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Hands-On: Experience a Dark Fairy Tale With Puppeteer

Susan Arendt | 13 Jun 2013 16:45
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A surprising and darkly funny platformer.

Once upon a time, a bear lived with the Moon Goddess, but he was kind of a jerk. One day he stole her crystal and her magic scissors, declared himself the Moon Bear King, and started harvesting the souls of children. Including yours. Then he stuck your soul in a puppet, bit off your puppet head, and tossed your body aside. Then a witch decided, hey, maybe this headless puppet kid could steal those magic scissors from the Moon Bear King for me, and instructed her sarcastic flying cat Yin Yang to help you out. Yin Yang, who is pretty much over it, did you a solid and found you a replacement head (a nice little skull) and so off you go to your nearly certain demise.

This is a pretty messed up game, is what I'm saying.

The Puppeteer is presented like a puppet show, complete with sets that fly in and out, curtains, and even applause from the audience. You play as a child-turned-puppet with the unique and surprisingly handy ability to collect and carry different kinds of heads, which is not nearly as gruesome as it sounds. Each head has its own special kind of magic, and can impact the world in different ways whenever you see a matching icon. Pop on the spider head when you see a spider icon, for example, and a giant mama spider might bundle you up in silk and whisk you away to a bonus level. Swap to the cheeseburger head at the appropriate moment, and a giant cheeseburger will appear on screen and act like an enormous trampoline. The banana head (which I like to wear simply because it's hilarious) spreads slippery banana peels that can trip up enemies. You can only carry a few heads at a time, and picking up a new one replaces one of the ones you already had, but there are about 100 different heads throughout the game.

Stealing kids' souls and collecting heads is a bit dark, but The Puppeteer is far from grim. It's bright, colorful, incredibly funny and never, ever takes itself too seriously. Which I suppose is a pretty obvious thing to say about a game in which you occasionally have a banana for a head. The music and voice work are a true treat, with the laconic cat Yin Yang being particularly endearing. Sure, he's laid back about how you're probably going to die, but he is a cat, after all. That's pretty much how they roll.

The stage's confines keep your movement relatively localized, but the backdrops and set dressing change to reflect the actions of the story, creating the illusion that you're traversing through a massive kitchen or creeping through a dungeon, when in fact you're jut shuffliing a few feet back and forth. Glittering portals at the edge of the stage will transport further back into the scene to add a literal layer of depth to the environment - a fine bit of trickery that helps disguise the truth that you're really just walking left or right in a 2d space until you find the end of the level, like so many other platformers. There are hidden trinkets to collect along the way, like pieces of the Moon Goddess' crystal and new heads, but the biggest collectible of them all are the stolen magical scissors, which....well, they cut things really well.

The Puppeteer is beautiful, funny, and just plain wrong. Its platforming gameplay is familiar, but everything else about it is wackadoo and worth your undivided attention. It'll be released on PS3 in September.

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