When someone gets up and says the inspiration of their latest game was to "reawaken my son's imagination", that's always going to get my attention. And I'm glad I did pay attention, because the upcoming PlayStation 3 title Puppeteer looks charming, fun, and fresh.
In this case, the words were coming from Gavin Moore: creative director on the title, and a long-term fixture at Sony Japan. He said his son was actually getting bored of most games - a result, perhaps, of having a game developer father who owns every single console. In fact, says Moore, his son would play a game for half an hour, then announce: "I'm bored! I'm going outside now!"
Part of Moore was very pleased that his kid was heading outside, but the game developer side of him wondered why his son wasn't engaging with these titles, and whether he could make something that did.
At its most basic, Puppeteer is a platformer. But it combines several cool elements to create an experience that feels fresh in such an overdone genre. Let's break it down:
• Theatrical: The conceit, or premise, or whatever, is that of a puppet show. This particular puppet show tells the story of a boy whose soul is stolen by the evil Bear King who lives on the moon. This evil King has stolen many souls of children, putting them in marionette bodies and eating their heads.
Your name is Karuto, and you're simply the latest to be stolen away and imprisoned in the King's land. But of course, there's something special about you...
• Theatrical (Part 2): This isn't merely a setup. The entire presentation is that of a puppet show, with constantly shifting sets, moving spotlights highlighting the major characters, and jerkily animating scenery. There are even curtains hanging at the side and an ever-present audience reacting to the action. It looks beautiful - apparently the animators went through hell to get all of it looking and moving in the way it does, but from what I saw, that effort has paid off.
• Roots: This is a platform game, and it knows that fact. Puppeteer looks like a love letter to and deconstruction of all the best platform games in the industry. I saw elements that harkened back to my Commodore 64 days, as well as more obvious inspirations like Mario. But the key thing is that it looks like good platforming. And very quickly, it became obvious that it wouldn't be formulaic or repetitive: everything keeps changing, from the sets to the actual gameplay.
• Lights: I have to mentioned the lights shining on the action. They really make the game pop. It's hard to explain in words - go and see the trailer. You'll hopefully see what I mean.
• Heads: You're headless at the start of the game, but you quickly find a skull to wear. As you progress, you acquire tons and tons of new heads. Each of these has a different ability: a hamburger head, for example, allows you transform giant sandwiches into... well, giant hamburgers, which act as trampolines to allow you access to different parts of a level. Yeah, I thought it was crazy, too.
• Help: With the right analogue stick, you can control a flying cat, who seems to be your main helper, at least for the early sections of the game. This cat can set free various collectables, or uncover them from background scenery.
Interestingly, it's planned as a retail Blu-ray release - something that isn't normally the case with platformers these days, at least up until Rayman: Origins came along. But apparently we won't have to worry about value: Moore insists that even though a Blu-ray is a huge disc, it's filled up with a huge amount of levels and content.
Apparently, we're all going to be surprised by just how big this game is.
Sounds glowing, right? Well, the usual caveat applies: I'm cautious until I can play a good chunk of it for myself. But from what I've seen, this is a fresh, crazy platformer, and I can't get enough of those when they're delivered with real heart.
By Tristan Clark