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Announced last year at Sony’s Gamescom conference, Puppeteer was an unusual entry for Japan Studio. At first glance it seemed rather difficult to comprehend. What was this peculiar title about? You have interchangeable heads and it’s set on a stage in front of a crowd and has something to do with magic scissors? Sorry, we’re just a bit lost really. Now though, after feeling its warm and comically dark embrace, how foolish I was.
Playing as a young boy by the name of Kutaro, you’re caught by the Moon Bear King who steals children and turns them into puppets to guard his moon castle. Now in the form of a puppet, and without your own head on your shoulders, you find yourself lost working in the castle’s bowels at the whim of of the castle’s resident witch. It’s really here where there story begins as you head out to grab the Moon Bear King’s magical scissors, Calibrus, to overthrow him and get your real head back so you can go home for good.
These scissors are really where the fun happens as they allow you to cut through enemies, paper and fabric – which is essentially almost all of the on screen sets. Using your ‘Sky Cut’ ability, you can cut your way through the air near indefinitely if you’re cutting through something in the process. It’s a great technique that really helps you cross gaps, find shortcuts and really just gleefully careen through colourful papery levels of fun.
Indeed, you slowly learn to find new ways to make the most of your cutting ability – doing things that move you far beyond simply cutting. It’s quite the linear adventure, but finding glee in things like this and exchanging heads Kutaro’s head to open small mini-games and bonus stages that help make it a game of joyful exploration.
You’ve even got a helper to make discovering things in each level even easier. With the use of the right stick, and a tap of the R2, you can investigate background objects to uncover new heads and moonstones – used to grant you new lives. You’ll also find some extra story content and little easter eggs in each level this way.
Of course, if you opt to play through the twenty-something levels – split across seven acts – with a friend, it’s even more fun. One person takes control of Kutaro, leaving the second player to be their assistant in every level. While this may sound rather dull, it actually makes gameplay far more fluid as you’re no longer spending your time trying to manage both roles at once. Playing just as Kutaro means you can really enjoy the platforming elements of play properly, while your friend can explore the world searching for moonstones and extra heads. It also means they can interact with the world and really bring it to life far more than you could on your own.
Essentially, what Japan Studio has created is their very own, and really rather unique, Rayman Legends style of platformer. Part of its charm comes from the stage-show nature that envelops the whole game. For the entire duration of your adventure you’ll see curtains looming on the sides of the screen, there’s a narrator to help explain the action and weave the story together. Levels themselves seem to be the most elaborate stage productions ever, with mechanisms and creations unfolding and appearing as you play scene by scene. It’s just absolutely beautiful to play through.
You can also make use of PlayStation Move support to make two player a little easier for an assistant and, if you have access to a 3D TV, you can play the entire game in 3D – really making the most of the beautiful layers in each level.
Puppeteer isn’t perfect, partly due to somewhat repetitive gameplay, but it’s still an absolute blast to play through with a friend. I even imagine it’s utterly perfect for playing with a child if you’re a parent, particularly because its story and charm will enthral them, while more adult references and darker themes will hold grown up attention.
Still, this is one of the many must-play titles that are sure to swamp your home and PlayStation 3 this Q4. You’ll find it hard to put down and be itching to pick it up again at the next available chance. I suppose it would have been nice if there was a PS Vita counterpart so it could be enjoyed on the go. But the biggest problem Puppeteer really has – and one it can do very little about – is ensuring that it really gets the love it so readily deserves.
Audio/Visual – 5/5: Stunning. Everything breaths life and is full of fun, helped a lot by the audio score and the sound of snipping scissors.
Gameplay – 4/5: Incredibly good fun with an eye for exploration, but gets slightly repetitive – especially on your own.
Innovation – 4/5: Draws upon some of the best elements of Rayman Origins and adds a splash of its own talent in design, but gameplay is – ultimately – nothing new.
Value – 4/5: Plenty of length here, and two player will add even more, but you may find little reason to play through time and time again.