Cooperative adventures are an undeniably niche genre. Having someone in your life who's willing to tolerate you venting frustrations for hours of gameplay isn't easy to come by. Luckily, my wife was patient enough to complete this journey with me.
Before we begin, I must clarify that this is a cooperative game. You can play it by yourself but doing so is simply too difficult to be even slightly enjoyable. Therefore, if you don't have a friend who's willing to play an entire game with you then you should give this one a pass. However, if you know someone who fits the bill then you're in for one satisfying mind-bending quest. The story begins with an evil man who plays a wind-up music box that forces our protagonist's shadow to separate from his body. As a result, one player controls the shadow and another controls the boy. The shadow obviously runs and jumps along a 2D plane while the boy is in a three dimensional space. Where the gameplay goes from this premise will astound you in all of its reality-altering twists. Whatever you can think up after reading this paragraph will probably only scratch the surface of the events that unfold.
For a game on the Wii U eShop, Shadow Puppeteer is surprisingly eerie. The haunting music box melody that plays throughout not only provides a deeply disturbing atmosphere, it'll also stick with you well after you turn off the game. On top of this, beautifully rendered full motion video cutscenes play between some levels. I found these to be an absolute joy to watch because you don't come across these often enough in today's gaming world. Most other games' story sequences just play out with in-game graphics, but they really went the extra mile here. Anyway, the graphics as you play are dark and sinister. The boy needs to focus on the 3D environment while the shadow must jump between shadows cast on the environments' walls and floors that act as platforms. It's by no means a realistic-looking game yet there's something about it that remains nothing short of captivating from start to finish.
It's going to be hard for me to describe the gameplay in detail because there is such a vast assortment of puzzles and interesting scenarios that talking about everything will make this review much too long. Instead, I'll just mention some highlights. The boy gains three different objects that he can project shadows of. Ropes can be tied between hooks that allow the shadow to cross gaps, scissors let the shadow cut objects down from the ceiling which actually affects them in the three dimensional space, and bombs blow up walls. It's amazing how much the two players need to interact in order to get through the campaign. Simple puzzles involve pushing and pulling blocks, standing on smokestacks to prevent the smoke's shadow from blocking the way, and carrying circular platforms to give the other player a ride. Things get stomach-turning when the shadow leaps from walls to floors to circular objects that radiate light thus defying the shadow's center of gravity. Like I say, I can go on all day but all you need to know is that it's awesome what you'll end up doing.
Shadow Puppeteer's biggest issue by far is that 3D platforming can be highly irritating. Ironically enough, this is due to the fact that you don't have a shadow. Being able to tell where platforms are and where you're jumping to is downright tricky. As a result, many portions will need to be retried over and over again. Besides this, a couple of minor complaints are that the frequent load screens are a bit too long and the campaign is a little on the short side. My wife and I completed the whole thing within two evenings and by the time it was over, we wanted so much more. That being said, you can play through the campaign again to find all of the collectibles. Doing so will require solving many optional puzzles and exploring every nook and cranny so it definitely warrants another playthrough.
Shadow Puppeteer is one of the best cooperative experiences that I've ever played. Although it's plagued with annoyingly sloppy 3D platforming, the incredibly imaginative premise and all of the impressive twists and turns that branch out from it make it a must-play title... as long as you have a friend who doesn't mind being ordered around.
- + Mind-bending cooperative gameplay mechanics that are oh so satisfying to master
- + Wonderfully engaging creepy atmosphere
- + Finding orbs provides some replay value
- - Because there's no shadow, 3D platforming can be extremely frustrating at times
- - Frequent long load screens
- - Fairly short campaign