As GTA V comes out and stomps all over everything, it seems the first overlooked retail game of fall 2013 is destined to be Puppeteer which came out a couple weeks ago. Even I only remembered a couple blurbs about this game from when it was announced at E3 as another game on the pile of PS3 exclusives this year. After just finishing it instead of playing GTA V, it’s actually a very good platformer with an undeniably unique presentation, even if it gets on my nerves sometimes.
The core idea behind Puppeteer is actually pretty smart — a side scrolling platformer in the form of an interactive puppet show (a little like Dynamite Heady if anyone remembers that game). From the narrator’s introduction as soon as you boot up the game through the constant real time switching of the sets to the enduring presence of the stage as a border, Puppeteer tells its story in a way that feels unusually complete.
And the execution in this area is absolutely solid. Having a cast of characters rendered as wooden puppets on a deliberately artificial background is probably what allows Puppeteer’s graphics engine to shine the way it does, even on the seven-year-old PS3. The voice acting is also good enough to live up to the rest of the presentation. I just wish Puppeteer would allow the “interactive puppet show” motif to take the spotlight more than it does.
Each section of the game usually starts off with an introduction from the narrator, followed by a cut scene (still played out like a puppet show) that can sometimes run multiple minutes before you actually start playing. Personally I could do without all those cut scenes (there’s enough dialogue and story exposition during gameplay). They’re well done but more than once I was tempted to skip them just to get on to the game. The narrator by himself already does a good enough job of story exposition here. I really was hoping a game with such uniformly brilliant presentation would let that shine through the actual game and not what could’ve been a CG movie.
Even in-game though, I was pretty annoyed by Puppeteer’s tutorials. This game has a lot of the crap that’s pushing me away from full-budget console games these days, including certain forms of hand-holding, quick-time events, and tutorials that tip-toes you through each little step of each new gameplay mechanic after you’ve probably already figured out what you’re doing. These tutorials continue through pretty much the first half of the game too.
Underneath all that though, Puppeteer is actually a very well-designed platformer. I don’t know if it’s Nintendo-tier but there is a lot of smart level design and clever, challenging use of the mechanics to be experienced here.
I said Puppeteer can be overbearing with tutorials and hand-holding at times, but overall, beyond the first couple worlds (called Acts in this game) I never felt like it was too easy. Though the game has a variety of gameplay mechanics, your main tool is a magical pair of scissors you use to cut parts of the environment both for combat and locomotion, and the game manages to keep thinking up new ways to utilize them right up to the end. The boss fights, of which there are a lot, are pretty much all well-designed too.
My only complaint with Puppeteer’s core gameplay is probably that each level is a bit too long. Each Act is split into three “curtains,” but each one can take up to a half hour, and many probably could’ve been split into two or three levels. The game encourages a bit of replay by putting hidden bonus levels and items in each level, but the task of repeating such long levels if you don’t perfect them is pretty daunting.
Still, if you’re jonesing for some good platforming, Puppeteer is probably one of the better retail games you can get all year. Plus, Sony was pretty smart to price the game at $40.
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