), and are clearly marked so that the only reason you'll miss the secret is because you never found the right head for the job.
If it wasn't somewhat obvious from the above statements, Puppeteer is not a difficult game in the least. You have up to three heads you can lose before losing a life, and if you do get hit, you have a few seconds to try and grab the loose head before it disappears. Lives are pretty plentiful, and enemies and most of the bosses are not hard after learning their patterns. While this may be cause for disappointment, Puppeteer is more of a title that's trying to tell a story than to challenge the player gameplay-wise, so the lenient difficulty is welcome so that you can easily move through the game's world and explore without frustration starting to creep in.
Puppeteer, to sum it up, is a joy to play through. From start to finish the game gives you a world rich with style and substance to traverse, and the game's 21 lengthy levels seem like just the right amount of time to spend on this fantastical Moon. Trying to procure all the heads and secrets may grate on the nerves slightly, but every else about this game is near perfection, and may even be one of the finest 2D-style platformers of this generation.
+ Amazing setting and graphical style to immerse yourself in
+ Exploring and tranversing the enviroment feels like second nature quickly
+ Twenty-one stages lasting about twenty minutes a piece give a lot of content to run and jump through
- Not being able to choose what heads you keep or can bring with you, even after beating the game, makes it hard to discover all the secrets
Overall Score: 9.5 (out of 10)
Puppeteer manages to stand out as an imaginative and wonderful adventure, and one that should be on everyone's to-buy list.