Poor Kutaro. What is a lonely Earth child to do, when his soul is whisked away to the dark side of the Moon and placed in the body of a wooden puppet to serve the evil Moon Bear King. In a fit of rage, the malicious dictator tears off Kutaro’s head and discards his body, trapping him in the dungeon. This sets the mood for a rich and whimsical theatrical presentation.
Running around like a chicken that lost its head (literally), we are introduced to the unique gameplay mechanic allowing Kutaro to pick up heads and place them between his wooden shoulders. At any given time Kutaro can switch between three different heads, with each one having a special ability to open up branching paths to cut through stages, yield hidden moon sparkles or even take Kutaro to a bonus stage. All of the 90 or so heads relate to the current stage, so in the darkened Castle of the Moon Bear King, you will find Bats and Skulls, while venturing through the snowy mountain you’ll find penguins, with crab and squid heads throughout the Sea King’s underwater realm.
At first glance, Puppeteer resembles the charming visuals and gameplay found in Little Big Planet, but it only takes a moment to realizePuppeteer separates itself rather magnificently. Unlike the floating jumps and loose controls of LBP, Puppeteer controls feel precise, whether you are jumping over spikes or rolling under a Weaver’s flaming sword. All of the colorful environments give the illusion of an on-stage performance with clouds dangling from wires, sets shift into place changing the scenery through the use of gears and pulleys and spotlights focus on leading characters. Thick red curtains act as borders and depending on the on-screen action, the audience will applaud and gasp along. If you have a 3D television you will be in for a treat.
All of these heads won’t help Kutaro when facing the Moon King’s army of Grubs, which are also displaced souls; the Grubs. To assist Kutaro in his task, he is chosen by Calibrus – a pair of magical scissors. Freeing the souls of the children trapped in the Grubs bodies, Kutaro sets out with Calibrus in hand, cutting through literally anything in his path. Adding a new dimension to the already charming platformer, Calibrus is more than a weapon – allowing Kutaro to easily traverse the ever changing scenary. As the presentation dictates everything in the world of Puppeteer can be sliced through, including clouds, wildlife and even water as everything is made of either paper or cloth! It is a theatrical play, remember?
The boss battles are some of the most enjoyable moments in the game, combining the use of Kutaro’s abilities he earns throughout the game, such as tossing his head like a bomb or soaring through the air like a luchador with plenty of cutting. Disappointingly, every boss battle is followed by a quick time event, although not difficult or cheap, it doesn’t add any entertaining value to the game.
Journeying through the seven Acts (worlds), each with 3 curtains (stages), there are plenty of magical places to explore in Puppeteer. The game does get progressively more difficult, but I never worried about running out of lives – finishing the game with well over 70 lives. Traveling with Kutaro at all times, is a companion character; depending on if you are playing cooperatively or not behaves differently. Playing solo, the companion is rather limited in what it can do, namely interact with the background and foreground to find moon sparkles and heads for Kutaro. In co-op however, the second player using either a DualShock 3 or Move controller gains the ability to pick up moon sparkles and even pull the heads off enemies.
Puppeteer succeeds in every conceivable way, creating a whimsical fairy-tale experience that anyone can sit down and enjoy by themselves or with others. I couldn’t help, but smile throughout the entire 12 hour experience. The humor is clever with enough little details you miss the first time through. The voice acting never falters, following you every step of the way, whether it comes from Kutaro’s companions, the exuberant Narrator or any of the supporting characters. Even so, not once did I want to skip through the cinematics. If you want to collect all of the hidden heads and complete all of the bonus stages, it will take at least a second time through, thankfully you can backtrack to any stage at any time. Puppeteer is packed with content (and plenty of trophies) at a budget price point of $40.
Note: The Puppeteer review was written based on the PS3 version game provided to us for review.