Thursday, October 31, 2013

Puppeteer (PS3) Review

Tuesday's review made for a really long headline! Today's review, a special Halloween night one, has a headline that's really short! We don't know why we felt the need to address this, but there you go. Today's review is for a severely overlooked 2 1/2D platformer for the PlayStation 3, Puppeteer.

Fun With A Few Strings Attached

Sony's Japan Studio has been rather quiet on the PlayStation 3, releasing very little for the platform. They have finally come out of hibernation/off hiatus to deliver to PlayStation 3 owners the ultra-quirky and super-charming Puppeteer. Is Puppeteer a cut above the rest, or is playing it "shear" torture?

The Moon Bear King was once loyal to the Moon Goddess, but he soon overthrew her, stole both the Black and White Moonstones (the latter being broken by the Moon Bear King and given to his 12 Generals) and went on to start his rule on the moon. When the moon is lit, the Moon Bear King steals the souls of innocent children and turns them into his controlled grunts. One such boy is Kutaro, who unluckily the Moon Bear tyrant decapitates, swallows his head, and tosses our protagonist aside like garbage. However, Kutaro gains the aid of several allies, finds replacement heads, and steals the mystical pair of golden scissors known as Calibrus. With all of this, Kutaro hopes to regain his head and head back home where he belongs.

Calibrus is invaluable to Kutaro's quest. With these sensational shears, Kutaro can cut across rugs, flags, and other cut-able objects to use them as a means to cross chasms and reach high up platforms. As long as there is something to shear through, Kutaro can stay in the air. There are even threads that Kutaro can cut along, sending him traveling across a predetermined path in fast fashion. Calibrus is also used for combat, allowing Kutaro to slice and dice grunts, saving children's souls in the process.

Kutaro is certainly one kooky cut-up.
Outside of Calibrus, Kutaro gains other helpful items along his adventure. There is a shield that grants Kutaro the ability to deflect and guard against certain attacks, a chain that can pull enemies, objects and larger obstacles towards Kutaro, and an item that gives Kutaro the ability to body slam enemies and objects, as well as push and pull certain points of interest. These items increase the skills in Kutaro's repertoire, and they allowed more possibilities to Puppeteer's superb level design.

The Moon Witch teaches you how
to properly use new abilities.
Something that Puppeteer really gets right are the boss battles, which are creative through and through, much like the game they are featured in. Calibrus certainly gets a workout in these frantic fights. One such battle early on has Kutaro facing off against General Tiger. When the fierce feline smashes his palm to the ground, he emits an electric charge. Through leaping over it, Kutaro can then use his shield ability to give the swiping General's hand a world of hurt. When his hand hurts enough, General Tiger's fur will allow Kutaro to climb it by having Calibrus cut it and traverse up the tiger's arm, eventually taking out one of his sharp fangs.

What big teeth you have!
The better to floss?
Thanks to the tyrant known as the Moon Bear King, Kutaro is without his own head. Thus, our hero needs to fill that empty space where his noggin should be with other objects. Through using your partner similar to a mouse cursor and tapping the R2 button to investigate areas of interest, Kutaro can come across objects that can be substituted for his head-- things like spiders, crowns, fossils, and even burgers! When damaged, Kutaro's current head falls off and bounces around. For a limited time, he can recollect his head, but it will eventually disappear. Kutaro can hold up to three heads, but if the last one in his collection disappears and gets lost, the player loses a life and must restart from a checkpoint.

Kutaro wonders what's cookin'.
The concept of collecting different heads sounds nice, and it would look appealing on a feature list for Puppeteer. However, the way it is executed leaves a little to be desired. Outside of accessing hidden bonus areas or collecting secret Moonsparkles, using a specific head at a specific spot in Puppeteer doesn't do anything. I kept telling myself, "If only each head had its own power to use at any time, this game would be much more interesting." As it stands in Puppeteer, different heads are merely there as a cosmetic change and little else.

Climb aboard General Snake
as you make your way to its head.
Having the right head for the right situation to reach a bonus area seems completely random. It's basically a crap shoot on whether or not you have the correct head the first time you come across a place where you are meant to utilize your head's ability. There are plenty of bonus areas that can only be accessed by returning to a previous level with a head gained from a later level. It just seems like an artificial way to extend the game, especially as many levels just go on for way too long.

Heads actually have a limited use
in Puppeteer, which is a shame.
One of the reasons the levels seem to go on forever is that there are a lot of sections of story exposition thrown in that break up the platforming. It's charming at first, but eventually you grow tired of watching scene after scene. Even though these can skipped, you have to pause the game and select "Skip" each time. This is a further frustration when there are multiple story segments in a row. Quite frankly, these otherwise charming scenes become intrusive to the gameplay, and really, the last thing platformers fans want in the genre are to be taken out of the running and jumping for extended periods of time.

Despite all this, Puppeteer is still a very fun and engaging game. There are seven acts, each housing three curtains (or levels) each. Each level has a number of souls to save, heads to find, and a bonus area to complete. Completing all of this in the game's 21 levels is no simple task and will make even the most veteran of gamers feel the challenge. Puppeteer has a lot of content, so someone who picks the game up will have a meaty title to play through.

Puppeteer is presented like a play. There's even an audience (though unseen) that applauds, cheers, and gasps depending on what happens on the stage. This is extremely clever in how it is done. Worlds and levels are made up of arts and crafts and characters are as whimsical as you'd expect. The art design is really well done and ensures that Puppeteer doesn't look like any other game on the market. The voice work is also implemented in fine fashion, having a narrator and cast that doesn't mind breaking the fourth wall consistently. The music is also fantastic, performed by an orchestra and presenting the player with mysterious and marvelous pieces to listen to. While the gameplay might leave a little something to be desired, the presentation of Puppeteer is among this year's best.

Talk about a bad case of acne!
Puppeteer might not be the most properly executed 2-1/2D platformer on the market, but it truly does fill a hole in the PlayStation 3 library. It might be too niche for the mainstream market, but those who give Puppeteer a chance will find a game that plays well, and is charming, challenging, and cheap to buy. The concept of heads might not have been fully realized, and story elements might destroy any kind of flow within the game, but these gripes aside, Puppeteer is the kind of game that won't string you along.

[SPC Says: 8.5/10]

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