(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)
- The Game Itself
- 2.5 Stars
- The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
- 3.5 Stars
- The Audio: Rating the Sound
- 2.5 Stars
- Replay Factor
- 1.5 Stars
- Bonus Content
- 2 Stars
- Bottom Line
- Give it a Rent
- Street Date:
- September 10th, 2013
- Reviewed by:
- Brian Hoss
- Review Date:1
- September 20th, 2013
- Game Release Year:
- Sony Computer Entertainment
- SCE Japan Studio
- ESRB Rating:
- E10+ (Everyone 10 and older)
Back in the summer of 2012, Sony introduced 'Puppeteer,' an all-new IP that was part platformer and part art show, and all from Sony's Japan Studio. In that introduction, the world met the game's hero, the puppet-like Kutaro. Since that first reveal, Sony further explained that 'Puppeteer' was where East meets West, at least as far as the style of the game was concerned. Now that the game is out, just what sort of game has Sony made?
The Game Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
There is so much to like in 'Puppeteer,' and much of that is unique. 'Puppeteer' brings with it a stunning 3D art style, and PS Move and 3D display support. The game also has over 100 heads to find, each with an in-level secret.
Playing as Kutaro, the player can run, jump, and ledge grab. Getting hit means losing your head, and you have a few seconds to grab it before it disappears. Kutaro can carry three heads at time, and the player can switch between heads using the d-pad. Lose all your heads at one time, and Kutaro will lose a life, returning the player to the nearest checkpoint. Once you obtain the Calibrus (e.g. giant scissors), the platforming gets fun.
Using the scissors, Kutaro can almost fly, provided that there is one of the many floating papercraft nearby. Many bosses have a phase where Kutaro climbs by slicing through the bosses' exposed tapestry innards. Entire level sections have the player flying along seams of fabric, and this helps to bring some qucik-paced sections to what can feel like slow progression. The physics of cutting/flying is not the most solid. It quickly becomes apparent that invisible bits of things to cut are required to make the cutting mechanic work in various areas. Still, cutting makes for the most enjoyable parts of many levels/scenes.
Unfortunately, before the player has a chance to enjoy the game's bright spots, there is the theatrics. The game is committed 100% (more even if possible) to presenting the image of a stage, complete with moving props, spotlights, dynamic laugh track, giant stage curtains, and narrator. Along with this committed presentation comes some inspired bits of creativity, and some serious drag. What hurts the most are the constant cutscenes and endless babbling from several of game's annoying characters.
The Moon Bear King, Moon Witch, the narrator- they all compete for second most hammy, overacted, and thereby annoying character of the lot. The Sun Princess, who becomes paired with the player after the first act, is the most annoying of all. (In an odd mercy, Kutaro is mute.)
While the game plows ahead with its boorish story antics, it isn't until about half-way through that the player has access to all four hero heads, and therefore all hero powers. Scissors, a reflective shield, ninja grenades, hookchain, and ground pound bull head- the whole of these powers, combined with the game's better levels, realizes a quality of gameplay that allows for better appreciation of the art style. It does not, however, yield improvement regarding the endless in-game dialogue, which repeats verbatim, each time the player has to retread a section of level.
Frankly, I imagine most players won't make it past the first two acts (first six levels), and will miss out on the truly stunning levels, like in ocean, the coliseum, or in the graveyard.
The game's story is nonsensical, having something to do with puppets in the moon stealing the souls of children in a blasé struggle for power over the moon dream world.
Aspects of the game draw obvious comparisons to 'Little Big Planet,' but in truth, the game borrows liberally from several platformers. One aspect not obviously lifted, is the second character (usually the vapid Sun Princess), who floats around, and is controlled by the right stick. This second character can interact with background items by pressing R2, typically for extra coin-like moonstone shards, but sometimes for more useful grub-defeating actions.
Controlling both characters simultaneously is a good way lose lives. (More on that later.)
Clicking bits of the background with the sun princess is the best way to unlock new heads, and each head has one secret in the game. There will be one place in the game to use each head,(think 'Little Big Planet' stickers, but without the whole inventory). Having the right head at the right time opens up bonus stages, unique level section or boss phase bypassing abilities or a kind of fortune wheel. With so many heads though, it can be a frustrating gamble deciding which to keep. Often I would lose the head I needed mere moments before discovering the right spot, or even while trying to activate the triggering head animation, such as during a boss battle.
In some alternate reality the game's hammy story and characters are endearing, and make the often repetitive and/or just lukewarm platforming forgivable. (In 2013, does every boss fight really require a quick-time-event phase?) Completing each act unlocks a storybook, whose character-specific lore was much more engaging then seeing said character hamming it up on screen.
Being a mixed bag, the overall quality jumps around a lot, and fun sections where you ride an animal or even the occasional funny joke can come as a malaise disturbing surprise.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
In the beginning of the game, the levels are built around the black castle and just look crummy, especially when compared to many later, more colorful levels. That said, when the game looks its best, the unique style is a stunner. The amount of detail that goes into some levels is staggering. Whether it is cloth blowing in the wind, or the giant paper mammoth defrosting in the background, or just the little Kutaro head animations, the craftsmanship is the game's stand-out feature. Even the level select moon thing is visually interesting. Still, there are too many moments when the spotlights, scene gears, and blocky, papercraft figures don't gel, and the result is an unfortunate thin line between beauty and something far less attractive.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
The theater theme plays well with surround channels. The constant voice acting projects at a very high quality despite its grating content. Otherwise, the sound effects of moving props become burned in after a few levels. Often, the ding of recapturing a lost head was my only indication that I had instantly lost and regained the head. The music emulates an orchestra while eschewing anything catchy. Overall, the audio is less than memorable and is lost in game's struggle to present an unpleasant puppet show.
By the time I hit the credits, I had about seventy of the one hundred heads. I had only accessed about fifty of the head secrets, including about half of the game's twenty-one bonus levels. I might be tempted to try to find the remaining heads, but I would have to skip all cutscenes and turn down the in-game dialog. Due to the repetitive nature of the game, it would be hard to want to replay whole acts.
HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?
I took the trouble of checking out the Move support only to find that it is only for a second player. Instead of controlling the second character with the right stick, a second player can use the PS Move, which seems like half-hearted support. The game includes a digital manual, but otherwise offers little else as bonus.
I was so excited to get to play a new, promising platformer, but I can't think of another game where so much hard, talented work was wasted. The shame is that a smaller version of 'Puppeteer' that boiled away the dialog, and the lesser, repetitive levels could have made for a stellar $15 game. Maybe in the future, Sony can return to 'Puppeteer' on the PS4 with a greater focus on gameplay and overall quality experience.
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