Puppeteer was the game I most enjoyed playing at E3 this year. It’s wonderfully imaginative, it’s got a great, unique art style, and it’s got solid gameplay too.
The story reminded me of Spirited Away, and the characters in the game must come from similar folklore. You are a boy, Kutaro, whose soul is taken away by a wicked wizard, the emperor of the moon known as the Moon Bear King. Your soul is put into a puppet, but the wizard eats your puppet-head off. This is weird enough, but getting different heads to put on is part of the gameplay, and they also serve as your “health” – you can only keep up to three heads. You find all sorts of different heads to put on, from spider heads to skull heads to mini-house heads. These don’t seem to impact your interaction with the world other than to find bonus crystals if you have the right head at the right time, but they’re fun. Crystals are important because 100 of them adds up to a continue, which you’ll need to use up if you lose all your heads. I’m not sure what happens if you run out of continues, but with the nature of the game being a story-telling device I’m sure you wouldn’t be set too far back.
Gameplay and story are both wonderful. The gameplay is fairly straightforward 2D platforming and puzzle solving with an emphasis on puzzle solving. The story is supported by incredible art design – everything looks like a puppet made from all sorts of materials, and the stages all take place on stage, with curtains on the left and right. This is used effectively, with backdrops appearing and disappearing as your story goes on. The sets are magnificent; I played a stage where you fight a dragon, and the entire stage takes place on the dragon’s back – trying to get to its head. There was a lot of variety just within this one chapter, and each chapter tells a whole story so it seems nothing is reused between chapters.
In an early chapter I played each platforming screen was self-contained just like on a stage, and when you reached a teleport spot the whole the stage fell away and was replaced by another that was just behind it. As you played the layers at the back of the stage peeled away leading you into the background. One area I played was an on-rails, you’re riding a bird and have to press X to jump or down to duck at the right times, similar to Donkey Kong Country’s mine-cart sections. And, like in Donkey Kong’s mine-cart sections, I died a lot here because of the reliance on memory and speed, but the only irritating bit was the repetition of the voice-over which tells the story as you play.
You’re armed with a number of items. The first one you get is the Calibrus Scissors, which allow you to cut through things. As long as you’re cutting something you float in the direction you cut, so it’s a great platorming mechanic too. Later on you get other items, such as a grappling hook that can hook onto things and bombs that do what bombs do. You also learn other moves to add to your capabilities. The boss fight I played against the dragon felt a lot like a Zelda boss fight (a good thing in my opinion) in that it was not about high skill levels or fast reactions, but about figuring out how you could combine your abilities to defeat the boss. I had to use just about all the abilities I had to destroy the dragon, and although I can’t say it was very difficult it was very rewarding and fantastic to watch.
Sony had a generous demo of Puppeteer available to play at E3, with one full chapter and about half another one available, and while it must have taken about 45 minutes to play through them I didn’t notice a minute. Gamers who enjoy a good tale with solid gameplay and great production values are going to love this game. It seems especially suitable for the whole family, one of those rare titles (outside of Nintendo’s stable) that should appeal to all ages and all cultures, although with it’s different art style this might put off some. Check it out, and if the videos or screenshots appeal to you, know that the game they’re part of is looking really solid. Puppeteer is a must-buy for me on PlayStation 3 this year.
Puppeteer will be available on September 10th in the US and September 11th in European territories. Check out our previous coverage of this highly anticipated platformer for screenshots, trailers, and more information.