Roll up, roll up! A veritable feast for the eyes awaits those who dare to peek behind the curtain at Puppeteer, a platformer with so much charm that it glints and gleams enticingly amongst the PlayStation 3’s previous offerings suitable for pint-sized gamers but able to be enjoyed by adults. Puppeteer ushers both into their seats, warms up the orchestra, hits the lights, and draws back the curtain with a flourish to tell the tale of plucky little Kutaro, a little boy whose soul is trapped inside a puppet thanks to the villainous Moon Bear King.
Fortunately, with the help of a few unlikely allies, Kutaro steals a powerful pair of magical scissors called Calibrus, and sets off to free the souls of all the other little boys and girls unlucky enough to have crossed the path of the Moon Bear.
Played alone or with a friend, Puppeteer is a sidscrolling platformer with environments made to pop – especially on a 3D television. Kutaro can run and jump his way through levels, but the scissors he wields are the real star of the show, and can be used in ways that are completely unexpected yet totally obvious.
As well as shredding through the Moon Bear King’s minions, cutting rapidly allows Kutaro to fly – provided Calibrus has something to cut. Snipping along seams in the scenery propels Kutaro through levels at break neck speed, while snipping up a twisty vine or through falling leaves may reveal new areas to explore.
Of course, Kutaro can’t be expected to do anything without a head, and fortunately hundreds of replacements can be found throughout the game. If Kutaro takes a hit, his replacement head tumbles off and he must pursue it quick smart or lose it altogether. Run out head substitutes and its game over.
Using the right analogue stick, players also control the Moon Witch’s flying cat and later a sassy Sun Princess, both of whom investigate the scenery for Kutaro. Exploring environments can unearth new heads and other items, or even reveal bonus levels. Alternatively, a second player can play this character with the PlayStation Move wand.
In fact, Puppeteer has unlockables galore to keep even the most ardent treasure hunters busy, and that’s on top of the long hours it takes to chop through all of the Moon Bear King’s minions and generals to get to the final showdown of claws versus snips.
Reminiscent of LittleBigPlanet and Tim Burton aesthetically, Puppeteer’s scenes chop and change abruptly, each more colourful than the last. Its fast pace ensures there is no time for boredom, and players will be hooked by its imaginative story, its characters – which brim with hilarious dialogue – and its wildly different environments.
The story is as macabre as it is enchanting, bringing to mind the darker of Grimms’ Fairy Tales. It’s the kind of thing that is told to scare small children into good behaviour, but visually there isn’t much here to provoke nightmares.
In fact, SCE Japan Studio has struck a fine balance tonally, with what could have been gruesome and scary content balanced by a jovial narrator and an in-game audience that is not seen but heard to laugh, gasp, and applaud in all the right places. As such, the fantasy of Puppeteer will keep the kids entertained but not awake at night.
Giving Puppeteer a well-deserved round of applause is difficult because it means putting the controller down. It may get a telling off for teaching children to run with scissors, but given the game is so cute, an exception can be made just this once.