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First Impressions: An Audience with Puppeteer, the PS3 Panto Deserving of a Standing Ovation

Posted by Sammy Barker

Pure theatre

Games like Puppeteer don’t deserve to be sitting out in the wings. You’re more likely to find Japan Studio’s side-scroller nursing a cold cup of coffee and pushing about props than strutting its stuff on centre stage. In an industry increasingly obsessed with leading lights like Call of Duty and Battlefield, there’s becoming less and less space for humble platformers to find a place on the shrinking console cast list. Fortunately, publisher Sony’s never afraid to take a risk – but does its latest offbeat production break a leg or fall flat on its face?

Having scored front-row seats for the opening act of the Tim Burton meets Terry Gilliam release, we were lucky enough to get a sneak peek at what you can expect from the PlayStation 3 exclusive when the curtain lifts on the title in early September. Fortunately, we left the theatre dazzled and dazed – but, perhaps most importantly, desperate to get our hands on the full game. This promises to be a vibrant adventure, that’s absolutely deserving of a place on your box office wishlist.

If you haven’t already familiarised yourself with the script, the title sees you assume the role of Kutaro, a wooden imp with a mislaid noggin. Having been discarded by the glamorous (but ever so slightly grumpy) Moon Bear King, the peg-legged protagonist finds himself at beck and call of an alliterative witch, who’s desperate to lay her snip-happy digits on a supernatural pair of scissors. After sending teems of unsuspecting children to their doom, the headless hero and his sarcastic kitten companion manage to nab the enchanted utensils – and end up irritating the aforementioned mad mammal in the process.

It turns out that those clippers are pretty pivotal to the way that Puppeteer plays. Most platformers have a momentum-based mechanic, and for Kutaro and crew it’s all about cutting through delicate materials. Mashing the square button sends you hurtling through the air, snapping the jaws of your Excalibur-esque shears along the way. You can keep snipping as long as you’re carving a path, allowing you to essentially fly through the world. It sounds simple on (chopped) paper, and it is – but it works incredibly well. Swooping across roller coasters of yarn, and up the furry paws of fuzzy-felt felines feels like nothing you’ve done in a video game before, and it’s supremely satisfying to boot.

But it’s not just the act of playing the game that stands out. This is a release that looks like nothing else either; its rotating sets and stage lights really are a breath of fresh air. The crowd will cheer you on as you slay bad guys, giggle as you uncover secrets in the environment, and gasp as the game’s pantomime villains cook up dastardly plans. The environments look hastily constructed, but gorgeous in a LittleBigPlanet-style make-do regard. If there’s any real disappointment, it’s that in the desire to switch the scenery up, stages are split into scenes which last a few seconds at most. You probably shouldn’t expect sprawling sequences in the full game.

The variety that the setup imbues is worthy of applause, though, and its accentuated by the cavalcade of alternative noggins that you can equip. Because the hero is without his head, you need to attach different bits of bric-a-brac to survive. These range from hamburgers and sushi to guillotines and crowns. Each custom cranium augments you with a new ability, and triggering these at specific moments will allow you to reach bonus stages or progress through the game. You can carry three heads at a time, but drop them all and you’ll die. Fortunately, collecting a hundred Moon Shards rewards you with the option to retry. It’s all quite old-school beneath its, ahem, theatrical facade.

If you’re flying solo, then you’ll be able to control a sub-character using the right analogue stick. This adopts the guise of a ‘Meow-velous’ moggy named Ying-Yang in the opening exchanges, but switches to the pink fairy from the game’s marketing materials later on. The premise remains the same, though: you move the minion around the screen, and interact with items and enemies in order to give Kutaro a helping hand. If you’d rather perform in tandem, then a second player can jump into costume and assume this role independently. Alternatively, you can use the PlayStation Move controller if you prefer. You’ll probably feel like you’ve drawn the short straw if you’re not guiding the Pinocchio-esque protagonist, but younger players will likely enjoy interacting with the supporting stars.

Alas, while the gameplay may seem quite simplistic on the surface, the boss fights are anything but. An early clash against an enormous quick-witted talking tiger sees you hopping over its electric charges, defending against its catnip-induced swipes, snipping away at its mangy mane, and cutting out its teeth. The presentation – and, most importantly, animation – is absolutely astounding, and the game features a lot of depth effects that will make you wish that you owned a nifty stereoscopic display. These battles appear to be pattern-based, but the introduction of quick-time events augment the set-pieces with a sense of scale that rivals God of War rather than your traditional bout against King Koopa.

The audio is tip-top, too. Ignoring the awesome title screen that remixes the famous PS3 startup sound, the music is a blend of harpsichords, orchestral swells, and big horn motifs. It’s plucked straight out of a Danny Elfman songbook, but it suits the side-scroller’s sense of style perfectly. The voice acting is similarly rambunctious, with more wordplay than a joke shop’s book aisle. The whole experience can feel a little busy at times – with characters constantly shouting their lines – but it’s befitting of the pantomime tone, and makes sense in context, even if it’s a bit exhausting.

That shouldn’t deter you from securing your seats, though. This is shaping up to be a potty, pacey, and precisely polished platformer. The magical chopping mechanic brings a unique dynamic to the action, while the replacement heads system ensures that there’s always something silly around the corner. However, it’s the larger than life boss fights and rich presentation that really elevate the release beyond its relatively humble ambitions. Just make sure that you don’t utter the word ‘Macbeth’ before release.


Are you planning to purchase tickets for Puppeteer? Would you like to see more platformers on the PS3? Let us know in the comments section below.

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User Comments (19)

ferrers405

#3

ferrers405 said:

@get2sammyb Thank you and I think gamers should pay more attention to this kind of games that place the player in a atmospher that involve more than a simple shooter or annual editions.

Visiblemode

#4

Visiblemode said:

Ok so after barely paying attention to this one for ages, this is finally going on the pre-order list. Yikes...with PS4 coming this is starting to get out of hand.

Epic

#5

Epic said:

Its looks great but I'm a bit worried that it might end up having poor sales like Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time

get2sammybAdmin

#6

get2sammyb said:

@Epic Sly actually ended up doing pretty well in the end. But, yeah, it's not going to set the charts alight. Let Sony worry about the sales, though, and just enjoy the game.

-CraZed-

#7

-CraZed- said:

I REALLY want to play this game... alas I will have to wait for it to hit Gaikai on the PS4 some time down the road (if Gaikai ever really pans out). Have my PS4 preordered and I will be selling my PS3 to help pay for it. So many good games at the end of this generation.... Puppeteer does look amazing though.

odd69

#9

odd69 said:

i wasnt aware that these games were dead. didnt little big planet do well? i cant get enough of high production platforming

8vpiper

#10

8vpiper said:

Definitely Must BUY! but somehow I still feel this should have been a title for Vita?

heero2001

#12

heero2001 said:

Never use to love platform games, but in the past year or so I have really learned to enjoy them (thanks to Nintendo). Now I can't get enough of them. Will definitely get this one.

8vpiper

#13

8vpiper said:

I've tweeted him about it a couple of times :) and moaned about no GT on vita too lol

Mahe

#14

Mahe said:

Really not feeling what's good about Puppeteer. Most of all, I like platformers with solid controls, and Puppeteer looks like it will be too floaty.

Wozman23

#15

Wozman23 said:

Since the second the curtain was pulled back at Gamescom, it's been my most anticipated game by far. I'm still infatuated with platformers, especially ones that are so fantastical and surreal. Between this and Rayman, I fear I may have some sort of creative aneurism.

While I don't expect it to perform all that well, I'm extremely grateful to Sony for still providing me with the alternative games that I enjoy.

Ginkgo

#16

Ginkgo said:

I'm really not into platformers, but this does look good, and quite different. Will keep watching. Hopefully they will release a demo.

odd69

#19

odd69 said:

I guess they are dying in a way cause today is all about big scale first person shooter, but there will always be an indie developer that cant afford much so we do get them but not on the scale of this one. I hope this brings back this genre to the peak like it was in the early 90's, i just love throwbacks.I will be buying this one without a doubt, dont even need a demo, the videos are enough. i dont want to spoil my playthrough so i doubt i will try the demo out first. crazy huh

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