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We have to admit we fell quite in love with Puppeteer‘s visual style from the very first moment we saw it. Although essentially a 2-D platformer, the game is presented as a live puppet show, heavily influenced by Japanese Bunraku puppet theatre, with a healthy dose of pantomime thrown in for good measure, and it looked positively spellbinding.

Due to go on sale both on disc and as a digital download via PlayStation Store in North America and Europe this week, the game was in fact released in Japan on September 5, so naturally we rushed out to grab a copy right away. Three days of platforming, applause and magical scissor snipping later, we’re delighted to say that Puppeteer is not just a superb platformer, but one of PlayStation 3’s most inspired titles to date.

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Developed by Sony’s own Japan Studio, the people who brought us such digital delights as Ape Escape and more recently Gravity Rush on PlayStation Vita, Puppeteer is without a doubt one of the most quirky and original games yet to appear on Sony’s now somewhat ageing home platform.

The game tells the story of Kutaro, a young boy from earth who, after having his soul snatched by the nefarious and self-styled Moon Bear King, is transformed into a wooden puppet and has his head torn off, leaving him to find anything – a slice of cake, a wooden monkey head, a miniature blossoming cherry tree – to use as a substitute bonce in order to live out his remaining days working in the castle kitchens. It is here, however, that the terrified tyke encounters and is immediately quested by the bad-tempered Moon Witch (who is herself now relegated to cooking and washing dishes) with recovering her once prized possession – a pair of giant, magical scissors known as Calibus.

Once stolen, these shimmering blades become the game’s main platforming mechanic, allowing the player to travel by – as well as running and jumping of course – snipping through the beautiful hand-made stage sets, slicing through curtains, cloth and clouds, and literally attacking their enemies at the seams.

The real magic of Puppeteer, however, lies in its utterly enchanting presentation. The entire adventure, which takes place over seven “acts” each with three stages or “curtains”, is dramatically and professionally narrated from start to finish. The levels are built in real-time, with sets popping up and slamming into place on the stage as Kutaro progresses, a dramatic live soundtrack accompanied by explosions of smoke and confetti as he battles his way towards a showdown with each of the evil King’s many animal “generals”. Ever aware of itself and never shy of breaking the fourth wall, Puppeteer‘s characters talk to the audience (both the chorus of invisible but always audible theatre goers and the person holding the controller), bicker with one another and make numerous cultural references, even giving a cheeky nod to popular action adventure title InFamous that is sure to put a smile on PlayStation fans’ faces. The game is a veritable tour de force of platform adventure, launching the mute protagonist and his smart-mouthed but ultimately loveable companion Pikerina into colourful sets based on everything from the pirate seas and grave yards home to a disenfranchised Dracula, to time warps in outer space itself and steeplechases in deserts of Mexico. The audience – recorded during a live production at a London theatre, no less – gasps, applauds, shrieks and laughs throughout, all serving to pull the player into a genuinely enchanting platforming experience.

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Visually, the game positively shines, showing once again that even in a market flooded with ultra-realistic first-person shooters and vast, open-world adventures, that two-dimensional platforming is far from dead. Spotlights constantly follow main characters – the hero, Kutaro’s, of course being the brightest – and the theatre’s curtains remain in view throughout the entire game, rippling and flapping as multi-layered stage sets that look somewhere between LittleBigPlanet and any number of Tim Burton movies drop into place.

Although we played the game on a regular, 2-D monitor, Japan Studio has stated that the game was built from the ground up with 3-D in mind, and, owing to the fact that the camera angle never changes and is always fixed on the “stage”, has managed to achieve some of the crispest and most effective 3-D yet seen on PlayStation 3. We have yet to try it for ourselves, but we have to admit that, when we weren’t snipping like crazy or actually laughing out loud at the game’s razor-sharp wit, we repeatedly took note of the myriad creatures and sets zipping out in front of the digital stage and saying, “I bet this looks amazing in 3-D!”

Veteran gamers will likely breeze their way through Puppeteer in little over eight to nine hours, and even younger players will eventually overcome even its trickier sections. Far from being a disappointment, however, in many ways the game’s leniency works in its favour. Holding the player’s hand only as far as the first few curtains, the game presents platforming puzzles that are both easy yet satisfying to overcome, leaving plenty to for completionists to find and unlock beyond the main adventure. Puppeteer is a title that is made to be seen, experienced and enjoyed from the opening curtain to the last hurrah, and as such presents an entertaining, visually stunning and shamelessly playful adventure that every PlayStation 3 owner should embark on at least once.

Highly recommended.

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Puppeteer is on sale now in Japan and available from September 10 in North America and September 11 in Europe. 

Top image: RocketNews24
All other images via Sony