'The Puppeteer' - review

Wednesday, 11 September 2013 12:00 PM Written by 

Puppeteer cover“The Puppeteer” from SCE Japan Studio will likely be overshadowed by the blockbuster shooters and adventure games at year’s end, and it will be a travesty. Exclusives like this aren’t the ones that move consoles off the shelves, but they are ones that reward the gamers who already committed to the PS3. In this case, “The Puppeteer” is quite the reward.

“The Puppeteer” feels like “LittleBigPlanet” with more structure. You play as Kutaro (pronounced “coot-ar-oh”), a boy from Earth who finds himself fighting battles on the moon after he literally loses his head due to the tyrannous Moon Bear King. His journey is to storm the Moon Bear King’s fortress of Castle Grizzlestein with the help of his magic scissors to defeat him. He enlists the help of substitute heads in the process.

Don’t be thrown by the zany premise. It’s intentionally told in the style of a bedtime story; one where the parent makes it up as he or she goes along. This tone is executed by a narrator explaining the ongoing events being performed in a puppet show. You control Kutaro as he leaps around the stage, entertaining the audience that enthusiastically cheers, laughs, and applauds as the story progresses.

Puppeteer Knights Head

This theater-like presentation of “The Puppeteer” really brings home its overflowing charm. Everything other than Kutaro has the appearance of a theater set piece. Even side-scrolling parts of the gameplay reveal levers and gears as though a crew of stagehands are off-screen, moving the backgrounds left and right. The game is able to execute this supreme attention to detail while still having the feel of an authentic sidescroller. It’s surprising how infectious the audience can be. “The Puppeteer’s” script is as clever as a Pixar movie, but the audience’s laughter and applause magnifies it.

Fortunately, the game doesn't need the audience's help in order to stand on its own. “The Puppeteer” has a linear level design, but these levels are widely varied in their environments and boss fights. It never gets stale.

The gameplay is a unique spin on the side-scrolling platform game. Kutaro runs and jumps, but is able to stay in the air if his magic scissors have fabric to cut. He’s able to get across large chasms with the help of some conveniently placed fabric. These scissors also act as his weapon. He must use them when encountering enemies. Slaying the enemies returns a lost soul back to Earth.

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Kutaro has a companion in his journey. The Sun Princess, the fairy daughter of the Sun God, is an explorer with the personality of a sassy tween. She floats around the screen with the right stick, exploring different objects in the background. These unlock new passageways or the all-powerful new heads for Kutaro.

Kutaro has the power to switch between three heads. Different heads have different magical abilities. These powers don’t aid him in battle, but rather interact differently with the environment. Using the magic of a head at the correct time will unlock bonus stages, or summon a helper in a boss battle. If he loses all three heads, he dies.

There are dozens of different heads in the game. Many are likely to be missed in the first playthrough, requiring levels to be revisited. This gives “The Puppeteer” the bulk of its replay value. I didn’t feel the need to find every head, to unlock everything there was to see in each level, but hardcore completionists will have a good time trying to find all of the game’s secrets.

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The game’s design is a good fit for 3D TVs. Characters and set pieces fly around the stage, and towards the screen, but the limitations of the PS3’s power are evident. The usually bright, vibrant world of “The Puppeteer” is washed out upon switching to 3D mode. Frame rate even seems to slow at times.

This game has value with its replay value, but it seems like an obvious fit for the Vita with Crossplay. It’s a 2D sidescroller. It’s not graphically intensive. Controlling your helper seems perfect for touch controls. What gives? 

But enough about what “The Puppeteer” doesn’t have. What it does have is an impressive combination of enjoyable gameplay with an ambitious style that would make Tim Burton proud. It deserves to be considered among the PS3’s best quirky exclusives like “The Unfinished Swan.”

8.75 out of 10

 

Pros:

Charm to spare
Clever writing
varied levels

Cons:

Obvious fit for cross-play
3D limits quality

 Platform   PS3 (reviewed) 
 Rated   E 10+
 Price  $39.99
 Release Date   9/10/13 
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