by Preston Dozsa
reviewed on PC
If I looked at the wall one day and witnessed my shadow move about on its own free will, I would not wave and greet the shadow immediately following this discovery. But apparently I’m alone in that regard, as that’s exactly what the main character does in the opening scene of Shadow Puppeteer. No, I don’t know why the boy reacts that way or why this particular child’s shadow suddenly became sentient when all the other shadows got sucked up into a music box. What I do know is that Shadow Puppeteer tries to put a unique spin on co-op platformers while telling a tale about a boy and his shadow, yet manages to get lost and stumble into a nest of cliches in the process.
The best way I can describe Shadow Puppeteer is that it’s a combination of ibb & obb and Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. It has the two controllable character system that’s present in both games, as well as the distinct Nordic influence that is found in Brothers. The game is primarily a sidescrolling platformer within a 3D environment, with the boy navigating the 3D area as his shadow navigates the 2D walls behind him. Ambitious would be an understatement, but let it be said that Sarepta Studios dives into their first game with plenty of drive.
The story within the game is that the evil Shadow Puppeteer has been harvesting/stealing the souls of the citizens of an island during the middle of the night. One night, the aforementioned boy finds that his shadow has not been sucked up like the others and is instead a unique being that can traverse the shadows of the environment. Teaming up together, the boy and his shadow seek to put a stop to machinations of the Puppeteer, navigating through puzzles and stopping shadow monsters along the way.
To be perfectly honest I found the story and presentation to be cliche and underdeveloped. The use of a boy and his independent shadow does not scream originality, harkening back to similar games like Lost in Shadows and Contrast, yet containing none of the flair or aesthetic that makes them look unique. I mentioned earlier that the game had a Nordic influence, but only insofar as the general appearance of the environment and the Shadow Puppeteer himself. The environments present within the game frankly look rather bland, feeling artificial in comparison to the things which inhabit it. All in all, the story and aesthetic are quite clearly vehicles for the gameplay, containing nothing that spices it up.
The general gameplay of Shadow Puppeteer is straight forward. Controlling the boy and his shadow, you have to jump and maneuver objects around the environment in order to advance. For example, in order for the boy to reach a higher edge you may have to drag a box over as the boy while the shadow holds up the shadow of a platform, which in turn creates a platform to jump to that floats in mid air. You have to think really hard when solving the environmental puzzles in this game, as they combine both 2D and 3D navigation. I always say it's rewarding to solve a puzzle with no hints from the game as to how to solve it, and Shadow Puppeteer excels in this aspect.
Shadow Puppeteer can be played either by yourself or in a local co-op mode. In single player, you control both the boy and his shadow, while in co-op you control one or the other. I would not recommend playing single player, as the game becomes incredibly difficult when you control both characters at once. Especially since there are multiple sections in the game that require you to perform timed and precise platforming with both characters at the same time. Very quickly, as I found out, those sections become exercises in patience as you try to find the best time to hit the jump button while riding a minecart down a hill to avoid obstacles. I suspect the developers knew of this issue as well, as the game warns you that singleplayer is far more difficult than multiplayer. Which is something to keep in mind if you were thinking of purchasing this game.
Thankfully the co-op is a significant improvement, with nearly every level and section of Shadow Puppeteer becoming much more fun and enjoyable with a partner. Where I got annoyed trying to lower a bridge in single player, I had a great deal more fun with a friend trying to position ourselves properly in order to lower that same bridge. What’s more is that the levels are designed for a multiplayer experience, making each of the levels a lot easier to complete. While it’s disappointing that there’s no online multiplayer, it is still a far better experience when played locally.
Beyond the gameplay and aesthetic there are two major issues that need to be addressed. The first is framerate, which while fixable often times led me to fall off a ledge or be unable to jump over an obstacle. I spent a half hour stuck on one level in particular as a monster would repeatedly change position upon respawn. Sometimes far away, and sometimes it would be on top of me before I could do anything. Aside from that, I experienced major control delay when jumping or entering minecarts. Oftentimes I had to jam my finger into the keyboard or button in order for the game to properly recognize a command. As a result, I spent a long time rehashing the same mistakes over and over again.
Shadow Puppeteer has its moments, especially when playing with friends and working together to solve some challenging puzzles. But those moments are lost when presented with a boring aesthetic and an incredibly difficult single player mode. So if you’ve got friends, Shadow Puppeteer may be worth a look at for some fun co-op puzzle solving action. Otherwise, it might be best to create some shadow puppets of your own on the wall.
Challenging puzzles, entertaining with friends
Boring aesthetic, lacking single player, some bugs