You can have your summer blockbuster games -- the ones with the explosions, guns and scantily clad women. Those bombastic titles are a dime a dozen and become a blur that seems to run together. I prefer different experiences: the quiet ones, the strange oddities, even the overwrought mysteries.

Instead of making games that ape the latest popcorn flicks, developers should expand their horizons and push for new goals. Why not create a game based on a police procedural or try something akin to reality TV? Anything is more intriguing than another military shooter.

That includes a project based on a puppet show. The low-tech art form is the inspiration behind the latest title from Sony's Japan Studio. The "Puppeteer" is a 2-D platformer masquerading as a simple drama using marionettes and toys, but in the hands of the developers, it becomes something more. The studio borrows the magic of the theater and puts players in the role of both actor and audience.

"Puppeteer" follows the fairy-tale adventures of Kutaro, a boy who ends up in a puppet's body. He gets caught up in a lunar rebellion against the bear king, who has overthrown the moon goddess and plans on devouring the souls of Earth's sleeping children. It's up to players to stop him by defeating the bear's 12 minions, which are Chinese Zodiac creatures.


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Although some studios would find the puppet show motif and stage constraining, Japan Studio brilliantly works with it, creating spellbinding worlds across the game's seven acts. These stages are crafty in the same way "LittleBigPlanet's" levels are. The backdrops change to give players a sense of movement. Stage lighting lets players see Kutaro through diaphanous set pieces. There's a workmanlike quality to every stitch of the visuals.

To help Kutaro defeat the bear king, players have a pair of scissors called Calibrus. They snip at foes or cut the stitching of the bigger bosses. It's essentially a sword, but the weapon's novelty comes in how it's used to overcome obstacles such as gaps or stitched-up walls. Players can hover as long as they cut material. Elsewhere, they can zip through obstacles by cutting along the seams.

Along with that, players will acquire four powers from the moon goddess's guardians. They're the key to solving the minor puzzles. Lastly, Kutaro has a pixielike ally named Pikarina who offers hints and helps him find puppet heads that keep him alive.

Kutaro's sidekick also acts as comic relief, and she highlights the other strength of "Puppeteer" -- the sharp writing. The game makes players believe its fiction, while the characters poke fun at the production. It's a cleverly orchestrated balancing act where Japan Studio doesn't just break the fourth wall, the team sets it on fire and dances a jig on it. Players run into characters who forget their lines. They'll hit the scaffolding of the set. Pikarina and the narrator banter back and forth about random issues.

"Puppeteer" lets players see the strings, and it tells a predictable story, but that makes no difference. The game's magic is in the journey and how the studio turns a perceived weakness into a strength, creating characters and a world players fall in love with.

Contact Gieson Cacho at 510-735-7076 or gcacho@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/gcacho.

'puppeteer'
H*H
Platform: PlayStation 3
Rating: Everyone 10+