Fancy a 2D platformer that defies your expectations from a presentation standpoint? Then do give Sony's Puppeteer a go.
Developer Sony’s Japan Studio has taken great pains in recreating a musical and live-action play featuring wooden puppets and broadway theatrics to tell its whimsical yet bombastic tale. You know, the very conventional one about an Earth boy who has to get his soul back by saving the Moon from the Moon Bear King and his Chinese Zodiac generals by collecting Moon Shards?
Regardless of that idea, the rest of its platforming shenanigans holds up solidly, though it obviously takes a backstage to the grandeur of Puppeteer's spectacle.
A Sight To Behold
If you can’t tell from the screenshots already, the developer nails it with the aesthetics, look, and sounds. Props, background, and the wood-crafted humanoid/fauna highlights appear and transition out as though the whole production was done live by the Jim Henson Workshop if they had to crib off of every ethnic art style worldwide for each of their seven act play.
The game's music is a mixture of orchestras to strings depending on the context and stage setting, and every character's voice fits to a tee. From the serious-at-times narrator who rambles nonsensically at times to lighten the mood, to the incredibly talkative fairy Pikarina who acts as the guiding voice of questionable reason to reinforce main puppet Kutaro's actions, every audio element works seamlessly.
It's the PG-rated pun and alliterations-filled cross-banter between the two, and the quips both of them have on the many antagonists and flagrant situations that gives Puppeteer character in its setting and structure. If you prefer your platformers less on the chatty side, however, you may be less enthused.
The Play's The Thing
For a game that showboats to the extreme, it really does not take many chances in its challenges and design. That's not to say that it's horrible. Far from it., the entire game plays out like a breeze, though the highlights start popping up in the spotlight beyond the third act.
Kutaro jumps and snips through obstacles with the magical scissors and plot device called Calibrus, all with relatively ease thanks to solid controls. Getting used to the main puppet's jumping and movement physics, as well as piloting Calibrus to snip through obstacles in the air, is as simple as learning the ins and outs of a Mario game.
You'll then get access to a grappling hook which pulls obstacles away after a few tugs, bombs to eradicate certain breakable structures, a shield to reflect beams of light and projectiles, and a bull head that either makes you ground pound or pull/push obstacles.
Kutaro also has access to different heads throughout his seven act adventure. Activate them by pressing down on the d-pad, and the heads reveal secret passages to bonus stages and alter stage elements to give your main character a slight edge. While the latter point has seen some use, particularly with a fight taking place inside a Jack O’ Lantern’s head, it is sadly underutilized. Instead, players are given more conventional platforming segments such as gravity-defying bits using Calibrus and simplistic situations requiring the use of Kutaro’s aforementioned tools.
Certain points beyond the third act can impress even the most jaded gamers like Act 6 Curtain 3’s chase sequence and Act 5’s haunted house-themed pitfalls. However, the game’s ordinary stage designs hold Puppeteer back from being a splendour.
Boss fights such as the showdown with General Bull and General Dragon are well-paced and elicits challenge and energy. Yet, they finish off with a rote quick time event that just feels hamfisted; like the developers couldn't figure out how to end it properly except with a procedure of button prompts. The game imitates but never fully duplicate its inspirational sources.
Review by Jonathan Toyad Leo.