Shadow Puppeteer - Wii U Review

A Co-op Game That's Still Accessible to a Determined Loner

Shadow Puppeteer
One tool allows players to string a shadow rope between two hook shadows. Snow Cannon

Pros: Clever premise. Co-op game that works well for a single player.
Cons: Important items easy to miss. 3D elements are often a struggle.

I have come to realize I don’t get much from my shadow. It never helps me by throwing shadow levers to lower bridges or carrying me on portable platforms. It is no help at all when I’m attacked by shadow creatures (an admittedly rare occurrence). It makes me envy the protagonist of the platformer Shadow Puppeteer, whose shadow does all that and more.

Developed by: Sarepta
Published by: Snow Cannon
Genre: Platformer
For ages: 13 and up
Platform: Wii U
Release Date: January 28, 2016


The Basics: Me and My Shadow

The game begins with a strange man using a shadow-stealing machine. The machine also (somehow) damages a young boy's house, and he falls through the broken floor just as his shadow separates. The shadow inexplicably falls in as well,  and boy and shadow make their way out of the basement and, for some reason, chase after the mystery man and his now-broken machine.

Gameplay involves the two characters helping each other bypass obstacles. The boy moves in three dimensions, while the shadow hugs the walls or floors, standing on the shadows of objects. Handy levers can be pulled by the boy while the shadow can pull the lever’s shadow to the same effect. One character can carry the other on a board when one can be found.

The boy can move boxes to create new shadows. As the game progresses, there are shadow tools like scissors to cut rope shadows.

Now and again, the man throws a purple lamp that creates a monster, requiring fast, frenetic teamwork to best it. Oddly, in boss battles, shadows seem to be able to damage the live boy, which is an annoying inconsistency.

While designed for cooperative play, the game also offers an ingenious way for a single player to control both avatars.

The Single Player: Slightly Perplexing but Doable

If you play the game by yourself, one half of the controller is devoted to each character, with the left side used to make the boy move, jump, and throw levers, and the right side used for the shadow.

The system works as well as your brain will let it. I would often want to move one character and instead move the other, often off a precarious ledge, often repeatedly in the same tricky sections. Fortunately checkpoints are pretty common.

The greatest difficulties arise when both characters must make a jump simultaneously. Often these jumps would be easy if you could do the characters one at a time, but after struggling repeatedly with a jump on moving gears I had to call in reinforcements.

The Co-Op Play: The Way it’s Meant to Be

With my friend Francis taking charge of the shadow, we breezed past that gear jump, which, as I suspected, wasn’t remotely difficult when you only had one avatar to worry about. Many co-op/single-player hybrids feel awkward, with the second player seeming extraneous or even a hindrance – but Shadow Puppeteer mostly manages the difficult task of bridging single-player and co-op.

The game is fairly ideal for co-op. The two characters play a little differently; the shadow lives in a 2D world and his jumps vary depending on the angle of the light while the boy can move in 3D and is affected by normal physics. This means that after finishing the game with a friend, you could freshen the gameplay simply by switching parts.

Unfortunately Francis didn’t have time to play the entire game with me. After he left, I managed to get through everything until the final chapter, which is made up of two boss battles that I had to watch on youtube. I am sure there are skillful gamers who could handle these fights single-handed, but I’ll have to wait until Francis has a little more time to complete the game.

The Downside: The Things You Can’t See

The most frustrating parts of the game are when something important is obscured, as when portable platforms and levers meld into the background, keeping a simple solution hidden. This seems as though it could easily be fixed by just adding a little glow around interactive objects. Admittedly, a useful glow is tricky to callibrate; the game makes certain shadow hooks glow so brightly that they just look like lightbulbs.

Another issue involves the difficulties of 3D movement within an environment that looks like a 2D sidescroller. The boy can move in three dimensions, but a shallow perspective makes judging lateral jumps tricky. In one particularly frustrating spot only a platform’s side is visible, making it impossible to see how wide it is. I didn’t even know a platform was there until I accidentally landed on it!

The Verdict: Lots of Shadowy Fun

The game’s flaws and frustrations can make a player angry, but not, as Francis noted, angry enough to stop playing. Shadow Puppeteer is a lot of fun, proving a bit more satisfying than the similar, single-player-focused Lost in Shadow. The storytelling is weak, the game is a bit short - at my usual leisurely pace I beat 8 of 9 chapters in 6 hours - and the visuals sometimes work against the player, but the graphics are appealing, the cut scenes are slick, and the gameplay is challenging and imaginative.

If only my own shadow weren’t so lazy, I would have it play the game with me. Then it could see how useful a shadow can be.