Some games take a bit to get going and grow on you over time and that is definitely how Puppeteer went for me. I’d being lying if I didn’t say I was left a little cold after the game’s first two worlds. It wasn’t by any means a bad game, I liked it well enough, but it didn’t set it hooks into me at all. I was content to just finish a single level before shutting off the PS3 and moving on to something else. But as I continued the game impressed me more and more. It’s now become an experience I am really glad I didn’t miss out on.
One thing that I loved from the start was the presentation. While its look may draw comparisons to LittleBigPlanet, Puppeteer really feels like a totally different beast. The game is acted out like a play in a puppet theater and they really push this aspect for all its worth with constantly changing sets, curtain calls and crowd reactions. The story focuses on a boy named Kutaro who loses his soul and his head, and is turned into a puppet. From here he sets out on a quest to turn back into his old self. This tale is full of colorful characters and I particularly loved how they were acted out in unexpected ways (Pikarina’s personality and voice acting particularly cracked me up). The game also has a great sense of humor. Not shying away from the fact that it is being viewed as a play, it often breaks the fourth wall to hilarious results.
The game’s unique artstyle really helps to sell this whole thing as well. Character designs are stunning and lively. And lots of little touches really add to the beauty of Puppeteer. There is the stunning world map that rotates and lights up as you move through the game’s seven acts. There are the little moving paintings that act as the level select. The game is full of little quirky animations like those that accompany Kutaro’s various collectible heads. There are even storybook entries unlocked as you work your way through the story mode about many of the game’s characters. Charm is a word that I’ve found to be a bit overused when discussing games, but it is hard for me to not think about Puppeteer as a very charming experience.
The gameplay side of things is where I had to warm up to it a bit more. Puppeteer is a 2.5D platformer at heart. It never really has the depth of the Marios, Raymans and Donkey Kong Countries of the world. It’s a little simpler especially early on, but the complexity ramps up in a nice way as the game continues. Kutaro’s magical pair of scissors are probably where the gameplay gets its most unique twist. Using these allows you to cut through certain materials so you can traverse around areas, manipulate the gameworld and take pieces off of enemies. It’s a fun mechanic and really shines when combined with some of your new abilities learned throughout your journey.
That leads us another key part of Puppeteer, its various collectible heads. I was a bit let down to find out that most heads are just used to unlock various secrets. When combined with the fact that it is hard to know which heads to keep going forward and that it is easy to lose or replace one by mistake, this aspect just didn’t turn out the way I’d have liked. Though I did like the way some unlocked bonus stages or help in boss fights. A few special heads that you always have access to account for the new abilities I mentioned earlier. These include a hookshot-esque power, being able to throw bombs, and a body slam move which are used to great effect as the game rolls on. I just wish there were some more of them.
One part of the gameplay I really loved was the boss fights. The villain of the piece, The Moon Bear King, and his various generals’ larger than life personalities along with the game’s amazing presentation really make for some unforgettable battles. Some drag on a bit and your mileage may vary on how you feel about the QTE finishers (they didn’t bother me much here despite my usual aversion to them), but I found these fights to be one of the most fun aspects of the game. Some vehicle-like sections are here to add a bit of variety to the typical platforming levels too. One component that never really gelled with me was the use of Pikarina in gameplay. Your companion can be moved around sort of like a mouse pointer with the right stick to find various goodies in the background, but it never felt particularly fun to stop and search around with her or trying to catch all the secrets during the more fast-paced vehicle levels though this aspect is largely optional.
My only other complaint would probably be how often cutscenes pop up. Sometimes the sections I actually got to play didn’t feel like they lasted long enough before another story scene started. This may be in part that I was not used to such a big emphasis on presentation in a 2D platformer like this. I really do welcome a game in the genre taking a stab at an interesting story as long as it doesn’t skimp on gameplay. And while Puppeteer doesn’t feature my favorite mechanics in the genre, it certainly is fun and meaty enough that I eventually came to appreciate the whole package. It also helped that as the game went on it found a better balance between letting you play and letting you soak in its imaginative story.
Puppeteer’s gameplay took a little while to grow on me and its not without its fair share of issues, but over time it becomes a really fun experience full of memorable moments. When combined with some astonishing presentation which is unlike any game out there and a funny story full of unique characters and locales, Puppeteer is a game I’m really glad I got a chance to play.