Playing Puppeteer is like stepping into a new fairy tale that still feels familiar. It is a fresh story told in settings you have read about before from European and Japanese tales. One night a young boy Kutaro has his soul stolen by a dragon that brings it to the moon for the Moon Bear King. It is put into the body of a puppet which quickly has its head eaten off by this power hungry bear. Aided by an old witch, Kutaro finds other replacement heads to use while he steals Calibrus, a magical pair of scissors from the Moon Bear King. With this scissors he must travel across the moon collecting pieces of the shattered moon stone, in order to put them all together again to revive the moon goddess, defeat the moon bear king and find his way home.
Like most fairy tales, while it is a children’s story there is a dark theme running through it. The grubs, little monsters that attack you on your journey, each have the soul of a child trapped within them. Once you defeat the grub a balloon will pop out of them, cut it in time and you will free the soul allowing the child to return home. If you don’t cut it free quickly it gets sucked back into the grub and you will need to fight it again. The stronger enemies will have several souls trapped within them and you will need to cut free every last one to defeat them.
Kutaro isn’t the only one who is a puppet, every character is. The entire moon is like a puppet stage, all the characters and the world around them are made from wood and other materials. This is why comparisons to Little Big Planet are made, a game made more out of wool and fabric than Puppeteer. At first glance they do appear similar but really the fact that they both use craft materials in their visual style is where the similarities end. What is unique to Puppeteer is how each level moves around you rather than you moving through it. It looks great when you reach a point in the level where the surroundings are pulled away and replaced with new obstacles for you just as though you were on a puppet stage. The areas are changing constantly as you progress and they all look beautiful. There are seven chapters with three acts each that range from dark castles and Japanese woods to under the sea and outer space.
Unfortunately while the tale the game is telling is an interesting one, the cut scenes are numerous and drawn out, each one goes on too long when you know that before and after each level you’re going to have to face another one. There is an option to skip them but then you risk missing the story and funny moments. These characters, both heroes and villains, know they are in a puppet play and will sometimes break character to argue with the narrator, hum along to the music or complain about each other’s acting skills. The narrator is excellent and will describe all voiceless Kutaro’s adventure, sometimes going off on comical tangents about his own life or different facts he knows. All the voice actors are brilliant; it is just the characters themselves that are annoying, there are none you can really care for. Pikarina, a fairy like girl who follows you, talks constantly like a stereotypical teenager. She does have some great lines and modern jokes mentioning twitter and ‘first world problems’ but the incessant chatter will likely get on your nerves.
The game itself is a platforming adventure, as Kutaro you run and jump through the theatrical levels, using Calibrus to cut away enemies as a spotlight shines down on you. A magical scissors used to cut away papery enemies sounds great but most of the time you will be using it to just travel from place to place, cutting along seams to get from one part of the level to the next, this doesn’t really change from the beginning of the game to the end. The boss fights against the Moon Bear King’s generals all tend to follow a pattern that once you work out makes them easy to defeat. Each battle still looks great and making the last few finishing blows through ‘God of War’ style quick time events is always satisfying.
Moon shards are scattered through each level to collect and gathering one hundred of them gets you an extra life. There are more than enough of these so I never found myself close to running out of lives. Instead of a health bar you can carry up to three heads, get hit once and it will roll away, if you manage to catch it within three seconds you get it back otherwise its gone, a bit like Sonic the Hedgehog’s rings. There are one hundred different heads which can be found throughout the game which can be anything from a banana to the grim reaper. Each one has a unique little movement Kutaro can do with it, this doesn’t serve any real purpose but it looks nice and certain parts of levels will offer you extras such as more moon shards or a bonus level if you happen to have a particular head with you. There are four heads that once you find, unlock a new, permanent ability for you to use like the ninja head’s bomb throwing technique. An unseen audience will react to your abilities too, the more skilled you are then the more claps and cheers you will hear. Put on a good show and you’ll get an impressive reaction.
As well as controlling Kutaro, at the same time you have full control of Pikarina with the right analog stick. Pikarina can find hidden heads and other secrets in the levels by floating over and interacting with them. This is where two player comes in, she can be controlled by a second controller or the move motion controller if you have it. This makes it easier to discover the levels’ secrets since it can be a challenge to be racing down a hill jumping over obstacles as Kutaro while at the same time trying to have Pikarina examine the props.
The gameplay itself is quite average and I would have liked to see more done with the scissors and the abilities offered by the different heads. That said Puppeteer is a gorgeous looking game with a unique style thanks to its theatrical themes. It is a game aimed at children that they will no doubt enjoy and there is still enough substance for adults to appreciate as well.
Puppeteer is out now on the PlayStation 3 for €39.99, it is in 3D and can be played with the move controller for those who have it.