Developer: Sarepta Studio
Publisher: Snow Cannon Games
Platform: Wii U (eShop), PC (Steam)
Release Date(s): January 28, 2016 (Wii U)
September 29, 2014 (PC)
ESRB: T for Teen
Remember that scene in Peter Pan where Peter runs around the Darling children's room because he lost his shadow and is trying to catch it? If you were to take that whole "shadow with a mind of its own" shtick and make it into a game, you'd get the indie title Shadow Puppeteer. Except in this game, there's less chasing after your shadow and more working with it to get through a puzzle-platforming adventure. And while the main draw of the game -- its gameplay -- is pretty unique and fun much of the time (with a few other enjoyable aspects to compliment it), there are some unfortunate shortcomings that ultimately hurt the game in the long run.
Shadow Puppeteer is a game of few words. Well, actually, it's a game of no words, if you don't count basic stuff like the title screen. That isn't necessarily a bad thing; it just makes the game rely on purely visual and audio storytelling. Which is pretty nice, actually. The gist is that this evil dude known as the Shadow Puppeteer (which you wouldn“t know from the game itself due to the no dialogue and text and whatnot) comes to a village and takes everyone's shadows with an instrument he plays save for a young boy, thanks to the guy's instrument breaking, and the boy and his shadow go on a journey to save everyone else's shadows. So, you know, a story made specifically to fit the gameplay.
From the moment you see the title â€œShadow Puppeteerâ€ and lay your eyes on the protagonist and his shadow, you can kinda guess that the gameplay is most likely centered around shadows. And you“d be right, of course (what, you think I“d write the previous sentence for no reason?). You play as both your physical self and your shadow, moving each separately in cooperation to solve puzzles and get through each level. Well, in single player mode you play as both. If you happen to have a friend/family member/shadow to play with, then you both control one of the two. Unfortunately for you loners, co-op is a lot more fun, and with fewer annoyances brought on by having to control both characters yourself. It gets really confusing at times and you often find yourself dying simply because you can“t keep your eyes on two characters at once.
Don“t get me wrong, the game is plenty of fun thanks to the original gameplay with its clever use of shadows. It“s just that it also has plenty of not-so-fun qualities that make you question whether you“re actually having fun or not. The level designs are pretty good, but the platforming aspect can get really frustrating due to the fact that your physical self is moving within a 3D space. Not simply because of the 3D space, but because of the camera angle you“re given. When you go to make a jump, you“ll occasionally fall to your death because you can“t see where you“re going to land. It“s not something that will happen all the time, but it happens frequently enough for me to talk about how annoying it is.
Another rather infuriating aspect of Shadow Puppeteer lies with the boss fights. Though this is made much less infuriating by playing with a pal in co-op. It's nice that the developers wanted to shake things up by making the bosses shadows, but it takes far too much time to figure out how to beat them. They will kill you. A lot. Especially the final boss, who might just be one of the most annoying final bosses I've ever endured. Not challenging. Annoying. But again, this annoyance is mainly apparent in single player mode, as your many deaths are attributed to the difficulty of controlling both protagonists at once.
Unfortunately, your trials-and-errors will often result in you having to sit through many a loading screen. No, you seriously see a screen that says â€œLoadingâ€¦â€ every single time you die. Not only are Shadow Puppeteer“s loading screens rather frequent, but some of them are quite long. Especially the ones you have to sit through as one level transitions to the next. I know, I know, â€œbe patient, young grasshopper.â€ Yeah, well, in 2016, I was hoping to see fewer loading screensâ€¦
Thankfully, there are still a few more positives left to talk about regarding Shadow Puppeteer. Rather than trying to impress on a graphical standpoint, the developer decided instead to make a game with a whimsical, cartoony, Burton-esque art style. And yes, I do mean Tim Burton. And to add icing to the cake, this game has just the type of gloomy atmosphere you would expect from something considered â€œBurton-esque. Considering that this is a game all about shadows, these two elements fit perfectly.
You wanna know something else that Shadow Puppeteer“s art style and atmosphere fit perfectly with? The music. This game has a pretty beautiful soundtrack, I must say. Each song fits its accompanying level like a glove, whether it“s a pirate-themed level, a cave level, or just a simple village. And not only does the music work well with the game, but they“re just pleasant to listen to. Shadow Puppeteer“s soundtrack is almost enough to forgive the game for its downsides. Almost.
Shadow Puppeteer isn“t a terrible game, but it does have some pretty jarring shortcomings that are hard to forgive. Though most of them are thanks to a single player mode that can get so frustrating that you want to hit something. Or someone. Of course, if someone else were with you, you“d be enduring fewer annoyances, since the game becomes a bit more fun in co-op mode. Regardless, Shadow Puppeteer is still plenty of fun with its original, shadow-centric gameplay. And with a whimsical art style and atmosphere that would make Tim Burton proud and a very pleasant soundtrack that works well within the game, Shadow Puppeteer wouldn“t be the biggest waste of your time.
+ Original gameplay centered around shadows
+ Whimsical, cartoony, Burton-esque art style
+ Appropriately gloomy atmosphere
+ Great soundtrack
- Single player mode can be a pain when controlling two characters at once
- Camera angle occasionally makes platforming a grave annoyance
- Frequent, long loading screens
Overall Score: 6 (out of 10)
It may have been plagued with some pretty jarring downsides, but with its original, shadow-centric gameplay, whimsical art style and a great soundtrack, there is plenty of fun to be had with Shadow Puppeteer. But play it in co-op if you can. It's better that way.
Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable code provided by the publisher.