Puppeteer: quirky imagination steals the show in this dramatic new platformer
Puppeteer breaks with gaming’s march towards absolute photorealism. It’s always refreshing to see a game whose protagonist couldn’t conceivably be played by Jason Statham in the event of a movie adaptation, and SCE Japan Studio’s latest veers into a cheerily macabre fairy-tale world that looks like what you’d get if Tim Burton decided to make an animated Pinocchio film – equal parts delightful and disturbing.
“I have friends in Japan who work for, let’s say, a large RPG company,” says Puppeteer creative lead Gavin Moore, “and they just put reflections in characters’ eyes. Can you imagine doing that for three years? You’d go insane. That’s why we as a team decided to push away from that realistic side, so we didn’t have to render wrinkles on people’s faces and reflections in their eyes any more. And we could concentrate our power on actually creating stuff that would be surprising and make you want to play.”
This shot of the Moon Bear King and his pet tiger shows off the dramatic lighting effects used to illuminate Kutaro’s world
Puppeteer is indeed stuffed with surprises. The protagonist is a young boy named Kutaro, who gets whisked away to a dark castle on the moon by the maleficent Moon Bear King. Things are not going well for our young hero, and his soul’s soon stuffed inside the body of a wooden puppet. Then he displeases the King, who proceeds to chomp his head clean from his body, leaving him to scramble about in search of replacement heads that impart special abilities and let him interact with the world around him in new ways.
In order to escape his predicament, Kutaro will need to commandeer a pair of magical scissors called Calibrus (a play on the name Excalibur?), which fate has chosen him to wield. It’s the kind of premise that you can see keeping yawning youngsters pleading for another chapter of their bedtime story. While many contemporary game directors aspire to be the Steven Spielberg or Michael Bay of videogames, Moore may just end up being the medium’s JK Rowling.
According to Moore, Puppeteer grew out of a desire to press defibrillator paddles to his son’s imagination and give it a friendly jolt. He had grown puzzled over the frequency with which he’d bring home some cutting-edge game for his son to try out, only to watch him play for 30 minutes before growing bored and throwing the controller on the sofa to go play outside. For a game designer, this trend was understandably worrying.