Ben Plays: Puppeteer
PSNStores Editor Plays, is a feature where one of us spends some time with a retail title and lets you know what we think. While this is still a site focused on Network titles, we do play other things from time to time.
A smile may be the easiest thing to transfer from one person to another. When you see somebody smiling, you can’t help but start creasing at the corners of your mouth. Puppeteer may be the closest thing you’ll get to the video game equivalent of a smile, shiny teeth and all. It’ll fill you with child-like glee, as you bound your way through environments that beg to be poked and prodded, and it even manages to raise a few laughs, with a script that feels just cheeky enough to pass through legal unscathed.
Playing as Kutaro, a young boy whose head is eaten by the Moon Bear King, you’re tasked with, well, reclaiming your noggin. Of course, the fate of the world soon comes in to play too, and as such you’ll have to face off against all the animals in the Chinese zodiac, as generals in the Moon Bear King’s army. The plot is a device to enable you to go on a theatrical sight seeing tour, but care and attention has been paid to the script, and the ways the characters interact with each other. Yes, there’s an annoying companion character, but she’s written in such a way that you’re meant to notice that, and the game mocks her accordingly. Special mention must go to the narrator, whose dulcet tones ring out throughout damn near the entire adventure. He does an excellent impression of the cast of Thunderbirds, by the way. If that reference tickled your fancy, then Puppeteer is going to knock your hair back with the force of a pop culture nerf gun. I audibly laughed a few times when the game came out of nowhere with a reference, be it to game, or SCE Press Conference moment. Yeah, they dig a decent way back into the gems of yesteryear. It never feels cloying or aggravating, just amusing and cheeky.
Of course, the platforming is the real star here. Puppeteer’s jumping feels solid, but there’s a deliberate style to it. There’s no holding down of buttons to jump higher, you’re getting that hop for the whole game, and you’re going to like it, sunshine. It’s refreshing to find a game that nails these core mechanics, as it leaves a lot of room for other ideas to be toyed with on top. Puppeteer certainly gives you some fun toys to mess around with. From hooks to luchador bull masks, each new ability comes just when the game might start to feel stale, and then as you mix and match these ideas, the real challenges start to pop up. The game never feels unfairly difficult, but it’s certainly challenging enough to ensure that your skills are tested by the end of it. There will be moments where you do feel cheated, though those usually come at the hands of jump pads. It doesn’t put a damper on things by any means, but frustration does prop up from time to time There are some standard enemies to deal with, but the real stars are the bosses. Each one has a distinct strategy for taking them down, harkening back to the days of pattern recognition and weakness exploitation. There’s one boss that pops up in each ‘Act’, but even then they’re themed to the locale, and their patterns change too. There’s not a single boss encounter that feels recycled from a previous one, which is quite a feat in a game with so many bosses.
Puppeteer’s presentation is as cohesive an experience as one would hope for from a game with such a theatrical slant to its storytelling. From the curtains that sway when events happen on the stage, to the way clouds are held up by wires. Care and attention has been paid to make sure you feel that the objects on screen are just fantastical enough to feel like a high concept puppet show. In many ways it feels like LittleBigPlanet’s experimental cousin. They may be cut from similar cloth, but it’s down to the way they wear their creations. There’s a swagger to Puppeteer’s art that is unmistakably the work of a studio like SCE Japan Studio, with an attention to detail that feels downright staggering at times. Objects have points of articulation like you’d find on an action figure, and textures ape their real world building materials to a wonderful degree. And yes, the cloth physics have a satisfying weight to them as you tear through with your demon shears. The head design is certainly worthy of note before. There’s a certain art to anthropomorphising a cake, and giving it a smiley face, and each puppet head certainly has a face, no matter what object it is. Treasure Chest? Check. Hamburger? Check. You get the idea, but it’s an amusing attention to detail nonetheless.
Puppeteer feels like the game that you’d rave about from your childhood. There’s countless memorable moments that the player creates, and they’re not in a cut-scene. It’s a brave, ‘higher-than-most’ budget take on a genre that for all intents and purposes is slowly becoming the subject of smaller games and Nintendo mascots. It’s the warmest smile of all, in video game form at least.