I’m in a weird place with Sony. I’m sort of not very in love with its proprietary release on PlayStation 4. There are a few notable exclusives, but I think its release this generation lacks the creative spark the company once had. Sony’s production hasn’t always been a glut of third-person, shoulder-length action games. Instead, we have games like Puppeteer.
Chances are good, you probably never knew Puppeteer existed. contrary to The last of us, this gem of the PlayStation 3 is not easily explained in a marketing blurb. SCE Japan Studio gave the players the lead role in a live puppet show, and no matter how crazy that occurs between the actors and their puppets, the show must go on! Strange as it may be, it’s instantly a work of art in motion.
Puppeteer is technically a 2.5D platformer, but it also incorporates point-and-click adventures, tear fabric for the walk-through, and item puzzles. The levels not only scroll, but pop move forward as you step through each step. Every element is treated as if it were a physical object, whether it’s the young hero Kutaro, the colossal generals of the menacing Moon Bear chasing you, or one of the countless slapstick gags of background. It’s also a surreal fantasy comedy in the vein of classic Japanese folklore with a twinge to the heart of Terry Prachett.
It’s a little many, but the beautiful thing isâ¦ everything works. Puppeteer is the kind of wildly indulgent, over-the-top, and perfectly dressed exclusivity that made the PlayStation 3 so memorable. Whether it’s blasting your way through playing cards or taking on a mad Frog Queen under the sea, it all comes together effortlessly. The menus are presented as pre-show title cards, with the narrator sounding if you leave the game idle. Boss encounters are all based on practical effects, so you have flying banners with gears under their armor that you need to smash, as well as rats spitting jam at jetpacks. With the game originally designed for 3D TVs, there are countless elements soaring at you organically, which has an impact even as a 2D experience.
The central gadget is that the hero Kutaro wields a pair of magical scissors, which are used both in combat and crossing. You’ll cross the air through paper bats and leaves to climb, then pass through evil banners and the deliciously absurd boss game menagerie. It’s hard to say how perfectly SCE Japan Studio is successful at cutting through PuppeteerThe environments feel like a synaesthetic treat. Jumping into other games seems helpless in comparison, and I could say the same for just about any other ability. Throw a bomb and it explodes into ruffled paper balls and a puff of smoke. Enemies even before you get the shield block ability have some satisfying interrupt animations in case you revisit previous levels.
And you will be indeed revisit the past levels, because to pass above, Where is Waldo – there is an exasperating amount of hidden secrets at every step. Along with Kutaro, you’ll still have access to a companion who can interact with the background, often unlocking additional collectible gems along with a sniffle-worthy gags or three. It’s impossible to catch it all in one game, which makes every run organic and personal. Additionally, as you learn the levels, you will discover a secondary use for PuppeteerAnother brilliant mechanic – your system of life.
Puppeteer innovatively makes its system of life a central part of the world rather than a compulsory part. Of course, you’ll earn traditional lives by collecting a hundred gems, and they’re stored between levels so you always have them handy. Still, you often won’t need it. No, Puppeteer is smarter than that and goes further.
Our hero Kutaro has his head stolen, his soul picked up and taken to the Moon, where everything happens. Obviously, there isn’t much he can do without a head while trying to get his original head back, so he begins to grab whatever he can as a replacement. A crown. A family of frogs. A spider. A bonsai. A point mine. Really anything. What if they are cut? You can grab them!
Instead of losing them for good, if you hit them on time, you can get your head back and move on. You carry three heads at a time, each of them benefiting from a unique animation that can unlock bonus areas at all levels. There are easily over 50 heads in total, with a story written behind them that you can watch during “intermission”.
I can’t stress enough how good this system is, as it inherently encourages players to experience every step of the way. Sometimes it’s worth losing your mind for a moment to sidestep an otherwise deadly danger. Even if you fail to grab your head in time, the game simply converts the stray head into gems that you can collect, allowing you to cover your bets which will get you an extra life in case you lose all three. Just like with scissors, I’ve never seen another game take an approach like this.
It also deserves to say that, for as exaggerated and silly as the story may be, Puppeteerthe story instantly charms you. Every member of the cast does their job perfectly, which is especially impressive as sometimes they have to be intentionally wrong. It feels like a small theatrical production that strikes above its weight with this elaborate puppet show. Characters can break through the Fourth Wall at any time, speaking to the narrator and the team behind the scenes as incidents arise on your journey. The abundant genuinely human comedy sells it all in a way that some of the game’s most detailed and “gritty” stories could only dream of.
Finally, the game is a magnificent delight, both in terms of artistic direction and sound design. The sound effect on this is one of the best I have ever heard. The frame rate is smooth no matter what, even when multiple sections of a level are visibly loaded at once, ready to appear. Where many remember the seventh generation when games became obsessed with dull grays and browns, Puppeteer explodes in color at every turn. In all the ways you could wish, Puppeteer It’s incredible.
Normally, this is the part where I would regret that a lot of people never played it when the PlayStation 3 was relevant – but it’s not really landlocked for the seventh gen. Of course, it didn’t get a remaster – which it should be because it’s precisely the kind of game that would look all the more stunning on PlayStation 5 – corn it’s available on PS Now. So if you’ve got a stable internet connection and a PlayStation 4 or PC with a game controller, there’s never been a better time to treat yourself to something as purely delicious as Puppeteer. I can only hope that the PlayStation 5, which diversifies its range of titles, finds this creative energy.