Berlin, Nov 2017
The curious backstory for this game involves a puppeteer who finds a magical talking wooden puppet, who helps him make his fortune, but then one night runs off with all the money. To which the puppeteer’s response is to make a replacement puppet… from human limbs. Specifically your limbs. Frankly it sounds like that wooden puppet made the right decision to run for the hills. In any case, your team will need to deal with being imprisoned in a faux-Victorian workshop decorated with a mixture of marionettes and metal pipes, and despite the slightly gruesome-sounding setup it’s not in the slightest a gory room. Quite the opposite, in fact: this is a great looking room full of interesting and impressive bits and pieces. Final Escape put a lot into their builds and Puppeteer was the most impressive of the three I saw. (Whether through pride in the result or an surplus of props, they’ve also themed their briefing area in the same steampunk style.)
The game gets off to a great start with a sequence that’s both clever and cool, involving in no particular order a lovely prop, a well-judged physical task and a bit of misdirection. It felt a little crowded, but then we had a team of four for a game that’s probably best with three.
Some of the subsequent steps in the game sequence diluted my enthusiasm. One of these was a puzzle which was a bit arbitrary as to how to apply the solution, where the correct approach seemed (to us) quite a bit less natural than an alternative. Another was one that I’d classify as search, in that the challenge is in spotting that there’s something to be manipulated. I don’t dislike search tasks, though I frequently fail at them; but some ways of setting them up work better than others. Here it was in a room with a great deal to look at, where there had been little to search for prior to this point, which means players are more likely to have stopped searching closely and will instead spend time fruitlessly trying to make something out of the more visible elements in the room until they’re given a hint that points them in the right direction.
Neither of those were serious, but they were representative of a mid-game section that came across as just a little weak, particularly compared to the start of the game, with puzzle solutions that were logical enough but which left me thinking ‘aha, that’s what we were intended to do’ more than ‘aha, of course!’.
If you’re picky about puzzle design, well, you’ll probably enjoy this room anyhow; and if not, you’ll think I’m unnecessarily nitpicking a game that’s both beautiful to look at and inventive in its content.