Proof that running with scissors is fun after all
Typical, just like waiting for a bus. We’ve been waiting for a decent platformer for ages, then two come along at once in the shape of Rayman Origins and now Sony’s Puppeteer. So, rather than stress yourself into an early grave trying to beat all the timed challenges in Rayman once you’ve made an initial playthrough, pick up a copy of Puppeteer as it’s been released cheaper than most new games.
This is classic 2D side-scrolling territory, the purist’s choice of dimension for platforming. As you can see by the visuals, this is going for something a bit unusual with its handcrafted puppets and theatrical stage design. While knee-jerk reactions may compare the visuals to LittleBigPlanet, the fact of the matter is that this is a considerably better-looking and better-constructed platformer. I love how so much of the scenery is interactive and not just painted on. With every scene transition, you see everything bounce as if the stage has literally just been dropped into place, giving everything a touchable physicality on your TV.
A few hammy accents aside, the sound design is excellent throughout too. Play it through some loudspeakers if you can. The voices boom out from the stage and there’s a crowd that applaud smooth platforming sections and victories against bosses and bathe the stage in a warm laughter during funnier moments.
The stages take a visit through classic video game locations like haunted houses, colourful towns, the Wild West and more, all given a beautiful design that perfectly recreates that theatre feel. If feels like running through all your favourite platformers of years ago with the likes of Castle of Illusion and QuackShot particularly coming to mind for me.
The story is clearly leaning towards a younger audience, although there are a few dark elements, but nothing parents should be worried about. You are Kutaro, a child whose soul has been eaten by the evil Moon Bear King, a villain clearly inspired by The Nightmare before Christmas’ Oogie Boogie. This leaves Kutaro trapped inside the body of a tiny wooden puppet fighting to regain his soul and those of hundreds of other children.
I’ll get this out of the way early on, but the story is the weakest part of the game. The idea itself is sound, but every scene drags on forever thanks to the bloated and boring dialogue, with every level taking a few minutes to set the scene before you’re actually allowed to play. There’s the odd amusing pun or one-liner, but generally, I was itching to get back to the game. I never skip cutscenes, especially when I’m reviewing a game, but I came close. Thankfully, the rest of the game is seriously impressive, let’s get back to why.
Kutaro’s platforming skills are given a unique edge thanks to the magical scissors he’s given. In addition to attacking enemies, he can use the huge blades to cut through much of the stage’s scenery. This could be webbing, falling leaves, vines, a floating deck of cards, a swarm of bats and so on.
You must rapidly pump R2 to cut through objects -it can get pretty tiring. But before long, you’ll get an upgrade to allow for quick bursts of movement while cutting if you squeeze R2 in a slow and steady rhythm. This is much easier on your trigger finger and enjoyably involving to play too.
As you progress, you’ll earn more skills like being able to throw bombs, block and reflect attacks, drag blocks, ground pounds and use a chained hook to pull in enemies or pull apart the scenery. These skills will come in useful to revisit stages to unlock secrets in a similar manner to the Lego games.
Kutaro literally lost his head when making his initial escape from the Moon Bear King, not to worry though, he’s keen to pop on any old noggin he finds his travels. In fact, he can carry three at once and swap between them at will. Each head acts like a hit point, lose all of them and you lose a life and could face being sent back a considerable distance to the last checkpoint.
On the plus side, when you take damage and your head goes flying you can pick it up again if you can reach it in a few seconds, three second rule-style. Fans of the classic Sonic games will enjoy the desperate scramble, or maybe have old wounds opened up.
There are dozens and dozens of unique heads to find in the game and they can unlock bonus levels and prizes if you activate their pose (press the down button) whenever you see a ghostly image of the same head appear in a stage. Many of the heads are given out at random though, so you may have to make a note of which you need and go back to that stage when you have it currently equipped. It’s a shame you can’t just select any once you’ve finished the game à la the Lego games.
You have a companion throughout the game, initially a floating cat who sounds like Igor in every old Frankenstein movie, who is then sadly replaced by a bratty teen fairy. They can be moved with the right stick to open cauldrons for a new head or investigate the background and find gems for you.
However, bring in a friend to control them with a second pad or Move controller and the game reveals itself as an excellent co-op adventure. Player two is able to collect gems for you rather than just reveal them. If you lose your head, they can retrieve it for you. Any glowing purple hazards like spikes or ooze can be blasted away with the tap of a button, making once perilous sections a breeze. They can even attack enemies and bosses for you without the fear of taking damage.
Having a second player is much better for investigating all the nooks and crannies for hidden bonuses as you can just concentrate on fighting and platforming. It’s much better if they can use the motion-controller though as they can then move around the screen at lightning speed. The analogue method is somewhat sluggish in comparison and it’s hard to get centered during the more frantic zipline-like sections where the camera spins around.
The boss fights are all carefully designed to take advantage of Kutaro’s unique skills. Cutting through them with his scissors and gradually chipping away at their body is much more interesting than the usual health bars. You’ll be taking on giant cats, a huge Chinese dragon - after you’ve spent a lengthy stage traveling from its tail to head of course - a knight made of curtains and spears, a demented horse/train hybrid and much more. The only letdown with the boss fights is that they all end with dull quick-time events. They look cool, but compared to the skills required beforehand, they feel like a bit of a cop out.
There’s at least ten hours of gameplay here on your first run before you go back to find the secret stages and any heads you missed. There’s a tough - but fair - challenge in single player, but playing the game in co-op is an absolute blast. Either way, get it on your list.