From the moment the curtains slid apart on PlayStation 3 exclusive Puppeteer, I knew I was in for an enchanting experience. SCE Japan Studio – the innovative developer behind Ape Escape, Loco Roco and the Patapon series – have let their boundless imaginations run wild, presenting us with a fantastical fairytale in the form of a live stage show. Packed to the rafters with eccentric characters, macabre imagery and inventive gameplay, this one-of-a-kind platforming extravaganza showcases an exceptional level of creativity and charm; making for a theatrical spectacle that will capture the hearts of gamers everywhere.
Its spellbinding narrative takes place amidst the stars, where the wicked Moon Bear King spirits away children's souls, trapping them inside wooden marionettes. After having his noggin chomped off by the temperamental tyrant, one plucky puppet, Kutaro, is manipulated into pilfering a magical pair of scissors; starting him on a perilous quest to put an end to the lunar oppressor and reclaim his stolen soul.
Though there are many things to love about Puppeteer, its unparalleled presentation is definitely the main attraction here. The pantomime-like action takes place onstage, complete with strobing spotlights and a visible proscenium arch. Its ligneous cast act as twisted thespians, performing to an unseen audience, who cheer and gasp as the drama unfolds. When a scene is at an end the set will shudder and crash, mechanically transforming itself for the next, and a wondrous sense of grandeur and showmanship permeates every aspect of this peculiar production.
Curiously, the fact that our courageous protagonist is headless has a direct impact on the side-scrolling gameplay. With the help of a hovering sidekick, Kutaro can investigate the environment, discovering a bizarre collection of inanimate objects he can use as makeshift craniums. These range from food items like hamburgers and bananas, to animals such as spiders and bats, to plant life, musical instruments and even weaponry. A maximum of three such items can be carried at once, acting as hit points for our hero. If attacked, his current crown flies clean off his shoulders, requiring him to snatch it up before it disappears, or pick another from his arsenal. Each has their own unique powers, used to unearth secrets and hidden bonus levels, and of these there's no shortage to be found.
Puppeteer's forgiving platforming will feel very familiar to most gamers, and the abilities you acquire, such as ground-pounding, bomb-hurling and projectile-deflection, cover enjoyable yet well-trodden territory. However, the thing that really breaks the mould is Calibrus, Kutaro's bewitched scissors, which can be used not only to cleave a path through your foes, but as an extraordinary means of transport, instrumental in traversing the chasmal terrain. By shearing through paper, fabric, foliage, and even smoke you can zip through the air, dodging hazards and leaping pitfalls. It's a mechanic that is truly unique and a whole lot of fun, making for some break-neck roller coaster rides and some intriguing navigational puzzles. Certain stages are broken up with adrenaline-fuelled racing sections, where you ride atop missile-headed squid or carrot-crazed race horses, that are brilliantly addictive and a thrilling change of pace.
Having said that, pacing is certainly not an issue this game has to worry about; its constant set-changes and varied surroundings make sure of that. During your travels you'll visit spooky castles, forests and swamps, pirate ships, desert islands and verdant maze-like gardens. No two levels are the same, and while many of these settings may appear funereal at a glance, the frequent absurdity of the offbeat humour provides much-needed levity to keep things buoyant.
While enemy-types aren't nearly as diverse, this issue is easily forgiven due to numerous colossal boss fights. These memorable encounters provide some of the best moments Puppeteer has to offer, and are as awe-inspiring to witness as they are satisfying to play. Gigantic tigers, robotic crabs and gruesome slithering serpents are just some of the mighty foes you'll cut to smithereens – and while these confrontations do have a tendency to end in run-of-the-mill quicktime events, they're still so delightfully impressive you'll barely even notice.
A special mention has to go to the game's magnificent orchestral score, which captures and enhances the feeling of delirium phenomenally. That, combined with the abundance of charismatic voice acting, further adds to an experience that already exudes excellence. Gregorius Theodore Oswald, the story's silver-tongued narrator contributes a particularly stellar performance. Never missing an opportunity to puncture the fourth wall, he enthusiastically offers witty insight with a level of pomposity that is both deeply endearing and highly amusing.
It's practically impossible for me not to recommend the mesmerising production that is Puppeteer. There's really nothing else quite like it. Profoundly entertaining on several levels, it will appeal to adults and children alike, instilling a genuine sense of wonder and wowing with its dynamic score and striking visuals. Its captivating story only lasts around ten hours, but provides a wealth of replay value, with concealed heads to find, bonus levels to master and captured souls to liberate. The best part is that the game retails at only £24.99, considerably less than the usual asking price for AAA titles. So roll up, roll up, and experience the single most amazing puppet show you have ever, and will ever see.