Does anyone really pay attention to those seizure warnings that seem to be required to appear briefly on the screen as some games are loading? No? Exactly. Though, in its own way, Puppeteer is a game that seems to almost be seizure-inducing, if for reasons other than quick flashes of strobing light. It certainly delivered a swift one-two combination right to my input overload sensors, triggering the unfortunate side effect of Annoyimus Maximus.
Puppeteer isn’t, by any stretch of the imagination a bad game, or even poorly designed, or low-budget, or whatever else may cause a game to fall short of its potential. In fact, the phrase “fall short” isn’t entirely apt in Puppeteer‘s case, as this is more a case of a game doing too much rather than too little or not well enough.
But let’s start at the beginning. Puppeteer is a platformer through and through, about a boy named Kutaro who’s been transported/abducted to the moon and turned into a wooden puppet by the Moon Bear King, who uses children’s souls to grow more and more powerful. Being a puppet, Kutaro has the unique ability to find and equip new heads inspired by his surroundings, most of which grant some sort of beneficial perk. And thus he is enlisted by the Moon Witch to steal the magic scissors Calipras and embark on a journey to reclaim shards of the magical Moonstone, in order to defeat the Moon Bear King. Sound like a classic children’s fairy tale? That’s because it basically is, and is fittingly told via a unique visual medium: that of a old-school, marionette puppet show, complete with stage sets, a narrator, and an audience.
This unique presentation immediately drew me to the game. Gameplay doesn’t necessarily have to be revolutionary, but a fresh approach to the design behind a game can go a long way toward making a memorable, humorous experience (think Earthworm Jim from, oh, eons ago). Characters are over-the-top, sets and backgrounds are constantly in flux with new pieces popping up or being replaced, and there’s plenty of razzle dazzle at all times, as would be necessary to keep the gadfly attention spans of five-year-olds focused on the show at all times. And this is precisely where the game quickly starts to first wear thin, then actually become too much to take in large doses.
I was actually surprised at how lengthy of a game Puppeteer turned out to be. Not only as a game, with seven acts comprising twenty-one individual scenes (stages), but even individual levels often took up to and in excess of an hour to complete! Given how long players will be kept busy by the game, Puppeteer is tragically difficult to tolerate in large quantities – the amount of dialog, slapstick, and pure fluff thrown at the screen becomes overly staggering, making it hard to keep up with the on-screen shenanigans at times. It’s entirely possible that a spirited exchange between two or three characters may encompass multiple mid-conversation set changes, jumps and explosions from the characters, several hard-to-make-out accents, all while possibly also requiring you to keep Kutaro running and jumping. In fact, there was so much dialog squeezed into short stretches of gameplay at times that the individual lines of dialog would actually cut into each other and step on one another, causing an incoherent babble. On the other end of the spectrum, the narrator has a lengthy introduction for each scene, which is followed by an even longer cinematic full of all of the above-mentioned set dressing just to set a level in motion. A repeat of the same occurs at each level’s end to lead into the next.
I typically couldn’t make myself play more than two levels in a row, and often quit after one had been completed.
I was seriously debating whether this ADHD-ness of the game is such a drawback that I should discuss it in great depth here, and obviously came to the conclusion that, yes, it is. I can’t find too many other things to fault the game for, including its gameplay. The platforming works great, if a tad on the easy side; the graphics are extremely colorful and top-notch; there is some replay ability in the form of puppet heads and secret bonus stages to unlock. Perhaps the musical score, which I felt to be pretty derivative, sounding suspiciously like a Harry Potter film, could have been more enjoyable (though I did like the somber stage select tune). But, in the end, no matter what I liked about the graphics or the gameplay, if I can’t stick to playing a game for any length of time due to it simply frying my bullshit filters, it’s just too hard to bounce back in good form.