It is a busy time in the video game industry. As we sit on the cusp of next generation consoles, and are about to enter the busy holiday period that will no doubt contain some influential releases. Although we are seeing some titles from some of the biggest franchises and developers in the medium, there are still new IPs being released hoping to test new ground and present fantastical ideas.
One of those titles has been developed by Studio Japan – Puppeteer. In my recent review of the Seaven Studio’s developed Ethan: Meteor Hunter, I stated titles being released in the platformer genre had to present something unique. They have to make themselves stand out from the hundreds of titles released within the genre every few months. Independent development has gathered quite the reputation of providing unique, mind-bending and memorable platforming renditions due to their small percentage of loss, allowing them to take risks to become creative.
Puppeteer may not be an independently developed platformer, but it provides some of the most charming, unforgettable and magical adventures I have ever experienced within the genre. Puppeteer doesn’t rest on the platforming genres laurels; it steps forward from the crowd and tries to innovate on what we commonly expect from a game of this nature.
Puppeteer‘s brilliance is partly due to its ability to entertain individuals of all ages, it’s the tongue-in-cheek dialogue alongside the challenging gameplay can satisfy an array of players from different gaming backgrounds. The charm itself is also strong enough to capture your attention, the magical journey presented through the narrative reminded me of the classic Disney movies from my childhood.
Players control Kutaro, a young boy who has had his soul stolen by the Moon Bear King and turned into a puppet. After our introduction to our young hero, his head is eaten by the Moon Bear King and his body cast aside. The similarities to classic children’s films are not hard to see. The outlandish tale, the unrealistic characters and its over the top nature make it an endearing adventure. Just like those classic films, this is a tale that can intrigue and capture your attention in a matter of minutes; before you find yourself enamoured until the credits roll.
The enjoyment continues throughout the platforming segments, which although do provide challenge; never frustrate. Puppeteer has a nice gameplay balance, with every single stage possessing challenging segments where they push the player to harness their skills. This is where the ability to entertain an array of audiences continues. Casual gamers can have the controller in their hands and eventually work their way through each stage without throwing in the towel. While hardcore gamers will also see the subtle difficulties, as they try to discover bonus stages and collecting moon crystals.
The simple gameplay mechanic that stands out from my time with Puppeteer are the magical scissors known as Calibrus. They essentially become your main companion throughout the narrative. Calibrus allows Kutaro to traverse large gaps in the environment by cutting through an array of items, such as smoke, leaves and more. These scissors become an excellent tool that allowed for some exhilarating sequences. Chasing down one of the memorable characters as you slice through the constellations in space, is a scene I won’t forget any time soon. Calibrus provides that unique fiber that gives Puppeteer character, and Puppeteer is definitely not short when it comes to character.
Puppeteer‘s most unique quality comes from the fact the entire game takes place on a theatre stage. Throughout the entire journey a narrator will give key information regarding the story, curtains drape the corners of your Television set, while crowd cheer, laugh and boo during moments in the story. All these aspects provided a charming experience that actually exceeded my original expectations regarding this premise. Throughout the adventure the world around you will constantly alter depending on your location, as you continue to advance the stage around you will change similar to what you would expect from a live theatre production.
These stage changes create a grand sense of wonder, and they work brilliantly. Watching the stage around Kutaro evolve as you make your way through each beautifully designed level, is a brilliant idea that worked perfectly. There were times where the illusion of being at a theatre production actually felt real. Playing Puppeteer with the lights down in a quiet house, created an unnervingly realistic theatre experience that no game has ever provided before.
Although the enemies you battle during each stage are fairly bland, the boss encounters themselves are where variety and design really shine. Almost each boss is an over-the-top take on a normal animal, which ranges from a snake, tiger, horse or even the Moon Bear King himself. These characters are brought to life with some brilliant voice acting, that give every single boss encounter meaning. Have you ever faced off against a towering boss that can roar as loud as the rest of them? You won’t find any generic individual boss in Puppeteer. Each has their own personality, influences and goals which make each encounter more memorable.
Boss battles themselves are never easy and Puppeteer does suffer from some repetitive conclusions to encounters. But there is so much variety in the beasts themselves and the journey to these conclusions that make them worthwhile. These encounters certainly have an old-school mentality, as you must remember patterns and work around them to defeat your enemy. Yet they never frustrate and present a feeling of accomplishment as each adversary falls.
Having found myself indulging in many platformers this year, I continuously found many lacking that extra sprinkle of charm, or that unique feature that sets itself apart from the rest. Happily Puppeteer quickly became one of my GOTY contenders, alongside one of my personal favourite titles. Aside from the insane amount of detail to their theatre premise, Puppeteer is genuine fun.
When I sit down to assess my time with Kutaro and the rest of memorable characters found in Puppeteer, I find myself reminiscing on all the special moments I experienced. Puppeteer allowed me to step inside a time machine and become a child once more. Finding that whimsical love that I have for many classic animated films isn’t easy. However Puppeteer brought those magical feelings to the forefront of my emotions, leaving me with experience that will stay with me for many years to come.
Puppeteer is a special game, one that not only provides a unique platforming adventure, but sets a new standard in theatre production.