At E3, it's easy to be drawn towards the bright lights and the loudest booths. If you let that happen, though, you run the risk of missing out on some extraordinary titles - many of which are hiding in plain sight. One such title at this year's show was the previously announced - but still barely known about - Puppeteer, for PlayStation 3.
Puppeteer was described to me as being “a dark fairy tale”. The creator is an Englishman who moved to Japan about eight years ago. He wanted to create a game for kids like his son to enjoy, who enjoy variety, and not looking at the same thing for too long. Therefore, he came up with a story with the backdrop of a theatre, where the sets change constantly, so the visuals are not static.
Japanese puppet theatre is combined with the traditions of English pantomime and Punch and Judy to create a fresh and new look for the game. Sony have been developing this game as a little “craft” project for the past three years, and it has a look and style all its own, combining a “Japanese” type game, with a “Western” one.
The hero of the story is Kutaro, and his companion cat is Yin Yang. The villain of the piece is the Moon Bear King, who has stolen a moon stone and pair of magic scissors from the Moon goddess, and uses them to take the souls of children. That’s how poor Kutaro ends up a puppet, and has to steal the magic scissors himself to try and escape.
Essentially it’s a side scrolling platform game, but with a lot of sass. The left stick moves Kutaro, and the right stick moves Yin Yang, who can investigate objects, to reveal hidden things within. The way the characters move is quite unusual, just like a puppet moves; slightly jerkily and as if they are suspended (think: Thunderbirds.)
Carrying on with the theatre setting, an audience also cheer, laugh, and applaud along with the action onscreen. The developer I spoke to explained that these sounds were captured by hiring out a real theatre, and recording the reactions of a real crowd, which explains the authenticity of the sounds you hear.
The game has a likeable look and feel, great soundscape, a bit of sophisticated humour for adults to enjoy, and an interesting story to follow. It'll be interesting to see if it manages to maintain its dynamic charm throughout the experience, but it certainly engaged me throughout my time with it.
Puppeteer is launching in September.
The Good: Muppets
The Bad: Punch & Judy
The Ugly: Sock puppets