Developer: SCE Japan Studio | Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment | Played On: PlayStation 3 | Price: $39.99 | ESRB: Everyone 10+ [Alcohol Reference, Fantasy Violence, Mild Language, Suggestive Themes]
Plays are wonderful works of moving art made up of several parts: the actors are obviously the centerpiece, but there’s also the music that facilitates the sentiment of significant scenes; there’s the scenery and props that draw the audience into the world; there’s the lighting that focuses on the characters of importance; and there’s the theatre directors and playwrights that bring the entire production to fruition. How these details—which bear resemblance to game design—complement each other is what stands out the most in SCE’s newest playgame Puppeteer.
Professor Gregorious T. Oswald, or G for short, welcomes you to the show with bombastic enthusiasm, and reminds you to please turn off your cell phone. The curtains open to reveal Kutaro, a boy who has been transported to the moon. The Moon Bear King, the creature who rules the place, steals the souls of Earth children to defend his castle and increase his power. With Kutaro is obviously his next victim, and the king duly devours his head—which harbors his soul—then leaves him to transform into one of his minions.
Just as Kutaro’s lifetime of servitude is about to begin, a cat appears and helps him find some replacement heads. The cat then introduces Kutaro to Ezma Potts, an old witch who promises to return Kutaro’s soul in exchange for the king’s magic scissors. Desperate to return home, as any child would be, he agrees; a wise choice as it turns out Kutaro is the chosen one, destined to wield the enchanted shears. With the scissors’ unique powers, Kutaro sets forth on a quest to return the kingdom to its once peaceful state and find a way home.
Puppeteer is a sidescrolling-platforming delight. Kutaro is able to transverse the entire moon kingdom by cutting through leaves, flags, smoke, and papier-mâché balloons to reach higher platforms. Using the scissors to scale buildings and vines is an amusing and innovative take on the platforming idea, even when the scissors lag in midair, making some jumps a bit difficult—but that seems to be part of the challenge.
Functioning also as a weapon, the scissors can knock over enemies to then, most importantly, release their souls. As we learned earlier, minions used to be children whose souls have been locked beneath an ugly exterior, forced to do the Moon Bear King’s bidding; Kutaro is able to save these kids by cutting the string that ties them to their form. It’s subtle, but this gesture highlights the level of detail given to Kutaro’s smallest acts—thus, the treatment of the overall game.
Beyond the nifty clippers, Kutaro gains the ability to throw bombs—that minions seem to love to play with—and reflect attacks. These powers are used for platforming purposes, but become most important in boss battles, of which there is a plethora. Every boss battle makes use of Kutaro’s powers differently, raising the difficulty and keeping fights diverse and exciting. The rush of cutting through the fabric of space while avoiding shooting stars at hyper speed is fantastic, as is fighting an oversized bull or racing against a train. Kutaro’s powers offer an assortment of gameplay mechanics that continuously balance one another, and no technique goes without use or emphasize throughout the game.
Then there’s the power of co-op, or twin-stick maneuvering if you decide to take on the king alone. At any moment a second player can jump in and control Pikerina, Kutaro’s sidekick who consistently tries to steal the spotlight. She has the power to interact with—or “investigate”—all the objects in the world. If a second player is controlling her they’re able to collect moonsparkles, which grant Kutaro more lives on their own, as well as mess with minions to give Kutaro a bit of an advantage. She wasn’t too much of an asset until the fifth or sixth act, but it’s a nice touch to interact with the animals and other props that inhabit the lively environments.
At any given moment Kutaro has three heads to choose from, but should he lose all of them, you lose a life. Heads have different characteristics that interact uniquely with the world, e.g. when there’s a symbol of a spider glowing on a wall then using the spider head opens a bonus stage to gather extra moonsparkles. Then there are heads that when activated assist tremendously in boss battles, encouraging you to find hidden heads and keep them in stock when a big fight seems imminent.
Moreover, it’s incredible watching the set pieces move into place, like they would in a real play. Adding to that “realism” is how some props are anchored into place: clouds are hung from stilts; water is just small pieces of paper; the witch flies using a rope, etc. Puppeteer’s set pieces are also varied, taking you through dark forests illuminated only by pumpkin lanterns to a bright town where all its citizens wear luchador masks. This creative array of worlds matches the diverse gameplay, keeping with the theme of bringing an assortment of ideas together gracefully.
The voice acting is superb, as it should be for a beautiful production. Every character, from the mean old witch to the Moon Bear King himself, has their own pompous personality come to life through the actor’s delivery—yes, they are all actors, as some make clear by breaking the fourth wall. It’s great watching characters forget lines, hearing the audience react to close calls, or witness the narrator bicker with Pikerina, especially considering that despite her being a prominent character, her voice is the only one I found displeasing… downright annoying (plus, she’s the only character that pronounces Kutaro’s name differently). Given some of the backtalk between her and the narrator it seems her character is intentionally irritating.
That said it’s clear that dialogue took precedence over audio synching, because there are several moments where the character is not mouthing what their voice is saying. Seeing as this is a SCE Japan game that’s understandable, but it was all too obvious for a majority of the scenes. Overall, dialogue is an essential part of bringing life to the story, even when it’s downright cheesy—the cat has the nerve to say “meow-gic”— so it’s excusable. What’s not bearable is how the narrator would sometimes talk over the characters. It happened a bit too often, so be sure to have subtitles enabled so you can understand at least what one person is saying.
Puppeteer is a wonderful tale of a boy and his scissors… and magic, witches, and eventually a pirate. There’s so much to take in from the world of Puppeteer that the seven hours you’ll spend on the moon may not be enough. It’s not a fluffy story by any means, given the idea of a boy running around without his head, but it still manages to have a sugary exterior that will delight and entertain. The G-Man guarantees it.
+ Beautiful portroyal of a play in motion
+ Diverse gameplay stops it from ever becoming dull
+ Even the voice actors sound like they had fun, so you will too
9 / 10