This Could Be Good

Puppeteer

The Play’s The Thing

All the game’s a stage in the dark fairy tale Puppeteer.

By Matt Gerardi • June 12, 2013

Preview events offer only brief glimpses at very big games. Who knows how any given game will pan out in its final form? The most we can say is This Could Be Good.

Amid the whimsy, there’s often a bit of darkness to children’s entertainment. It’s a tradition stretching back centuries, cemented into our culture by the 1812 publication of Children’s And Household Tales, the first collection of fairy tales written by the Grimm brothers. These weren’t the Disney fairy tales that kids get now (although those are filled with their fair share of abuse and parent death). In the Grimm version of “Cinderella,” for example, when Cinderella’s evil stepsisters realize their feet can’t fit into the golden slippers brought back and tested by the dashing prince, they mutilate their feet to make them fit. (The prince notices the blood pooling in their stockings because duh.)

Puppeteer

Puppeteer, on the way from Sony’s Japan Studio, is a fairy tale in the Grimm vein. You play as Kutaro, a young boy whose soul is captured by the evil Moon Bear King (that can’t be a ManBearPig reference, right?) and shoved into a puppet. This Moon Bear King guy—a habitual thief of kids’ souls, apparently—then rips off Kutaro’s head and chucks his body into a cellar. It’s there, at rock bottom, that Kutaro begins his quest to find his head and turn back into a real boy. Along the way, he’ll pick up replacement heads, which are little more than themed doodads that you find around the Moon Bear King’s castle. Each head has a special power, of course. I was fond of the hamburger head, which I used to transform a boring sandwich into a bouncy burger that helped Kutaro reach a remote exit.

The game is presented like a stage play. Each room you enter is a new set, built by the magical unseen hands of impeccable stagecraft. Backdrops whizz across the stage to form detailed layers of scenery. Characters are sometimes lit by spotlights while the rest of the stage is shrouded in shadows, putting a subtle visual emphasis on the depth of the set. Controlling your ghost-cat sidekick is done by aiming a spotlight—a nice way to tie something as sterile as a cursor into the theatrical theme.

Puppeteer

The demo I played, which encompassed what appeared to be around the first 15 minutes of the game, built steam very slowly. The special head powers didn’t seem all that important or entertaining, and the meat of the game—very simple running, jumping, and rolling to avoid obstacles and solve puzzles—was functional but rote. But Puppeteer has an undeniable charm. It’s like taking center stage in a well-produced community theater fairy tale, complete with great over-the-top acting. (Characters speak almost exclusively in shouts with heavy British accents.) It has the oversaturated sheen of modern kids’ cartoons, but it’s balanced with enough bizarre humor and Grimm eeriness to elevate it beyond your standard Disney tale.

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10 Responses to “The Play’s The Thing”

  1. Spacemonkey Mafia says:

       The bombast of the game play seems a bit at odds with the art style.  But the art style is undeniably charming.  I do like the very simple literal framing device of having the game take place on a stage.

  2. rvb1023 says:

    This game is even more appealing to me because it is being released at $40 rather than $60, a practice I wish was more common.

    • Chalkdust says:

       This is a a full-size game?  I assumed it was gonna be a PSN $15-$20 affair.  Still, it looks neat, even if Black Knight Sword already used the proscenium effect.

      • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

        ‘Proscenium effect’.  What a great term.  Thanks for that.

      • rvb1023 says:

         http://www.amazon.com/Puppeteer-Playstation-3/dp/B0050SWNZW/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1371111949&sr=8-1&keywords=puppeteer

        Like Sly Cooper 4, Sony seems to be giving this the budget range pricing.

  3. Effigy_Power says:

    Isn’t there already a flash-game that is basically this? Somehow it seems very familiar.

    • Merve says:

      I don’t know about the flash game, but there’s definitely a level in Psychonauts that is basically this.

    • duwease says:

      I don’t know about a Flash game, but there is both Nin2-Jump (which seems incredibly similar) and The Gunstringer (which borrows the puppets-on-stage conceit somewhat but that’s about it).

      Strangely enough, I just dusted off The Gunstringer a couple days ago to play it, using my Kinect camera.  And then this happens.  Perhaps the conspiracy theorists are onto something…..

    • The_Helmaroc_King says:

      Black Knight Sword used a similar stage aesthetic; it also might have had puppet-like animations, but in 2D.

    • Effigy_Power says:

      Found it:

      It’s called “Help the Hero” and it does seem somewhat similar, but not as much as I remembered:

      http://armorgames.com/play/11446