Come one, come all, to the greatest show on earth. Take your seats, as a child with a magical pair of scissors has to restore the balance of power on the moon and retrieve his own soul.
The red curtains remain firmly shut for the moment, as the booming voice of Professor Gregorious T. Oswald sets the scene for the tale about to be told. Beneath his towering narration the rustling murmur of the audience adds another layer of sound that will quickly become a comfortably familiar constant. They will applaud each success, gasp at each surprise and cheer the climax of each act.
They are delightfully in line with the aesthetic Puppeteer is aiming for. From the very first moment it is presented as a puppet show rather than a game. This allows for a wicked, light-hearted tone that toys with theatric conventions to tell a story that at first glance seems more suited to a child’s story book, but offers plenty to enjoy for everyone.
In essence, Puppeteer’s story is that of Kutaro, a child whose soul is stolen away in his sleep and placed into a puppet on the moon. This bizarre set up is facilitated by the evil ruler of the moon, the Moon Bear King, who overthrew the Moon Goddess and now rules the moon with an iron fist. He’s not the most pleasant chap, clearly shown when he eats Kutaro’s head and discards him for dead. Thankfully, Kutaro’s puppet nature saves him, as it allows him to use other things as proxy heads in order to keep himself alive.
When his mission to steal Calibrus – a pair of magical scissors – is successful, Kutaro becomes the hero of the moon, the only person who can defeat the Moon Bear King and restore the Moon Goddess to her rightful station. To do so he must collect all the fragments of the light moon gem, which when put back together would restore the Moon Goddess’ power. However, each fragment is held by the Moon Bear King’s animal generals, who would need to be defeated if Kutaro wanted to gather the fragments.
Exit stage left, pursued by a bear
For the most part the tale itself is told through the narration of Gregorious T. Oswald – whose friends call him G, apparently – and the frequent cutscenes that litter each of the seven acts. Kutaro himself is comfortingly silent – no chatty protagonist here – but the rest of the cast more than make up with it, each voiced brilliantly and more than happy to fill in the gaps that the narrator leaves – and even willing to break the fourth wall every now and then.
Kutaro’s main tool in his quest for the moonstone shards is Calibrus, the enchanted scissors. They allow him to cut just about everything on the moon. Calibrus even lets Kutaro cut through the props that make up the world around him, allowing him to reach places otherwise unreachable. Slicing through falling leaves, for example, allows Kotaru to climb ever higher and reach ledges above him. Gnashing his scissors through some clouds allows him to cross gaps far too wide to simply jump across. Snipping through the fabric of the enemy weavers – creatures seemingly made of carpet – will bring them to their knees long enough for you to free the souls that animate them with a few more cuts of the magic scissors.
That simple weapon would not be nearly enough to defeat the villainous generals, however, and Kutaro instead stumbles upon some powers left behind by the unsuccessful champions of the dethroned Moon Goddess, each of which allows Kutaro to beat another of the generals. By the time the fifth act begins, Kutaro is fully equipped with the powers of the champions, and is further stretched and forced into using each and every power that he has been given to proceed through the levels.
Puppeteer never gets to the point where you need to take more than a few seconds to figure out what to do, but every now and then there are moments that bring a grin at how cleverly everything interacts. Later boss fights, against the generals and other large enemies, also require Kutaro to make use of every tool at his disposal.
Lives, for lack of a better word, are signified by the heads that Kutaro collects. He can have three at any one time, and if he loses one by being hit or damaged he has a few seconds to collect it before it disappears for good. Losing one is seldom an issue, however, as it never takes long before another is given to you.
In fact, heads are hidden throughout the level, and it is up to Pikarina, Kutaro’s pixie companion, to find them. She is controlled with the right stick, and can interact with a lot of the items scattered around the background. She’s liable to find all new heads for Kutaro, as well as dozens of moonsparkles, a hundred of which give Kutaro an extra life should he lose all three heads. They’re not all that useful, and I ended with well over fifty extra lives.
Overall, Puppeteer gives the impression that it cared a little more about its story rather than maximising the potential of its mechanics. It does enough to ensure that there is a lot of fun to be had, and the story is smart and witty to ensure that the overall experience is massively enjoyable. It looks great, plays well and even inspires a laugh every now and then. Occasionally, it left me wishing that maybe it went a little further in exploring all the potential ideas it hints at, but by the time the end credits roll I was satisfied. Even from just a few hours in I was enjoying Puppeteer just on the strength of its charming exterior, and by the time I got to the core, I just loved it more.
Puppeteer, by Sony and SCE Japan Studio, is available now for PS3.