The Hidden Joys of Puppeteer’s Multiplayer

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Last year’s Playstation 3 exclusive Puppeteer has an amazing cooperative multiplayer mode.

It’s nothing life changing — there are no horde modes, persistent faction-based deathmatch, or even microtransactions — but it’s delightfully inclusive and represents the nebulous joy at the center of Puppeteer that can’t be captured in a back-of-the-box quote.

Puppeteer’s easy to approach multiplayer is perfect for adults and children alike, taking a charismatic platformer and turning it into an endlessly amusing toy box.

The multiplayer itself is reminiscent of that found in Super Mario Galaxy: while one player controls the hero, the other is tasked with grabbing all the various glittery doo-dads floating around the screen. In Puppeteer this is accomplished by guiding around of one the two sidekicks that accompany you throughout the game, both of whom are normally controlled with the right analog stick. This is where Player 2 comes in, as they take over this seemingly secondary role.

Playing by yourself, there’s a good chance you won’t see everything Puppeteer has on offer. Practically everything in the game can be poked and prodded. Most objects will simply jiggle and unleash a torrent of glittering stardust — Puppeteer’s version of the traditional Mario coin — but occasionally a gentle nudge will go much further. You might tear down a section of wall, revealing a trio of hapless puppets who are trying to escape the villainous Moon Bear’s castle, or you might wake up a butterfly who lazily floats into the background. Despite having a world made of wood, everything in Puppeteer feels alive.

There’s so much of it that it’s practically impossible to see it all in one go, especially if you’re trying to tap on things while flying through the air or jumping from platform to platform. If you’re trying to get to the end of the story, there just isn’t time to revel in the little details.

I mean, Puppeteer is a pretty hard game at times. You have to manage multiple commands at once, juggling precise timing with predictive moments to catch enemies in mid-air and chain across the screen. It’s not the kind of game that you can just hand over to your precocious 10-year-old niece who wasn’t forged in the crucible of Battletoads.

That’s where Player 2 comes in. Freed from the responsibility of keeping the main character Kutaro alive, they’re able to not only stop and smell the flowers, but investigate who planted them in the first place.

If you’ve ever read a bedtime story to a enraptured child before, you know how important that second step can be. No story is static when placed under scrutiny by youthful imagination, with questions flowing without consideration for narrative intent or thematic accuracy. Everything is examined and answers are expected, regardless of whether or not you’ve seen the character bible.

Rather than resist this pressure — as so many videogames and films do — Puppeteer rewards it. Curious about those panda bears in the background? Click on them and watch them frolic off screen…only to find their story continued in the next frame. You, as Player 1, might be caught up in the mechanics and sharp referential humor of the main story, but Player 2 is free to wander and explore without being weighed down by success or failure.

That said, even if you won’t be basking in the glow of an inquisitive multiplayer partner, Puppeteer is still an awesome game that’s totally worth your time.

It’s just better if you’ve got a friend smiling along with you.