The Puppeteer (2013)

Too little in video games, do the games go out of their way to actually use the medium to do something tremendous and truly creative. The Puppeteer does so with gusto and vigor, as the entire game takes place as a stage play, and it keeps that theming throughout the entire game, it’s menus and cutscenes, characters who are actually actors preforming for an off-screen audience and the actual levels are all displayed with such imagination and creativity, I feel like kicking myself for not playing it when it came out.

The story of The Puppeteer completely dives deep into a rich world of make believe and fantasy, as it tells the story of a boy named Kutaro, pronounced differently somehow depending on who is saying it in the name. It was always odd to hear one character call him “Koo-Tar-O” and another call him “Koo-Ta-Row”. I never felt like I knew the character I was playing as, since he is also a mute and everyone else does all the talking… sometimes a bit too much talking, but the game does make the dialogue interesting at least. Kutaro’s soul gets taken by the Moon-Bear King, and a witch serving in the kitchen enlists Kutaro to find the magical scissors in the king’s throne room.

Once he finds the magical scissors, it’s up to Kutaro and his friends he picks up along the way to find the missing moon shards and restore the moon goddess to her rightful place on the moon. It’s all a bit convoluted for a basic platformer, but I do appreciate how different the story is, even if some of the twists are able to be guessed correctly earlier than the game wanted me to.

The game itself is a side scrolling platformer with the physics engine of Little Big Planet. I remember the very floaty controls never being too much trouble in that game, but here, over a decade later than the last Little Big Planet game, I couldn’t really stand them. I constantly fell off ledges and mis-timed jumps thanks to the weightlessness of my character, and the in-air control never felt like I had that much control. I’d fall down in the air and would land a few paces away from the center of where I should have fallen. Also thanks to the weirdness of the main attacking mechanic, it’s almost impossible to feel like I ever had actual control in the first place.

The main attack is a scissor snip, and a large chunk of the game has you clipping paper objects in the levels to fly around to get to new ledges and areas.The snip is not immediately responsive and I always ended up clipping at too fast a pace, which would result in being stuck in the same place in mid-air and then falling a few seconds later. Because when I snipped X amount of times without hitting a new piece of paper object, I fell. It made for a very frustrating experience when I could never be sure that I was going to make a gap or not just based on a random number of snips of the scissors.

The game itself is absolutely gorgeous and I’m utterly surprised this game never gets talked about. The whole game is a play, just like Mario 3, and each set piece is made out of various forms of paper and wood and cardboard and other construction forms. It’s incredibly creative, and the cutscenes really showcase the creativity of trying to make all these places in the game world fit on a stage. Each platform or staircase or object moves around with rigging and scaffolding just barely visible, giving off the illusion of stage hands moving pieces into place as the play progresses. One thing however, is that everything moves and juts around the stage at a breakneck speed, which often results in a very violent shaking that wore me down after a while. Constantly having to pay attention to this character or that thing with every piece vibrating and moving around just became too much at a point. Seriously, everything is constantly moving. I don’t think a single thing, besides the curtains and stage lights illuminating the very bottom of the screen, stops moving, even for a single moment.

As I neared the end of Act 3 I thought it was a near perfect game, even with the difficulty I had with the physics. But once I learned it was a seven act game, I started to really lose my patience and desire to play the game. Mostly due to the amount of cutscenes, each Act has three curtains, and each curtain has a loading narration that is around a minute or two, and then a cutscene at the begging and one at the end, in addition to that, there are mid cutscenes depending on if a new character or game mechanic is introduced. This creates a bit of bloat of dialogue where I just ended up putting the controller down and grabbing a drink while the cutscene played out.

The dialogue and characters are all interesting, Pikarinia being the Sun King’s daughter, and general little pixie helper to Kutaro, and even the off-brand Captain Jack Sparrow look-alike. The plot, while I felt was a bit too meandering at times, was still enjoyable enough, and even the level design kept my interest throughout the game. Every level is crafted to be as captivating to look at as possible, and I think the studio did a wonderful job fully capturing my attention the entire way through the game. Certain levels were a tad on the darker side, and specific sections became challenging because of the very tight timing section to some of the mechanics. Having to time exactly when to block and repel back a shot, and also shooting it in a different direction to a different enemy sometimes became a hassle.

A basic rundown would be that the game is a little bit too long and the dialog and cutscenes could be trimmed down to make for a perfect game. But that wouldn’t be doing the game itself justice, as just with an actual play itself, while some of the audience might get bored with a certain character, or scene… the whole thing is art, a performance, and it all matters in the end. Without certain aspects, it wouldn’t be the piece of entertainment it is. I find this game infinitely more enjoyable and interesting as a whole, than say the next modern military shooter, or online only multiplayer game. This is what I enjoy about gaming… a very thoughtful and personal piece of art that is worked on by many. And while it may be flawed, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I believe I would have loved The Puppeteer more in 2013 when it came out, I still found it utterly enjoyable from start to finish, even with its minor issues here and there. It’s a game I’d recommend to anyone who thinks games should be more than just the few larger genres that we are constantly getting every year. Bravo Puppeteer, Bravo!