Review: Puppeteer (PS3)
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (“Just Under 7GB”)
Release Date: September 10, 2013
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: SCE Studios Japan
Original MSRP: $39.99
ESRB Rating: E10+
Puppeteer is exclusive to PlayStation 3.
The Blu-ray disc version was used for this review.
Kutaro is a boy that was turned into a puppet, and his head has been stolen, and it’s up to him to… you know what, I don’t want to get into the story. Just know that it’s fantastic, and it needs to be experienced first-hand instead of me trying to explain it. Every character is rich and engaging, and the performances are all extremely well done.
The audio review for this game is available on Episode 336 of the podcast.
At its core, Puppeteer is a platformer, and a great one at that. Gavin Moore and company have done something magical here, making sure that you’ll never get bored with any aspect of the game. Backgrounds are always changing, as are enemies. At the heart of the gameplay is an enchanted pair of oversized scissors called ‘Calibrus’, and the farther you delve into the world, the more powers you and your sharp implements will gain. Abilities that you’ll gain include a cool Pirate Hook, Ninja Bombs, and a charge cut with your magical shears. The designers have done an excellent job at ramping your abilities up, and nothing ever feels overwhelming.
Controls are fantastic, as are the game mechanics. I’ve been smiling a lot while playing Puppeteer because they’ve completely captured that old-school platformer feel that I love so much, but at the same time have made such wonderful moves to make sure that the game is always fresh and never repetitive. You won’t always be running from left to right though, as they’ve thrown some curve balls in there like overhead levels, on rails portions where you jump and duck to miss obstacles, and you’ll even run from right to left (*GASP*)! Even in the boss battles, some are broken up between what you would expect, then switching to a quick time event to finish the job. Even though most bosses are as large as the screen (or even bigger) the mechanics used in these battles feel like your favorite pajamas, just right.
Your main attack is executed with the ‘Calibrus’, which allows you to attack some enemies, and cut your way across gaps and up to unreachable heights. Sometimes, the action gets pretty crazy, but if you master your primary weapon, you’ll be able to get through with relative ease. As you progress, your reflexes will definitely get a workout when you’ll have to combine the attacks that you possess, and you’ll smile during the entire experience, even when you die. And die you will. This may look like a kids game, but it’s not. The challenge is definitely there, even as far as needing to utilize some trial-and-error, but it’s never overdone or impossible.
If you have someone sitting on your couch, that person can get into the action as well, either by using another Dual Shock 3, or even a PlayStation Move controller. In 2-player, the 2nd person controls your companion, which is always floating along with you. In single-player, you control this character with the right stick, and interact with items in the background with R2. Doing so shakes items and moonstone shards out, and with 100 shards, you get a continue. But don’t worry, the continues are used so that you don’t have to start from the beginning of a level, and you’ll probably have a stockpile of them. I haven’t been able to play in 2-player, but I’m hearing great things from our friend Martin, that his daughter loves playing along with him using the Move controller.
Simply put, the game is a treat to play, and a very large part of that enjoyment is due to the gameplay. It’s so much fun to play, and there’s so much to do. Each stage has a number of heads to find (your character can wear a bunch of different heads, while possessing three at any time, all based on items you find in the levels, like a cake or a submarine, to name a couple of many.) At certain points throughout the levels, you’ll see kind-of a ghostly image of a specific head, if you have that specific head, press Down on the D-Pad to unlock items or a bonus stage. This aspect of the game alone will challenge completionists for hours as they go back to the specific stages to unlock and find everything.
Prepare to say “wow” at least every 3-5 minutes. Everything about this stylized puppet show is so intricately detailed, with nary a visual glitch to be found. It’s games like this that make me wonder why we need next-gen yet, because the visuals are some of the best I’ve ever seen in ANY game. Every character is made up to look and act like a puppet, so a horse you ride actually has a stick in the bottom, and the giant snake’s segments are all on sticks as well, acting as if many people are controlling it as they run across the stage.
The entire presentation is made to recreate actually being at a puppet show, including large red curtains that open and close between acts. Spotlights follow characters as they move around the stage, and you’ll even get thrown so high that you’ll encounter stage hands up in the rafters adjusting the lighting. Yup, they occasionally break the fourth wall, and it’s so expertly handled that it never gets cheesy. But don’t think for a minute that there’s no humor in this game, because there’s loads of it, and it’s brilliant. See how many references to other PlayStation games that you can catch during the story. A couple of them caught me completely off-guard, and had me laughing when I finally realized what they did.
Also, if you have a 3D display, charge the batteries in your glasses, because Puppeteer was made for 3D, and it’s just about the best I’ve ever seen since some of the newer Pixar movies. 3D works especially well too since it’s more of a side view then everything coming straight at you. The layers of depth that are incorporated in the levels already looked great, but in 3D it’ll just blow your mind. Unlike the typical side-scrolling platformers out there, Puppeteer instead breaks the levels into segments of a stage performance. So when you reach a certain point, the stage falls out, and the next segment slides into the foreground, allowing you to continue your journey. It’s really tough to describe, but when you see it in action, you’ll instantly fall in love with what they’ve done.
Since this is a puppet show/stage show, you’ll be regaled with some wonderful dialogue scenes as well, all with amazing performances by some of the coolest character designs that I’ve ever seen. Again, I don’t really want to give the story elements away, but when you experience what they’ve put into this game, I’m pretty confident that you’ll appreciate the immense amount of writing and planning that went into bringing Puppeteer to life, and the visuals really do go above and beyond with nothing to compare them to. Yes, it looks THAT good.
The narrator, right from the beginning, is your guide through all that happens along Kutaro’s journey, and he’s perfect. The voice is spot-on, and the writing brings everything to life, with just a little humor sprinkled in to lighten the mood. Voice acting throughout is amazingly well done, and the soundtrack is good enough that I could listen to it in my car. There are hours of dialogue in Puppeteer, but it never gets old because the story is so engaging. The audio surrounds your head from all sides, and just like the visuals, a continual evolution is achieved. You’ll need to experience this for yourself to understand what I’m trying to tell you, and it’s great no matter if you’re using a surround sound system or a pair of headphones.
This game is single-player only.
This isn’t just one of my favorite games of 2013, this is one of my favorite games of this generation, and it nicely fills a void that’s sorely been abandoned lately. I have absolutely no complaints about Puppeteer, and I can’t praise this masterpiece enough. It not only brings a great challenge in a devoid platforming category, but it also brings levity, a great story, fantastic performances, visual perfection, and most important of all, heart. Puppeteer is definitely a contender for Game of the Year in my books, and I can’t recommend it enough. Plus, it’s only 40 bucks!?!?!? Buy this game, set some time aside, and experience it. You won’t be disappointed.
* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Blackmagic Intensity Pro.
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