A videogame can be far more than the sum of its parts when each of the pieces fit together perfectly – achieving that magical, delicate balance that removes the normal boundaries between casual and hardcore. SCE Japan Studio’s Puppeteer for the Playstation 3 seems to achieve that level of ideal appeal; and while it is probably not a perfect game for every single person that owns a PS3, it is something that -in my humble opinion- should be played by everyone.
The story begins with the betrayal of the Moon Goddess, who is betrayed by her own, precious Moon Bear. Hungry for power, the Moon Bear claimes the mystical scissors known as Calabrus, and crowns himself king of the Moon. At night, he steals the souls of children, imprisoning their life essences into the bodies of puppets. Along comes our hero, Kutaro, who has the misfortune of having his puppet head bitten off by the Moon Bear King, and is then thrown into the dungeon. At this point, we are introduced to the crazy Moon Witch and her flying cat, Ying Yang. Interested in deposing the Moon Bear King, she sends her flying feline to enlist the help of Kutaro, hoping that, perhaps this time, she has chosen a puppet that will actually go the distance.
The headless Kutaro, with the help of Ying Yang, discovers that he has the ability to make up for his lack of noggin by attaching other objects to his shoulders to use as cranial substitutes, replacing his normality with versatility. These heads are not from other puppets like him, per se; rather, they are based on other objects that grant Kutaro abilities related to their original forms. For instance, Kutaro can adopt a spiked ball head to affix to his neck, or a large spider head – there are many options: some easy to find, and some quite well hidden. Certain heads can also be used (in certain locations) to trigger specific events, leading to some interesting discoveries. Each head also grants Kutaro a special ability – but these usually don’t have much practical use in normal situations.
The setting is out of this world.
Kutaro can own up to three heads which he can switch between on the fly. It’s a good thing, too; for the heads are not stuck on as well as his original, and should he lose one during combat (or an accident with a hazard), he has a limited time to find it before it disappears forever. This is not such a dire situation, though, as each stage has plenty of heads lying about that can be quickly scooped up to replace what has been lost. Of course, losing a head might lead to frustration when you encounter a trigger that requires the particular brain-holder that you lost – but they are not usually required to complete mainstream tasks (and if they are, they will be provided for you).
Kutaro comes equipped with some cursory movement and combat-related manoeuvres, which are easy to learn. However, things start picking up as Kutaro picks up some mystical objects along the way – most notably, the magical pair scissors known as Calibrus. Calibrus can be utilized as a fearsome weapon, cutting down attackers and freeing any possible souls within. They can also be used as a way to literally fly, for as Kutaro uses them to cut anything (and you can cut quite a number of tangible and intangible things) above ground, they cause him to hang in the air for a half second – until he falls or performs another cut (which keeps him aloft for another moment). There are some entire sections of levels devoted to this “flight” mechanic, presenting multiple paths that each hold their own share of goodies. As I mentioned, there are some other objects that Kutaro will acquire throughout his adventure that will grant him some new abilities. They are part of the story, so I won’t give them away – but really, it’s Calibrus that trumps everything.
What’s this? What is Kutaro wearing? Play the game and find out, you lazybones!
Game-play is definitely a lot of fun, as you control both Kutaro and Ying-Yang (right analogue stick). The “normal” parts of the level are quite easy and fun to get through. Enemies and puzzles are plentiful, but thanks to a clever checkpoint system that involves collecting Moon Shards (which can be found by Ying Yang, for the most part), you get a free respawn for every hundred Moon Shards that you collect. You will need these chances during some of the boss fights; these colossal battles will cause you to lose your head from time to time, which is not really difficult as it is easy to lose your concentration due to distraction (trust me: you will gawk at the splendor of these elaborate battles). Normal levels and big battles are all seamlessly tied together with brilliant cut-scenes that keep everything moving at a great clip1.
Puppeteer is staged (ha!) like an actual play, complete with foot lights, curtains, and noisy set changes. An unseen audience voices its approval or dismay at events that transpire on the main stage. The visuals in this game are spectacular, and they capture the theme perfectly. Unlike other “realistic”-looking games, the hyper-reality of the Puppeteer is anchored around the stage – and everything behaves as it should. The visuals of the game remind me a lot of the LittleBigPLanet series, with some specific refinements that grant Puppeteer a unique look. The audio is so flawlessly integrated with the video that it gives the entire experience something of an organic feel – which is an irony, as puppets are not really alive, are they? This is driven home even more by the absolutely top-notch voice work that has gone into the game. Puppeteer is one of those titles that I could just play for hours – and I still do.
Boss fights are amazing. Be sure to stock up on Moon Shards.
Puppeteer has a lot going for it. With twenty-one stages (across seven worlds) to explore, each with its fair share of secrets and goodies (as well as the ability to play using the Move), you will have a lot of re-playing to do. Though slightly dark and mildly scary in some places (usually just due to the music and voice acting), this game is great for adults and for kids, as each will get something different out of it (so many Ying Yang cat puns). Playing this game together would be ideal, because at the end of the day, Puppeteer is a beautifully constructed story that happens to be artfully presented in game format. I wholeheartedly suggest that you at least try this game. If you don’t like it, chances are you’ll know someone with a PS3 who will appreciate this amazingly enchanting tale.