It’s difficult to play Puppeteer and not notice the clear influence many other popular platforms have had on it. Whilst this isn’t a game lacking in identity, it is one that presents new ideas side by side with mechanics that will be exceptionally familiar to fans of the genre. Is Puppeteer the next Little Big Planet? It honestly could be.
Remember when Shakespeare said ‘All the world’s a stage’? Probably not as that was nearly two hundred years ago, but these words ring especially true for Studio Japan’s latest title. The entire game takes place between two curtains, but imposing such a limiting factor actually results in some immense creativity, and the popular elements of a 2D platform are re-imagined as elaborate set pieces and props. The scenery constantly changes and as soon as one challenge is presented another appears almost instantly. The game has a great imagination and the levels are often taken in wacky and unpredictable directions.
Mechanically, Puppeteer has a very similar feel to Little Big Planet. You have the same floaty jump, the physics feel the same and you control your character with the analogue stick, not the D-pad. You also have a very large head, although in Puppeteer it falls off when you take damage. If this happens you have a few seconds to reclaim it, just like in a Sonic game where you dash about trying to collect the rings you dropped. In fact, Puppeteer’s influences are very obvious, and in the first hour of the game you’ll be jumping over barrels a lot like in Donkey Kong, and climbing a big tower that’s reminiscent of the one in Super Mario 64’s Bob-omb Battlefield.
Puppeteer does have a few of it’s own ideas as well, including an interesting scissor mechanic where you can extend your jump distance by cutting things. This is actually really cool, as you can use it to propel your character to great heights and across large gaps. It can also be used to attack enemies, although that’s about as fun as you’d expect mashing the square button to be. My real problem with the combat was when it came to the game’s boss fights. The bosses themselves are generally well designed, but fighting them can be frustrating. Their attack patterns usually require immensely fast reflexes but whilst it might be difficult for you to land a hit on them it’s also very hard for them to kill you, as when you do take damage all you have to do is pick up your head quickly and try again. As a result, I found that whilst I wasn’t necessarily dying, areas like these were taking me far longer than perhaps they should have.
The other notable element of the game is its story, and Puppeteer follows the recent trend of narrated games that essentially talk to you from start to finnish. I quite like this idea as it’s usually keeps you engaged with both the story and the game itself. I remember playing Portal 2 and at points I was solving the puzzles as quickly as I could just to hear what Steven Merchant would say next. Unfortunately for Puppeteer this doesn’t work as well as it could, and the charm and magic that is mostly realised in the gameplay is not present in the game’s narrative.
Whilst Puppeteer can be enjoyed by all ages, its story seems aimed at children and I personally found it incredibly dull. The narration that occurs during gameplay is tolerable, but the second the story takes over things become tedious and uninteresting. All the while the an easily amused audience laughs and cheers as scenes that aren’t as funny or charming as they think they are. For me this created a real feeling of disconnect, but thankfully it doesn’t carry into the gameplay too much. There was however one point early on when my character’s head was transformed into a burger. The audience clapped and cheered, leaving me somewhat confused by what I wouldn’t consider to be a natural reaction. I mean if I saw a play and the lead role had his face turned into a burger I’d probably be a little confused. I definitely would’t cheer.
But for the most part Puppeteer is a fun and charming platformer that has a good balance between influence and originality. It doesn’t quite reach the highs of Rayman Legends but its slightly darker atmosphere and impressive visual effects make it superior to Little Big Planet in many ways. Puppeteer is likely to be remembered as another exclusive that defined the later years of the PlayStation 3.