Monday, September 1, 2014

Puppeteer - A Graphic Designer's Fairy Tale Adventure

Platform: PS3    Genre: Platforming     Release: September, 2013
Platforming games have been a dime a dozen since Pitfall on Atari, but Puppeteer still manages to set itself apart somehow. 

From a gameplay standpoint, it's simply average. You jump over stuff (the physics for which imitate a marionette's movement and so are a bit of a departure from the platforming norm), you collect plentiful coin substitutes (moonsparkles) for extra lives that you'll hardly ever use, and you have a few additional gimmicks to spice things up. The primary gimmick is that you wield magical scissors with which you can attack and cut your way up and around objects. Surprisingly, the scissors aren't as interesting as they sound and mostly just amount to rhythmically mashing square to fly through the air at designated points. As you progress, you also gain the abilities to toss bombs, reflect certain attacks with a shield, ground pound, and lasso enemies and certain objects. Once again, even though these new moves can be used against enemies, they only slightly spice up the gameplay since they're only used to progress in places marked with a super obvious bomb icon / pound the ground here icon / hook / energy shooting enemy.
Put bomb on bomb icon.
The second big gimmick of the game is that your health is determined by how many heads you have and that these many varied heads are hidden all over the place. Unfortunately, wearing a particular head doesn't affect your abilities at all except for allowing you to use its "head action" at a matching head action location in order to access bonus stages, extra moonsparkles, alternate paths, or amusing dialogue. In order to find the heads, you'll have to control a second character with the right stick (or a Playstation Move or a second human player) and examine every background object along the way. The vast majority of background objects just shake and give moonsparkles, but every once in a while, one will either give you a new head or react in a semi-puzzle-like way that will eventually give you a new head. If you play with a second player, they can also knock away obstacles for you as well as search for heads. If searching every background object for heads and then searching again for their corresponding head action point sounds a bit tedious, that's because it kind of is. On the one hand, it is amusing to see what new and different heads you can find, but on the other hand, the method of finding them and the lack of benefit in doing so is kind of a let down.
There's a beehive and a beehive icon and a message saying to use the beehive head,
guess this is where to use the beehive head you (maybe) found earlier.
By all accounts, what I've described so far should be a merely average platforming game, yet I still found myself enjoying it. Perhaps the reason why is that [I played it with my girlfriend and] everything about its presentation blew me away. The whole game is made to look like a puppet show, complete with a narrator, characters breaking the fourth wall, and bosses that move and look like puppets. There is so much color, clever use of perspective, and original animation in every single level that I have to recommend checking out the game if only to gape at the brilliant graphic design. Oh, by the way, it's also compatible with 3D TVs, so I imagine that that'd make it even more impressive. On top of that, the soundtrack is beautifully orchestrated and makes every action feel epic. Also, since this is a puppet show, there's a story that goes along with it. If you can't abide cutscenes, you might want to skip this game because there are a buttload of them and constant dialogue and narration while playing as well. At first, it seemed like Saturday morning cartoon levels of silliness, but after playing a bit.I was impressed by how good and clever the writing was, how well done the voice acting was, and even how endearing the characters and story were.
I played through the entire game and put it in this playlist so you can check it out.

If you're worried about length, the game has seven acts with three levels each and most levels take a good twenty to twenty-five minutes. On top of that, you may be so compelled to find all the heads and head action points or go after the overly plentiful PSN trophies. Earlier levels also have some secrets that are only accessible after acquiring moves from later in the game, so at least some of the game is worth a replay.

The Final Word:
From a gameplay standpoint, Puppeteer is a bit lacking, but since its music, story, and especially art direction are so mind-blowingly good, you'll probably feel compelled to overlook its other flaws. It's not for people who detest cute and amusing fairy tale stories, but for parents and kids, open-minded gamers, and graphic design enthusiasts, I definitely recommend checking it out.