In life, we naturally look for companionship to share our experiences. Whether that be with friends or family, we often forget that there is something loyally following our every movement. Our shadow.
Their existence has been readily explored in games, with Konami’s A Shadow’s Tale and Contrast by Compulsion Games springing to mind. And now Shadow Puppeteer is another, Sarepta Studio’s first full-fledged foray into the world of game development – making its console debut on Wii U after seeing release on PC way back in September 2014.
With Tim Burton flair, it has all the ingredients that would be necessary to concoct one of the film director’s dark, gothic and often quirky fairytales. The Norwegian studio has spoken about the importance that they had placed on creating an atmospheric gameplay experience, their meticulously crafted world exploring the relationship between darkness and light.
The world itself is a particularly gloomy one, with purple hues pervading the night skies. But beneath such a menacing demeanour lies a tale that delights in weaving together its own ambitions with childlike charm.
Shadow Puppeteer‘s story is largely portrayed in unvoiced cutscenes. We firstly see a young boy witness the game’s namesake villain play a magical barrel organ to steal the shadows of those peacefully sleeping in his village. While the boy is able to wrestle his own shadow free from such a dastardly spell, they remain separated from each other. That provides the perfect chance for a shared-screen co-operative adventure, and so your quest begins to rescue the captured shadows.
With the boy able to freely move around the 3D space, his shadow is instead confined to the 2D plane that light is projected toward. It makes for some fascinating puzzle design, even if the game’s early portion sees players work together in more simplified means. Shoving blocks, standing on chimneys to block fumes and using lids to carry one another, these lay a collaborative foundation but aren’t scenarios that see Shadow Puppeteer shine at its very best.
The gameplay experience truly begins to enter its stride when Shadow Tools are introduced later in the game. The boy carries a lantern with which he can eventually use three different stencils – Rope, Scissors and Bomb. When used, he can either use their power himself or pass these items to his shadow which are necessary to overcome obstacles in your path. These scenarios are particularly clever, but the only disappointment is that they come so late in the game that they aren’t given enough time for more experimentation.
Shadow Puppeteer has clearly been designed as a co-op experience, and this is where it notably excels. But, there is still chance to tackle it solo for those that may not have another player to join their adventure. With the boy assigned to the Left Stick and L Button and his shadow to the Right Stick and R Button, it works comfortably in approach but presents an added challenge in having to control both characters at once. Consider it something to tackle after you have completed the game with a friend, as it was intended.
There are some concerns, however. Players are told that they must remain close, so that the bond between people and shadows isn’t broken. But this can cause some irritation, as, with collectibles hidden away in corners of the screen, we often wandered apart from one another. Walk too far and the game immediately reloads to your last checkpoint. The implementation is understandable, but the restriction is inconsistent.
Beyond Shadow Puppeteer‘s puzzle-riddled four hour playtime, an Extras menu will delight those that enjoy the experience. Here, players can unlock artwork and use the Music Player to listen to the game’s mirthful soundtrack that so perfectly encapsulates the haunting environments that players will wander.
Another chance to team up on Wii U, Shadow Puppeteer presents a co-op experience that hauntingly charms from every pixel. With inventive puzzle design it amounts to another welcome addition to the Nintendo eShop, even if there is missed potential in exploring its unique mechanics more deeply. Keep an eye over your shoulder, you may see your shadow waving back one day…