Puppeteer is simply a delightful experience. Set as a theatrical production, complete with red curtains and the gasps and laughter of the audience, Puppeteer is bustling with charismatic characters, innovative ideas and a host of different environments to snip your way through.
Enter Kutaro, a young boy turned puppet by the hand of the Moon Bear King’s cruel magic. If that wasn’t disheartening enough the Moon Bear King, with his monstrous appetite, has also eaten Kutaro’s head. With the help of a few trusted allies, borrowed heads and a magical pair of scissors Kutaro sets off on his journey to overthrow the horrid tyrant.
To complete your task you must recover the Moon Shards given to each of the Moon Bear King’s generals, who themselves aren’t any nicer than the King. Each act in Puppeteer sees you fight one of these generals to regain a Moon Shard. With seven acts, each lasting well over an hour, there’s plenty of platforming to be done. Although, every act uses the exact same formula – albeit in a completely different setting – so it does become a little repetitive towards the end of the adventure.
What really makes Puppeteer’s story special is the way the characters break the fourth wall. The game tries hard, and succeeds, to draw the player into the narrative. Often you’ll find yourself quietly chuckling when Kutaro’s allies stop to criticise the narrator or even another character’s performance. However, whilst this is all fun and games for the most part, sometimes it does begin to hinder the gameplay, and you will find yourself having to frustratingly wait to move onto the next section.
Puppeteer, unsurprisingly, resembles LittleBigPlanet in its design. The various sets and objects, for example, are all real-life materials and fabrics glued together. A poorly painted piece of plywood becomes a tree, and a dyed fabric becomes the fur of a tiger and so on. Although this is needed to give us the impression the game is really a stage performance, the resemblance is uncanny.
Other aspects of the game are more unique, however. As a 2D platformer it is an absolute joy to play, and with a handful of different powers and abilities to unlock there is a great deal of variation to the obstacles you will encounter. Throughout you have the Calibrus (the magic pair of scissors) that allow you to cut through flags, spider webs and clouds of smoke, which give you an aerial advantage over foes.
As you progress through Puppeteer however, you will also gain the powers of the fallen knights. These powers include a rechargeable shield, a hook device, the ability to body slam and finally an endless supply of bombs to throw. Puppeteer is at its best when all these abilities combine in the later chapters, especially during the boss fights.
These boss fights permeate the game; there’s a giant tiger, an evil pumpkin with tooth cavities, and even a devious rabbit magician, just to name a few. I found myself enjoying these fights the most; the sheer size of these foes in comparison to small Kutaro, and the trickery involved to defeat them, make these sections stand out from the rest. However, after a while they do become repetitive and resort to quick-time events far too often.
Kutaro, when without a head will quickly fall dead, so throughout the game you have to borrow whatever head you can find. These can be anything; from the skeleton of a T-Rex, to a piece of candy or even a locomotive. Sony Japan Studio have really let their imagination go wild in this regard. However, I can’t help feel Puppeteer has missed out on so much potential with this interchangeable head idea.
None of the heads you find have a unique platforming or combat ability – you would think that the head of a frog would give you the ability to jump twice as high, or the guillotine head would allow you perform an execution on the Moon Bear King’s minions. Sadly, this isn’t the case. Instead each head, when worn at the right time, opens up a bonus level or a wheel of fortune (for which the odds are never in your favour). If you haven’t the right head at the right time, you’ve missed out on an extra snippet of the game.
Ultimately all that heads act as are lives. You can only carry three at a time and if you fall down a perilous gap or get hit by an enemy your head will fall off. This gives you a matter of seconds to retrieve it. If you don’t catch up to your fallen head you simply change to the next one you have – lose all three and poor Kutaro dies. That shouldn’t be anything to worry about though, as throughout the game you collect Moon Lights which grant you an extra life for every hundred you collect. Given the abundance of Moon Lights and the particularly easy nature of the game, death in Puppeteer doesn’t hold any consequence.
You’re not alone on your quest. At all times you have the fairy Pikarina floating at your side. Controlled by the right stick, or by another player, Pikarina can interact with the background of Puppeteer, allowing you to unlock new heads or find more Moon Lights. On your own she can be quite tricky to control whilst at the same time also trying to navigate Kutaro, but if another player jumps into the game the whole situation becomes a lot easier and effective, making Puppeteer a far better experience when played with a friend.
Puppeteer has one last trick up its sleeve: the low price. Releasing only a few days before Grand Theft Auto V, Sony have deployed a clever pricing strategy. With an attractive cost of £24.99 at most retailers the game is a perfect budget title – not to be considered cheap, Puppeteer is a game of shear quality.
Puppeteer is, at its heart, a charming adventure, though not without its issues; it may have wasted the potential required with the interchangeable head idea to become something really special, but you will no doubt find yourself joining in with the audience laughing along to the antics on show and warming to the characters, be it hero or villain. There’s a great deal of fun to be had, even more with a friend, as you slice your way through Puppeteer. And the low price of the game is really just the icing on the cake.