It’s been a tremendous few months for platformers with Rayman Legends and Super Luigi U. Puppeteer stood out from all of them with its unique puppet theater styling and extreme lighting. Sadly, this game’s release coming so close to the PS4’s release means that many will likely wind up missing out on it. It’s a shame too since it’s one of the best-looking platformers out there and has an endearing tone with light-hearted voice work for characters, funny narration, and memorable performances – like the princess whining after a Disney-esque musical.
As Kutero, you’ll use a giant pair of scissors to defeat enemies and sometimes drill through things in a bit of Drill Dozer-esque action. Cutting also allows you to scale flower strings by cutting through them, and you can even slice through fabric stitching in a set path. Poor Kutero has had his head taken by the Moon Bear King, and needs to use replacement heads to live on and free the souls of the children the King has stolen. The heads act a bit like Sonic’s rings – as long as you have one and can reclaim it quickly after losing it, you can stay alive. You’ve got a three head limit, so you can’t quite be as reckless here as you can there.
Beyond cutting, you’ll be doing a lot of platforming and action-oriented stuff throughout your adventure. You’ll earn bombs to toss at enemies to clear a path, a shield to guard yourself from attacks, and even a hookshot-style item to move things towards you. The left stick moves Kutero, while the d-pad picks heads, and the right stick is used to move your on-screen helper around. The helper can find items for you, and tends to make amusing quips about what’s going on. The controls are definitely a bit complicated in theory, but easy to get use to after you get into the groove of things. If you can find and dust off your PS Eye and Move controllers, you’ll be happy to know that they’re supported too – although you wouldn’t know it looking at the box since they thankfully ditched the gaudy blue circle for it and allowed the heavy red art a chance to shine.
The game’s level structure takes you across a handful of acts with a few stages each – littered throughout will be boss battles. They’re a highlight as they fill the screen and usually lead to at least one giant song and dance number. They also tend to involve making use of every skill you’ve learned to survive, and unlike a lot of games where you can get by with one or two techniques, you will need to learn everything at least somewhat well to succeed. Bosses are very tough at times, but lives are easy enough to earn and you don’t have to restart too far back in either a stage or boss battle after death. The between-level cutscenes are flashy and gorgeous, but can break up the flow of the gameplay a bit too much and can go on for about five minutes or so.
You’ll need to pay close attention to your surroundings as the world of Puppeteer is a fast-moving one with a lot of activity and bright colors. The screen is bathed in just about every shade of every color you can imagine at some point. The character models have kind of a paper mache look to them that stands out and makes this a different kind of stunning platformer than Rayman Legends or countless indie efforts. The animation is also just about perfect – with strings being used to pull characters around at some point and everyone moving around just as you would expect them to.
While the musical numbers can get in the way of things a bit, they do tend to rule. The soundtrack is full of whimsy. Beyond the vocal songs sung during cinematics that play out a bit like parodies of stage plays and musicals, the in-game music is excellent as well. The soundtrack is very lively and makes you excited to play each stage, and progress just to hear new music. You’ll go from something super-happy in one level to more epic in the next, and never know what’s coming up.
The Puppeteer may be doomed sales-wise due to its release right before not only big games like Grand Theft Auto IV, but also before people go into saving mode to buy a new system. However, if you’re a big platforming fan that is content with current hardware, or have some money to spare, give this a purchase ASAP. It’s also well worth a rental, but definitely feels like a better experience when you’re not trying to rush through it. The adventure is something you’ll want to savor, and while you can get through it in a few days if you hustle (and don’t replay stages to find everything and partake in the bonus stages), you’ll miss out on a lot of the fun. It’s got a delightful cheery exterior, but underneath lies a fairly dark plot that makes wonderful use of the stage play setup to create a visual style you don’t see very often.
Reviewed By: Jeremy Peeples
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
This review is based on a retail copy of Puppeteer for the PlayStation 3 provided by Sony Computer Entertainment.