Puppeteer preview: Sony does what Nintendon't
Nintendo has unquestionably mastered the art of platforming. Donkey Kong Country Returns and Super Mario Galaxy are examples of great games that have that unique Nintendo charm. But, Nintendo's never been able to translate that experience for the HD generation. Sure, New Super Mario Bros U is a first step in adding some visual oomph to Nintendo's wares, but there's still much work to be done.
What if a different company could figure out a way to capture that Nintendo je ne sais quoi--while crafting something extraordinarily beautiful? That's what SCE Japan Studio does with Puppeteer: a PS3-exclusive platformer that should not be ignored.
It's unclear exactly why Puppeteer hasn't been noticed by the masses. It could be its rather stealthy announcement. Being a new IP certainly can't help. Not being a shooter is probably also a deterrent. A big-budget 2D platformer with no recognizable characters? This certainly isn't a market-researched project. It also doesn't have the same "hook" that a game like LittleBigPlanet has.
But what Puppeteer lacks in marketable bullet points, it makes up for with heart. From the very beginning of the game, it is absolutely charming. Like Bastion, the narrator plays such a crucial element in creating a playful, inviting atmosphere. His verbal flourishes add to the rather unique tale of Kutaro--a boy that's been transformed into a puppet on a search for his head. It's all presented as a stage performance, creating a distinct layered look that's mesmerizing.
Screenshots of the game won't do it justice, given how dynamic the backgrounds are. If it weren't for the incredible fidelity of the graphics, Puppeteer would be a perfect fit for the 3DS--it's the rare game that seems designed around 3D. Looking at the game is like peering into the world's most elaborate diorama box, a whimsical place of sensory overload.
The gorgeous visuals and spectacularly produced narration create a 2D platforming experience that, simply put, seems too expensive for Nintendo to ever create. But crucially, Puppeteer manages to replicate the smooth controls and interesting gameplay that Nintendo's best platformers do. While many have complained about LittleBigPlanet's floaty mechanics, Puppeteer is far more responsive. The jumping simply feels good.
Being a puppet comes with a rather unique twist, however. Kutaro can also use other puppet heads, granting him unique powers that can unlock goodies when used properly. He can swap between his equipped heads, switching from a hamburger head to a spider's head, for example. There are over a hundred heads to collect.
Taking damage makes Kutaro lose his head, however. You'll see it bouncing around, as you frantically try to chase it down before losing it for good. Losing all your heads means your doom, of course. In addition to having unique noggin powers, he'll also discover a magical pair of scissors, which is used to great effect in the game's many puzzles.
From a mine cart race, tricky platforming in a frying pan, to giant boss battles, every moment I experienced in Puppeteer was delightful. And with its gorgeous visuals and inspired presentation, perhaps Nintendo will take notice and say "hey, we can do this too."
Puppeteer is a looker