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Shadow Puppeteer

Platform(s): PC, WiiU
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Snow Cannon Games
Developer: Sarepta Studio
Release Date: Jan. 28, 2016


Wii U Review - 'Shadow Puppeteer'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Feb. 2, 2016 @ 1:00 a.m. PST

Shadow Puppeteer is a co-op adventure where players assume the roles of a boy and his shadow, separated from one another by the evil shadow puppeteer.

There's something appealing about co-op games that can't be matched by single-player titles. The fun of working with another person just adds an extra facet to the game. This is especially true when you have asymmetrical cooperation, where two players have different skill sets and must take advantage of those skills to succeed. Shadow Puppeteer is very much one of the latter types. It's a game about working together to solve complex puzzles and overcome dangerous obstacles. Of course, like many co-op games, it also means that it's not as fun on your own.

Story-wise, a spooky musician (the titular Shadow Puppeteer) is trying to steal shadows. A young boy who almost has his shadow stolen must go after him. The entire tale is told without voice acting or explanatory text, relying primarily on body language and some musical cues. It's not going to reinvent the wheel, but it has a charming fairy tale feel, and it rarely gets in the way of the gameplay. I enjoyed the simple plot, but it's clear that the story takes a backseat to the gameplay.

Shadow Puppeteer has two characters that can be played in either co-op or single-player mode. The first character is the boy, who's an everyday video game protagonist. He can jump, pull and push boxes, pick up objects, pull switches and so on, and he can also move in full 3-D. This might not sound like a particularly special ability, but it's critical to your success. The Shadow can only interact on a 2-D plane, which is both a limitation and freedom. He can make seemingly impossible jumps or avoid complex leaps that the boy must make, but he can be blocked by shadows of other objects, which are all as solid as he is. For example, a rising pillar of steam can stop him, while the boy can walk through. He can also manipulate the shadows of objects to move them in ways that the boy can't, and the boy can twist and turn light sources to create new paths. Both characters are connected by a glowing purple tether, and if you get too far apart, it's instant death.

That is the crux of the game. Neither character can progress very far on his own, and you have to use both to get around. Early on, you've got simple box puzzles or basic back-and-forth swaps. As the game progresses, both characters need to do things at the same time or work together by altering light sources, changing the environment and avoiding deadly monsters. There are some really creative uses of the mechanics, and most of the puzzles were fun to solve. It isn't the first game to let you do something like this, but it's clear that the mechanics were designed with some solid puzzles in mind, and most were included in the game. The mechanics get more complex as you progress, with the Shadow gaining access to new gimmicks that allow him to manipulate the world in a variety of ways, and the game occasionally throws some simple enemies at you, but the core gameplay is very accessible from start to finish.

You can finish the main campaign in about 2-3 hours, so things ramp up quickly. The difficulty is solid but uneven. Rather than a gradual increase, it comes with spikes of difficulty. The puzzles can be easy and then throw a devil of a puzzle at you before it returns to easy. It's not enough to be frustrating, but it can feel uneven. There are some incredibly clever puzzles scattered around, but it's easy to be caught off-guard when a complex one suddenly pops in from left field. Fortunately, lives are infinite and checkpoints are plentiful. At worst, a death sets you back a few moments, and you try again.

A major flaw with Shadow Puppeteer is that the controls are kind of awkward. The Shadow controls fine and should be controlled by whoever is less comfortable with video games. The boy suffers from some rather standard 3-D platforming issues. The design can make it difficult to judge depth when jumping. The jumping controls are also rather floaty and imprecise, even when I got used to them. There is either a bug or a flaw where characters occasionally stop responding; it could lead to a death that felt completely out of control. Its' not enough to ruin the game, but it can sometimes make single-player really frustrating.

Shadow Puppeteer is technically a single-player game, but it's not really designed for it. You can finish the game alone, but the mechanics and game design flow so much better in co-op. A single player basically divides the two characters among one controller, and the result is awkward because the rest of the game isn't designed around it. It works fine during the slower moments and feels like a somewhat-clumsier Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. When the game requires strict timing or action platforming, it falls apart. The inherent floatiness of the controls combine with the awkwardness of the control scheme to create something that just isn't fun. The single-player experience magnifies the game's flaws and lessens its strengths.

Shadow Puppeteer is a cute game that has a very Tim Burton Nightmare Before Christmas kind of feel. The characters are simply animated but have an unmistakable charm, and the environments are nicely designed. However, I did notice some pretty significant frame rate hitching in places, and that detracted from the experience. The occasional cut scenes are rougher than the main game and one of the less impressive parts of the entire experience. The soundtrack is varied, which is both a plus and a minus, as some of the songs don't hit while others are generally pleasant.

Shadow Puppeteer is a fun and simple co-op game. It's dragged down a tad by awkward controls and difficulty spikes. As a single-player game, it's significantly more flawed and should be avoided unless you've got a high tolerance for struggling with controls. For players with a friend who's ready to play co-op, the game can really shine and show off its stronger points. It's not a game for everyone, but for parents and kids, it's an enjoyable experience and well worth a shot.

Score: 7.0/10

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