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Puppeteer E3 2013 Hands-On Preview

Puppeteer is one of the most creative PS3 titles to come out of Sony’s already-creative SCE Japan Studio, and it’s a masterpiece in just about every sense of the word. Not only is it gorgeous in presentation, but it’s got a spectacular story-telling style that resembles a theater production and a simple gameplay style that’s sure to appeal to everyone.

I got a chance to go hands-on with the game at E3 today, and it quickly became one of my most-anticipated titles of the year – and I don’t even have a PS3!

A New Kind of Hero

Most heroes wield swords to challenge evil – but not Puppeteer‘s Kutaro. A boy who became a puppet when the Moon Bear took his soul, Kutaro now gets his special powers from “heads” and wields a magical pair of scissors to fight the darkness.

Puppeteer-e3-2013-preview-2Heads serve as the game’s “life” system. Grabbing heads gives you not only an “extra life” in a sense – you’re alive as long as you have a head on your shoulders, which you lose if you take damage, and you can have up to three heads at a time – but also grant special abilities based on the type of head. Usually this means tapping into secrets within each level by ensuring you have the corresponding head at certain points, where the game will prompt you. For example, I transformed a giant sandwich into a bouncy burger with the Hamburger Head, and made a giant skeleton start dancing around with a Skull Head.

Small moon-shaped crystals are hidden throughout each level, and can be coaxed out of their secret spots with the help of a puppet-like cat named Ying-Yang, who you control with the right stick while moving Kutaro with the left stick. Collect 100 of these crystals, and you’ll gain an extra chance to get hit without losing your head.

The game’s platforming mechanics are passable, but it suffers from the same issues that most non-classic platform franchises face: the movement of the characters seems a bit stiff, and the jumps are somewhat awkward. However, the platforming scenarios are all intelligently-designed – avoid tumbling objects by jumping over them, leap over gaps and enemies, and so on.

Puppeteer-e3-2013-preview-17After a certain point, you’ll acquire the Legendary Scissors, called Calibrus. You’ll use Calibrus as your primary weapon, cutting through both enemies and certain adhesive portions of the game’s levels. A round of scissor puzzles followed up the moment in the story when I obtained Calibrus, forcing me to cut my way through a series of webs set at various angles. Later, the demo’s boss threw the scissors mechanic into combat: it was a demonic rug that I had to cut through all the way across in several stages to defeat.

Raising the Curtain With Style

Puppeteer is staged like a play, complete with curtains and a stage inside of which the “levels” exist. Between sections of the stages, the “scene” will shift, with setpieces and even the stage elements moving around and being replaced by the next act. It’s a unique approach to visual design and level construction, and helps hide any potential loading times.

Puppeteer-e3-2013-preview-4Every enemy and character looks like it’s been artificially constructed, from the evil Moon Bear himself to the ancient hag you’ll encounter midway through the area depicted in the demo. There’s a sense of patchwork assembly that runs through the entire presentation, and the results are totally satisfying. Even the storytelling is unique, told through well-written, humorous, and often somewhat creepy text and voiced dialogue that proceeds alongside your game progress.

It’s one of the most creatively-presented games I’ve seen in ages, and a complement to games like LittleBigPlanet which are already a huge part of the PlayStation 3 library. Puppeteer stood out as one of the best games I played at Sony’s booth, and has reaffirmed my desire to finally pick up one of those PS3 things as soon as I can.