It’s because of games like, Japan Studio’s utterly enchanting, Puppeteer that my Xbox One remains boxed and the PS4 unpurchased. With so many fantastic games released in 2013 alone (particularly on PS3), it seems criminal to move on to the next-generation of gaming without getting the very best out of the last. Puppeteer, despite its faults, is one of those games that should certainly be experienced before you decide to box up the ol’ PS3 and move onto pastures new.
From a purely gameplay and mechanical perspective, Puppeteer isn’t actually all that much to shout about; it’s basic 2d platforming is plenty competent and certainly enjoyable for the most part, but in all honesty, doesn’t deliver anything that hasn’t been done better elsewhere. Where it really shines though is in its incomparable imagination and remarkable audio/visual design. Taking its cues from the truly tangible world of LittleBigPlanet, Japan Studio have created world that matches, and in many way surpasses Media Molecule’s creation. Yes, like LittleBigPlanet, Puppeteer also suffers from decidedly ‘floaty’ platforming mechanics, but easily makes up for that in terms of pure, unadulterated creativity.
Playing out on stage like a fairy tale or old fashioned pantomime, Puppeteer is nothing if not utterly gorgeous. Watching as the elaborate sets drop away and reappear before your eyes and levels revolve mechanically within the confines of the stage, Puppeteer, thanks to its unique setting and ludicrous sense of imagination is the kind of game that defies its relatively forgettable gameplay to keep you connected to its bizarre world of visual delight from beginning to end. Yes, the story is laid on a little thick at times, but even when the cutscenes do drag on a little longer than they need to (something that arguably happens far too often), the consistently well written and perfectly delivered dialogue never makes the increasingly long waits to get back to actual gameplay all that hard to bear.
As Kutaro, you, with the help of a mysterious witch must defeat the evil Moon Bear King’s generals as you seek to free the stolen souls of the sleeping children that have been stored inside wooden puppets by the dastardly grizzly monarch. Using a pair of magic scissors called Calibrus, you will need to hop, skip, jump and cut your way to success as you face off against an array of beautifully designed villains. Sound crazy? Well, it is. Oh, did I mention you don’t have a head? Yeah, that’s a thing too; it gets bitten off early doors by that nasty bleedin’ bear.
So, headless, you run off in search of retribution in the name of all things good. Still, you do get to pick up replacement heads as you go (many of which would be hard to justify as sensible) and can even carry as many as three at one time, thus allowing you to take more hits. You see, when taking damage, your part-time head falls off; luckily, if you are swift enough, you can pick it up before it disappears for good, kind of like the rings from Sonic the Hedgehog. Not only do these unique heads look plenty cool and act as an impromptu energy bar, but they also allow entry to special bonus stages if you’re lucky enough to be in possession of the right noggin’ at the right time. Sure, more could have been done with the concept, but on an aesthetic level alone, work wonderfully in place of a more traditional health bar.
Still, as great as it may look and sound, you’ll be hard pressed to shake the feeling that this was a missed opportunity; that Japan Studio could have created something truly unforgettable if they had just committed a little more time and effort to refining those core mechanics. Sure, the Calibrus can be used to essentially fly your way through levels as you cut at the materials that make up the world and a host of additional items such as bombs and the always useful grappling hook do help to keep things fresh from a more technical perspective, but sadly, due to the imprecise controls, repetitive enemies and simple to dispatch bosses, Puppeteer’s gameplay never comes close to matching the wonderful artistic design that frames it all.
With its wonderful visuals, consistently outstanding artistic design and brilliant voice work, Puppeteer stands as one of the last generation’s finest audio/visual experiences, happily standing side by side with the likes of LittleBigPlanet and Rayman Legends. The gameplay may not be all that memorable, but in this case, simply being solid is more than enough to make this extremely easy to recommend. Some games keep you hooked with new exciting gameplay mechanics, Puppeteer on the other hand does it with new and exciting things to see – the mechanics may run dry long before the credits roll, but the artistry never ceases.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 3 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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