Keep on dangling and don’t lose your head.
Puppeteer, by SCE Japan Studio on PlayStation 3, follows the adventures of a young innocent wooden boy called Kutaro who has had his soul stolen by the villainous Moon Bear King and has been imprisoned in the depths of a castle hidden away.
Kutaro escapes the evil clutches of the Moon Bear King, headless but determined. The charming Moon Bear King is renowned for taking the souls of innocent children and transforming them into serving puppet guards for his amusement. Kutaro is one of those unfortunate souls to feel the wrath of the Moon Bear King, as his head is ripped off and his body is cast aside.
Luckily Kutaro has a number of heads at his disposal and these can be switched so Kutaro may be wearing a burger head one moment and a guillotine head the next. Each head has various capabilities and actions to improve the situation or to redeem health. If, however, Kutaro goes without his head for a few seconds, he will fall apart, so losing a head means urgently finding another. Not even a band-aid will do, so it’s up to you to find where your heads at. Equipping a head is easy and you may find yourself running along a path, trying to catch a bouncing head frequently.
Transparent images of the heads can be seen in each background environment and indicate quite clearly what head to use and what action will be triggered. If you’re dealt damage by an enemy, you might lose your head over it. If you lose all of the remaining heads available, you can lose one of your precious lives. This simply catapults Kutaro onto a theatrical platform, whereby he can redeem his health if you have collected enough Moon Sparkles throughout your journey. Scattered around each Tim Burton style environment, you can find glittering Moon Sparkles, find a hundred of these and you can be brought back to life.
A lot of time will be spent moving Kutaro around some splendid environments filled with items such as oversized teacups and saucers. You may find Kutaro jumping on giant fries and fizzy drinks, or sliding down slopes that open into a giant bowl of steaming vegetables. This pleasurable experience is always met with graphically stunning objects and platforms to manipulate or reach as you explore this wonderful world of imagination and puppet mastery.
The mechanics of the game are pretty simple, using the left stick, you can manoeuvre Kutaro very easily through the side-scrolling platformer, jumping and swinging your way to safety, while trying to avoid being destroyed. Using the right stick enables you to explore and investigate various areas of the playing environment with the mysterious and ghostly cat named Ying Yang. Ying Yang assists you by investigating highlighted areas of interest in the game to unearth bonus objects or discover much needed heads for your torso.
The patchwork world Kutaro finds himself in can be manipulated with his trusty enchanted Calibrus scissors, a magical mechanism of transport that allows Kutaro to cut away at dotted lines in the environment, cutting his way to safety and otherwise unreachable areas. However, these scissors have been stolen from the King and he is most displeased about hearing you’ve stolen them and wants them back.
These worlds are stunning and beautifully inviting. However, they are littered with the soldier grubs, purple spiked enemies ready to take you on at any given time. Kutaro will find himself running through a tower of tribulations, a dark and sinister realm where traps lay hidden and waiting, where spiders descend from the eaves and menacing mice are darting back and forth ready for a bite to eat. Without warning, Kutaro can find himself desperately cutting through vines, or frantically running his scissors through vast amounts of materials that rise into the desolate skies, leaving the player not knowing where they may land.
Occasionally, an enemy encounter will result in using L1 to operate a shield to guard Kutaro from any potential damage, or L2 to roll away from oncoming enemies. A number of switches are activated with the shield as the player deflects energy fired at them, or deflects it at enemies to deal them damage. The shield has limited us and once it has been used for a set time, it will need to be left to recharge.
The game has a nice pace to it, with a good balance of relatively relaxed platforming and frantic action. The game has a LittleBigPlanet style when the player is not running their scissors along seams. The environments are stunning and the gameplay incredibly addictive, although controlling the scissors can be a little imprecise when trying to catch a thread while falling, for example. The replacement heads are a fun idea, a highlight of the game that will provide a lot of amusement for the player.
Puppeteer is built with cleverly designed scenery and breath-taking terrain that manages to spark the imagination and pull the player into the game. The gameplay is brilliant, for the most part, and will leave the player being pulled along for the ride. Applause from the audience and the red curtain closing is your only reminder that Kutaro’s world is a stage and you are the player.