Once upon a time, a game like Puppeteer would have been the champion of a Nintendo console. Everything about the game, from the adorable aesthetic to the Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli-esque story practically screams 1990s Nintendo, but not anymore. In this last console generation — and to some extent, the one before — Sony’s PlayStation(s) have steadily become the home for unique, interesting and exciting content. It’s games like Puppeteer that have made my transition from Nintendo fanboy to Sony kid quick and painless. Moreover, it’s games like Puppeteer that will keep me playing on PlayStation platforms long into the future.
When the Moon Bear King — usurper of the Moon throne — abducts the soul of our hero Kutaro, he sets in motion his own undoing. His soul transferred into the body of a puppet and his head bitten off by the Moon Bear King, Kutaro sets off to reclaim his missing noggin, defeat the Moon Bear King and free the Moon. Standing in his way are an assortment of the Moon Bear King’s generals, anthropomorphic animals, each in possession of a shard of the Moon Stone. By collecting the Moon Stone, Kutaro will bring the Moon Princess back to life and save all the lost souls trapped by the Moon Bear King. Luckily for our headless hero, he has some friends including the Moon Witch, magic cat Ying Yang and feisty little Pikarina.
Right. Confused? Fear not. The game is brilliant at delivering its narrative through both diegesis and exposition-filled cutscenes. Right off the bat, I was drawn into this magical little world and its inhabitants. This is certainly helped by the curtains that frame each stage and the overall theatre aesthetic. While playing, a crowd will “ooh” and “aah” in response to the action. They’ll laugh and shout and it really helps drive home that the entire game is set on a stage. The art and craft style of the stages, characters and objects all reinforce the idea that the Puppeteer is a purpose-built, shared experience. I couldn’t help but be enthralled as every element came together beautifully.
At its core, Puppeteer is very much about reclaiming lost innocence and, in the process of doing so, being irrevocably changed. After reclaiming his head, saving the Moon and defeating the Moon Bear King, Kutaro can never go back to being a simple little boy. He’s been changed by his experiences, for better or worse. In a time when Grand Theft Auto V is discussed, dissected and debated ad nauseum, it’s obvious as gamers we can never reclaim our innocence. Not after we’ve slaughtered millions of digital men and been complicit in countless despicable acts, over and over again. Puppeteer is a reminder of our lost innocence and it’s bittersweet. While we can enjoy the beautiful story and bask in the joy of a simple platformer, we know we can never truly go back. We need games like Puppeteer to remind us that gaming need not only be about murder, misogyny and the worst of humanity.
Puppeteer is a platformer, plain and simple. Yet, it’s far from plain and anything but simple. Missing his head, Kutaro must make do with whatever he can find. Everything from hamburgers to taiko drums take pride of place atop his shoulders and keep the little guy going. Kutaro can carry three different heads at a time and switch between them with a press of a button. Each head has a special ability, which when used in an appropriate location will activate a secret, unlock an alternate path or bonus stage. The slightest touch from an enemy though and Kutaro’s temporary head will be dislodged and roll away. Lose all three heads and it’s lights out. It’s reminiscent of Sonic when he loses his rings. If Kutaro can collect a lost head quickly enough, it will be recovered with no damage done.
Shortly after the game begins, Kutaro acquired Calibrus — the legendary scissors — which is his main weapon and form of transport. Calibrus can be used to defeat enemies, but can also be used to cut parts of the level as a way of getting around. Puffs of smoke are actually made of cardboard, so Kutaro can jump and chop them with Calibrus while moving through the air. It’s a nifty way to move about, with plenty of secrets to discover in the process. Throughout the game, Kutaro is accompanied by a sidekick — controlled by the right analogue stick — who floats around and can be used to inspect parts of the stages. Secrets are hidden literally everywhere and for the completionist, Puppeteer will keep you going long past the completion of the 7 chapters.
Puppeteer is an absolute gem of a game. Charming, adorable and utterly brilliant fun to play. I know you’re all very busy planning heists, running over pedestrians and shooting cops, but do yourself a favour. Take a break from a life of crime, try and reclaim some innocence and remember why you started gaming in the first place.