A few days ago, I was invited by Sony Computer Entertainment to attend a presentation for a Puppeteer hands-on. The presenter was of course the game’s creator, Gavin Moore, currently Creative Director at Sony Japan and previously lead animator for The Getaway, Forbidden Siren 2 and Siren: Blood Curse.
He started by telling us that Puppeteer was born on a particularly strange note. In fact, he mentioned that a few years ago, one day his son threw the controller away and ran to play outside. When Moore asked him why he did that, the child answered that games were boring and all alike, and for a game to be truly entertaining, he desired that it changed things every 10-15 minutes.
Moore admitted to be at a loss at how that could be done, but then, later, he stumbled into a Japanese puppet show. This was a revelation, because the backdrop was constantly changed into something else, and Moore decided to use it as the starting base for his new game. In Puppeteer, unlike most games, it’s not the player moving across the environment – it’s environment changing around him. This enables some pretty spectacular scenes, which are highlighted by an outstanding art style and graphics effects.
This is merely one of the tricks in Puppeteer’s bag, though. For instance, another peculiar feature of the game is that of using scissors as the hero’s weapon. With them, the main character (a boy named Kutaro, turned into a puppet by the maleficent Moon Bear King) is not only able to beat his foes, but also to “cut” his way forward or upward, which happened quite often in my hands-on. It’s quite the unusual mechanic and it certainly adds to the game’s uniqueness.
Kutaro is not alone in his quest, however. A ghostly cat named Yin-Yang accompanies him, with the job of dispatching enemies and finding new stuff for Kutaro, like for example new heads. Yes, you heard that right: the Moon Bear King also severed poor Kutaro’s head, but he is now able to switch different heads; there are hundreds of heads, Moore told us, and each one of them has a unique skill.
Moreover, the amount of heads Kutaro currently can employ also equals to his current amount of lives, and funnily enough, if Kutaro is touched by an enemy he’ll temporarily lose the head he’s wearing, sending him into a rush to get it back in three seconds – a rule, Moore told us, plugged right from the well known “you have THREE SECONDS to pick this up from the floor” sentence that parents like to shout at kids.
When playing the single player mode, the left analogue stick controls Kutaro and the right Yin-Yang, which is intentional – the game is supposed to be harder for solo players, but there’s always the possibility for a second player to enter the game either with another DualShock 3 or even a Move. I’ve tried them both and frankly, it was a blast. Playing with Yin-Yang is different in that the cat can fly everywhere in the scenario, being a ghost, untouched by the limits that bound Kutaro; it’s a guardian angel of sorts and clearly this opportunity was strongly embedded in Puppeteer’s design – I can easily imagine a parent and a child playing together and having real fun. Sometimes a bit of cooperation is needed as well, for example Kutaro may give Yin-Yang a bomb and the companion will be able to bring it to the correct position in order to advance.
I’ve had the chance to play through a couple of stages. One was set in the depth of the sea and concluded in a confrontation with a Kraken/Sushi chef, while in the other Kutaro ventured into a cemetery, eventually facing Death itself. There surely is great attention to detail, and this is testified by the simple fact that no assets are reused in this game, unlike most titles – each one is completely unique, which is likely part of the reason of the fairly long development period. Sound is also entirely appropriate: as in any real theater, the crowd reacts dynamically to the performance of the actors (in this case, Kutaro) and they will either clap or hiss depending on how good you’re doing.
It’s just another touch that goes to show how committed Sony Japan is to make Puppeteer polished from every angle, although oddly enough Moore admitted that this was actually an afterthought and it was only added much later in the process.
Of course, in such a short hands-on session I couldn’t get but a brief glimpse of the story. Gavin Moore talked about it as a “very dark” take on the usual game for kids, going as far as saying that every developer seems to believe that children want sunny games with fairies and shining things, but it’s actually the opposite, which is why he took as inspiration the likes of Tim Burton and Monty Python.
Overall, I was left with a strong impressions that Puppeteer shouldn’t be underestimated at all: it is a charming game, and you would be remiss to let it slip under your radar when it finally launches on 10(NA)-11(EU) September.
The game is said to last 12+ hours of play time, costing 39.99$/€ – although Sony stressed that this is not because Puppeteer is a budget title, because actually considerable resources were spent on it.