Every once in a while gamemakers surprise us by unveiling a colorful amusement that's creative and more than just a little quirky. And even less often than that they also inject a certain unique something into the gameplay mechanics that pushes the fun from "novel and fresh" right up the scale to "just this side of brilliant."
Puppeteer is just such an every so often game.
Set in a Japanese puppet theater—with rich velvety curtains and thump-in-place wood and cardboard set pieces—it has a fairy-tale-like story at its core. The game is an interactive stage play of sorts, a show that features magical happenings and an otherworld of wistful dreams. It's the adventure of a puppet named Kutaro.
Part Pinocchio, Part Real Boy
It all begins when an overstuffed-and-power-hungry teddy bear called the Moon Bear King magically snatches the "souls" of hundreds of little tykes who are dreaming peacefully in their beds back on Earth. He whisks these sparkling bits away to the dark side of the moon to use for his nefarious, domineering plans.
One of those unfortunate souls belongs to a boy named Kutaro, whose essence ends up in the body of a puppet. It's a puppet that the mean Moon Bear assaults even further by ripping its wooden head clean off. But fear not, Kutaro can discover other little puppet noggins and hold on to up to three at a time in his jump-and-tumble journeys. Each head is imbued with its own treasure-revealing or bonus-level-unlocking powers.
From there, with the help of a flying cat and a brash little pixie, Kutaro must find special flying scissors and other magical tools, best the Moon Bear's mighty generals, gather together magic moon shards and find a way to put the benevolent Moon Queen back in power while releasing all those locked-away souls.
Kutaro's 21 adventures move him through exotic locales, from a tumbleweed-strewn Wild West to a pirate ship's yardarms to the tip of a flying dragon's tail to the briny home of singing mermaids. Each quest starts with a raised curtain on a puppeteer's stage, is supported by a majestic score, narrated with comical panache and spurred on by the cheers and gasps of an enraptured viewing audience.
Just a Few Content Strings to Untangle
Of course, even with whimsical E10+ titles, we all know that players young and old alike should be looking for any tangling strings in their gaming mix. And you've probably already guessed that there are a couple to, uh, snip about here.
First, the spiritual setting: It's not necessarily a trivial thing to indulge in a game that starts with souls being snatched. The execution of the blocky spiritual components here is lighthearted, to say the least, and is handled with a very broad make-believe flourish. But ghosty and devilish foes do pop in from time to time, and even a vampire puppet shows up "vanting" to "suck your blood." One character talks of the dangers of hellfire.
There's no blood or gore, but there is quite a bit of battling from level to level. Magical scissors are used to cut away at the cardboard environment as well as to slash at quite a few giant wooden and/or cloth-covered puppet foes. Bad language can include uses of "omigosh," "heck" and, a couple of times, "d‑‑n!" There are also a few vaguely sensual gags, and jokes about a pair of pirates' heavy drinking in the chuckling commentary.
This is a game that stirs a dash of Disney-like musical in with a smidgeon of Mario-like duck-and-thump, mixing a whole bunch of cartoony pizazz with quite a lot of LittleBigPlanet-style time-your-jumps puppet fun to create a fast-paced, gorgeously appointed, imaginative (and sometimes spiritually confused) entertainment.