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Overall rating:

4.5/5

 

Audio/Video total rating:

( Max score: 100 )

84

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Platform(s): Playstation 3

Developer: JAPAN Studio

Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment

Genre: Platformer

ESRB Rating: E (Everyone)

 

Length: 8-10 Hours

Difficulty: Easy-Moderate

Game Modes: Single Player, Cooperative

 

Full Game Size: 5.5GB

Disc Install Size: No Install

Resolution: 720p

Frame Rate: 30fps

 

Audio Format(s): PCM 7.1, Dolby Digital, DTS

Spoken Languages: English

Subtitles: English

Starring: TBA

 

Director: Gavin Moore

Music by: Patrick Doyle

 

Release Date: September 10, 2013

     

 

 

Synopsis:

 

One dark moonlit night, a young boy named Kutaro was carried away by the maleficent Moon Bear King to a black castle where the unlucky lad was transformed into a puppet. Kutaro displeased the terrible tyrant, who devoured the boy's wooden head and cast away his body. But the headless hero was not alone, for he had discovered a very special pair of scissors to help him on his harrowing adventure to find his head, and his way home. Puppeteer is a brand new franchise developed exclusively for PlayStation 3 by SCE JAPAN Studio. Set in a magical puppeteer’s theatre, this title will introduce you to a strange and fantastic world, where the environment is constantly changing. Players will enjoy a rich, dark fairytale where surprises lurk around every corner.

 

My Take:

 

It's impossible to play Puppeteer without breaking into an ear to ear smile. There's such a wealth of imagination on display that I fear it's ruined me for life—it's easily one of the most charming and endearing games ever created. It's guaranteed to melt the heart of even the most stodgy and surly amongst us. That it's so overwhelmingly enchanting isn't merely my opinion, it's a fact that you just may not be aware of yet, and I'll hear nothing to the contrary.

 

Real life puppet shows are a little before my time, so while I'm hardly an expert on the subject matter, it's obvious that Puppeteer goes to great lengths to capture the magic of sitting in the front row of the most awesome puppet show ever conceived. It genuinely feels like you're sitting amidst a virtual audience, which reacts to the on stage action with perfectly timed oohs and aahs, and healthy doses of raucous applause. The developers impressively maintain this gimmick throughout every aspect of the game from beginning to end, refusing to let go even on the pause screen.

 

Even though the main character Kutaro is a silent protagonist, the supporting cast more than make up for it with stellar writing and top notch voice acting. I'm not saying it gives shakespeare a run for his money; every character is overacted to such an extreme degree that you'd never dare to take it seriously. The ever-present narrator sounds as if he's had years of practice in the art of children's storytelling, and the entire cast is constantly breaking the fourth wall and directly interacting with the audience or the narrator. Nor is it afraid to break out into song from time to time either! Even though it's always lighthearted, there's no shortage of references sprinkled in for adults that are sure to fly clear over the heads of children.  

 

Beneath the stellar presentation lies a foundation of solid platforming. There's no need to fear that they've forgotten to make it as much fun to play as it is to watch. Even though the art design has a ton of moving parts, the game design itself isn't nearly as intricate. It's reminiscent of LittleBigPlanet, but with much tighter controls. A relatively standard run and jump and affair that's easy to pick up and play—but don't let it's simplicity fool you into thinking it's boring or a walk in the park. It always manages to stay fresh by constantly throwing new things at you, and while it can occasionally be very challenging, it's never frustrating. Although it's primarily a solo affair, it borrows a cue from Super Mario Galaxy and allows a second player to assist Kutaro by using a free-flying character to interact with the environment. It's a great way to let very young children, non-gamer parents, or any novice in on the fun. Anyone can jump in and play without any prior experience with a controller.

 

It's a surprisingly lengthy game, broken into 7 acts with 3 "curtains" each. Each curtain is just about the length of a cartoon short, about 15-20 minutes. Nearly every single one introduces a new character, environment and gameplay mechanic. They're concentrated bite-sized nuggets of pure fun, and a single act feels just the right size to play in a single sitting.

 

While it doesn't break any new ground in terms of gameplay, I profusely enjoyed every moment I played of it, and give it my highest recommendation.

 

Parental Guide:

 

Suitable for all ages to play or watch, although teenagers will probably think they're too cool for it.

 

AUDIO/VIDEO - By The Numbers:

REFERENCE = 90-100 / EXCELLENT = 80-89 / GOOD = 65-79 / AVERAGE = 55-65 /BELOW AVERAGE = under 55

 

**Ratings are judged against the state of the art in contemporary games. As technology rapidly improves, standards will raise appropriately.**

 

Audio: 88

 

(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)

 

  • Dynamics:

  • Low Frequency Extension:
     

  • Positional/Environmental Cues:

  • Detail/Realism:

  • Dialogue/Mix Quality:
     

 

The contrivance of the puppet show informs every aspect of the sound design. You've got front row seats to the show, so the surround field is dominated by the audience behind you, while the stage and orchestra pit lie directly in front of you. Everything reverberates appropriately for a very large theater. The fully orchestrated original score is a high point, with memorable melodies and absolutely perfect transitions from one track to the next—it sounds just like you've got a professional orchestra in your living room. Dynamics are strong for a game without firearms and explosives, and while the LFE often reaches down low, it stops just short of shaking the walls. Its a high class presentation, and the voice acting is just superb—it's a shame that it can occasionally be tough to hear them over the din of the show and audience. Every now and then a line of dialogue is abruptly cut off as well. These are all relatively minor quibbles in the end, the overall audio experience in Puppeteer is superb.

 

Recommended In-game Settings:

  • Audio settings - Turn everything but voice down a tick to 3.

 

Video: 80

 

(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)

 

  • Resolution/Aliasing:

  • Frame Rate:

  • Calibration Adherence:

  • Technical Quality:

  • Art Design/Production Values:

 

As expected, it's another case of a late generation title that pushes up against the barriers of ancient hardware. A solid 720p and 30fps is par for the course on PS3, but Puppeteer is absolutely begging to be seen in 1080p and 60fps. The puppets and sets are so detailed that it's sometimes difficult to make out exactly what you're looking at from a distance, and the heavy aliasing further degrades the image. This isn't your everyday run of the mill puppet show; set pieces are swooping in and banging into each other, and puppets are dancing around all over the place. It's a lot of motion for 30fps to handle, at least there's motion blurring used to good effect to help smooth it out.

 

I had high hopes for 3D, as they clearly went out of their way to use depth effectively. But having spent all their rendering resources on the 2D image, they rely on post-process conversion rather than true stereoscopy. While it's one of the better implementations of 3D upconversion that I've seen, the depth is very mild, and there are visible artifacts at the edges of objects. I could have probably lived with it if not for the loss of the motion blur, so I begrudgingly settled on 2D for most of my playtime.

 

Despite the base presentation, it's a great example of how high tech rendering and inspired art design can converge to create a spectacular feast for the eyes. While I'm holding out hope for a PS4 update in the future, make no mistake—Puppeteer is still an amazing spectacle to behold on PS3. They never once let go of the puppet show motif, everything on stage appears to be fabricated with real world materials like paper and wood. Even the stage lighting is seemingly handled by a team of professionals off screen, armed with an array of spotlights and colored floodlights. Whenever the set changes, the individual pieces rapidly fly out and in, knocking around and bumping into each other. I've never seen anything else like it, and they went all out with it. Most games are fun to play, but few are just as much fun to watch—it's simply a delight to see Puppeteer in action.  

 

Game Design: 80

 

(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)

 

  • Overall Gameplay:

  • Controls/Feel:

  • Interface:

  • Stability:

  • Load Time:
     

 

While the gameplay is simple and fun, there is a lot of unnecessary cruft that can weigh down the experience. Having a second player investigate every nook and cranny can be helpful, but when flying solo, it can be a lot to handle at once. Kutaro can find about 100 replacements for his long lost head, but only about five of them give him a special power. The rest are solely used to trigger bonuses when activated in the right place, but you never seem to have the right head at the right time. A lot of backtracking will be required to find everything, but the scavenger hunt really isn't all that fun, and the game just doesn't need it. Likewise collecting 100 bits of moon glitter will grant you an extra life, but just like every Mario game in the past 25 years, you'll usually have dozens of lives in reserve, making this just another distraction. The interface is simple enough, but it's mostly showing information for the aforementioned mechanics that the game didn't really need to begin with. Since it's all relatively easy to ignore, it never bogs down the experience beyond adding a layer of clutter. While the loading is well masked behind narration, the initial game launch takes well over a minute due to the unskippable 3D and Playstation Move warnings (neither of which I was using), followed by more warnings and splash screens. It's like the video game equivalent of the pointless FBI piracy warnings on Blu-ray, and I'm getting pretty tired of them. Thankfully, I never encountered any technical issues or bugs during my playthrough.

 

Final Thoughts:

 

Kudos to SCE JAPAN Studio for creating the first game that's actually more fun to play with 8 year-olds! It's an excellent choice for a family that wants to play together, and at $40 new, it's a steal. Even though it's obviously designed with children in mind, it's just as captivating for adults still in touch with their inner child. As long as you don't take yourself too seriously, you'll have a great time with it.

 

Mark D'Aria

AVS Forum Video Game Reviews

 

Reference Review System:

 

Panasonic TC-P60ST30 60" 1080P 3D Plasma Display (Calibrated with i1 Display LT)

Anthem MRX300 7.1 Channel AVR (Calibrated with Anthem ARC)

Paradigm Studio 40 v.3 (Main)

Paradigm CC-470 v.3 (Center)

Paradigm Studio 20 v.4 (Surround)

Velodyne HGS-18 (Subwoofer)

Sony Playstation 3 Slim (500GB Seagate Momentus XT Solid State Hybrid HDD)

Microsoft Xbox 360

Custom Gaming PC (Intel i5-3470, Nvidia GTX 760, 8GB DDR3, Samsung 840 SSD)
 
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