Sony has never been strong at marketing their lineup of first-party titles. The Puppeteer is the latest victim of that trend considering I went into this assuming it was yet another LittleBigPlanet-type platformer that shares more than its aesthetic. While there are plenty of comparisons to be drawn between the two games, Sony Japan has crafted one of the more interesting titles to come to the platform in quite some time. That doesn’t mean it is without fault, but I would be hard-pressed to find anything quite like Puppeteer for the remainder of the year.
At its core, it is a platform game set against the backdrop of a play starring Kutaro, a silent protagonist who just so happens to be a puppet that has lost his head. This is where the adventure and mechanics stem from. Kutaro is out to take down the tyrannical Moon Bear King, retrieve his head, and of course save the day. It is as ridiculous as it sounds, but that makes it work. The characters are bursting with personality, with each one more interesting than the last.
The tone fits in line with my LittleBigPlanet comparisons. It is packed with dry British humor, a stuffy narrator and floaty jump controls. The story is just plain nuts. I went from chasing down a princess, to surfing on the back of a rat down the throat of a giant snake and being asked to perform liposuction on a tree. The voice acting is surprisingly well done, which helps sell some of the insanity, but I truly felt this game was weird for the sake of being weird at times.
Some have suggested this is a game I might want to play with my son. I can’t say that I am entirely convinced he wouldn’t be terrified of some of the characters. The dark color palette reminds me of movies from my childhood that would definitely frighten young ones. This makes me question who exactly this game was aimed at though, considering the rudimentary platforming found within.
The big hook is that Kutaro has no head of his own, so he can pick up new ones along his journey, each serve as a sort of health meter, as well as consisting of their own unique abilities. These are entirely contextual. Tapping down on the d-pad activates the head’s ability, but doing it outside of designated areas simply results in a quirky animation. Getting hit causes whatever head is equipped to fall off, and Kutaro has a small window to retrieve it, before losing that particular health bar. It is a neat mechanic, but with little penalty for actually dying, it never really took advantage of its innovation.
Kutaro will also gain a set of tools over the course of his journey, the most important being his magic shears. Known as Calibrus, this pair of scissors becomes the focal point of combat, and a large part of traversing the world. Kutaro can cut the cardboard backgrounds of most of the levels. This allows him to cross chasms otherwise out of reach. He can also use them as sort of a guide to move across areas faster such as rope. Then of course there is combat, which is as simple as one would expect. Tap the button to attack, and cut away their souls before they respawn.
There are also powers he obtains along the way such as bombs and a shield. Like the shears these are used for more than combat. The cutters take the cake though and are certainly the main dynamic of Puppeteer. Slicing across areas is fun, although I didn’t like the small delay when trying to stop. Kutaro just kind of hangs there, and I never mastered the timing for keeping him falling down off the platform. I understand the window they give considering it was designed with younger gamers, but it never stopped it from feeling off.
The combat really shows its chops with the boss battles though. These are by far the best part of Puppeteer. Sometimes spanning entire levels, these encounters took all that I had learned and tossed it at me in deep and creative ways. I loved seeing how each new foe would be handled at the end of each act. Sadly they almost always ended in an anticlimactic quick-time, button press event.
A lot of what makes Puppeteer stand out is its visual fidelity. This is the first game since Motorstorm that I recommend dusting off those 3D glasses for. The way it is implemented here is brilliant, and really brings out the already unique style. Levels are also a joy to experience. I was excited to see what the next act brought to the table, even after 10 hours of making my way through the campaign. I also loved that everything was setup like a play. Complete with curtain calls and rounds of applause, Kutaro and his supporting cast really deliver on the unique style. Again I am still not convinced my four year old would approve of some of the designs, but perhaps when he gets a bit older.
Speaking of which, Puppeteer has a built in multiplayer option similar to Mario Galaxy. Kutaro always has a companion with him throughout his journey, and a second player can take control of them with Sony’s Move device. This is a good way for parents to play with their kids as this part allows interacting with the backgrounds to reveal new heads, and star shards, which grant players new lives for collecting 100. It is a neat idea, but I did get bored doing the Move portion after an hour or so.
Puppeteer is an odd game. There is no better way to put it, but it is also unique and charming in its presentation. I found the platforming and combat a bit rudimentary for my tastes, but I still couldn’t stop pressing forward to see what the next level looked like. While not nearly as revolutionary or great as some of Sony’s other first-party titles, Puppeteer delivers things no other game could come close to matching. Those interested in unique platformers should definitely give it a whirl; especially considering it is retailing for less than standard price. I guarantee you will find nothing else like it on the market.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.