Playing Puppeteer is comparable to sitting down in front of a Saturday morning cartoon. It’s silly, imaginative, colorful, and just as fun to watch as it is to play. While the game has its lows, the highs were so high that it’s hard not to recommend this to someone looking for something really cute in a market crowded with M rated bloodstravaganzas
Puppeteer is a 2D platformer where all of the action takes place on a stage. There’s an audience watching and they cheer and jeer along with all of the characters “performing” for them onstage. The story itself is a mix of Disney with a bit of “this is a video game so collect these 11 or 12 glowing things to win”, but it works surprisingly well.
After the opening action, you’re main character, Cutaro, is left without a head. Throughout the game you’ll collect dozens and dozens of heads from other creatures to wear as your own. Each of them has a special animation you can activate, each of which can be used in specific locations to either take you to a bonus stage or activate some change in the level you’re in.
The animations, characters, and writing are the stars of the show here. The events of Puppeteer occur under the theme of a play, and the events are dramatic, silly, scary, or surprising for the sake of the audience. Characters almost universally understand they’re on display for the amusement of others, and they hardly ever fail to deliver. From the big baddie’s stomp nearly off stage and into the crowd, to some character’s over dramatic exits, to the wonderfully cheeky musicals, Puppeteer is here to please and amaze. The scene transitions are beautiful as is the rest of the game, and the amount of creativity into the ways the levels evolve, as well as the levels themselves is nothing short of mind-blowing. Stages fall into place or spin camera angles around to give better view of character interactions. Every event feels like a well directed stage show, and I’ve never seen this kind of thing done better anywhere else.
Each Act in the game has about a dozen or more heads to collect, and every Act has some that are hidden. There’s not a huge chance that you’ll 100% an Act on the first time, so if you want to see everything on offer, see all the great animations, and small details in the stages you’ll be heading back to most of them for at least one more go. You can access your mask collection to see what you’ve collected and what bonus stages you’ve found easily from the main menu of the game. The head collection area is definitely worth checking out, as every one of them has a description with excellent writing describing its place in the game.
The gameplay itself isn’t too challenging, and you pick up so many opportunities for extra lives you’ll be hard pressed to have to do more than retry at a checkpoint. At first glance, it looks like a simple run and jump from one side of the screen to the other, but there’s a bit more to it than that. You always have control of a side character on the right thumbstick, and you move them around the screen to interact with the environment. Anything that looks out of the ordinary can be touched, and you’ll either be rewarded with some gems that add up to an extra life, a new head to wear, or some other stage changing event will occur. It’s a little disorienting at first, trying to control two characters on screen at all times, but the dexterity is always rewarded with some clever reaction in the world, and I always wanted to head back in and see what interactions I had overlooked.
Each stage changes up the location and feel of the game. You’ll go from kitchens, to towers, to Halloween themed stages, and even Japan, and it’s refreshing throughout. It rarely lingers in one place too long, and even with the occasional pacing problems Puppeteer does display in a few of the stages and fights, there’s always something radically different to see just around the corner of a frustrating segment.
Puppeteer is probably my favorite platformer since SoundShapes. It’s the perfect mix of clever, cute, and straight brilliance, and it blindsided me with how little I knew about it going in. It’s a wonderful and charming game that I’ve loved spending hours in, and I’m always ready to hop back in for a stage or two. It’s rare that a game can grab my attention so hard in the first few minutes and refuse to let go, but Puppeteer has won my utmost respect. It’s a must play for anyone that’s ever complained about this industry growing stale or running out of ideas, and it’s just a flat-out entertaining thing to see in action.