Clash of Puppets is a combination of both the Twin Stick shooter and platformer genre, where you take on the role of a man that fell asleep in a movie drive in. He is now stuck in his dreams and must fight a variety of monsters in three movie settings in order to escape. That is all the plot we are given and off we go to fight monsters and solve puzzles. Throughout the levels there are coins scattered about, that you can collect for a better rank when you finish the level, but it is entirely optional and effects nothing. There are 30 levels overall and it should only take you a few hours to complete. Before starting the levels we are given the option of picking from one of three difficulty modes and the only difference between them is the amount of damage enemies output. Contrary to the cute visuals, this is not an easy game.
To defend yourself you will have quite an arsenal at your disposal, which includes a gun, a melee weapon, beam weapons and traps, all at once. Overtime you will be able to unlock new, better weapons from each of those categories though you will never be able to use the previous weapons again. Guns are your typical Twin Stick shooter weapon and work exactly how you expect them to. Beam weapons are much more powerful and will zap any enemy caught in it’s path. It is a very effective weapon and will be your go to weapon throughout the adventure. Traps range from freezing all your enemies, laying landmines and setting up saw-blades to control where your enemies are able to pass through. There are a surprising amount of weapons with different effects and get wackier the further into the game you go. Ammo for these weapons are found either in weapon stalls placed around the level that restores all your weapon ammo or a bubble with a certain ammo type in it.
Ammo is pretty scarce in the beginning and you will often have to resort to fighting in melee, which is unfortunately where the game falls apart. You will start off with a simple baseball bat and will soon upgrade to a knife. I mention this because all melee weapons have the same absurdly short range, while the enemies have far larger range for some reason. What this means is that when you fight in melee, you will more likely than not take a hit and not be able to retaliate until you are in sniffing range of the enemy. With this game’s lack of invulnerability frames, you can easily get stun locked by an enemy and cut down within seconds if there are other foes around. There is no blocking, no rolling or any other kind of defensive measures, to make melee a viable option. Hit and runs tactics don’t work here, due to your slow speed and range, as well as the danger of more enemies coming to surround you. What it boils down to, is mashing the attack button and hoping he dies before his friends show up, to stun lock you to oblivion.
How zoomed in the camera is, is another rather large flaw for this game. It just shows far too little of your surroundings and constantly makes you lose sight of your enemies. This can be fatal if there is a swarm of enemies closing in on you or you are fighting an enemy with ranged attacks that you couldn’t see coming. With how small the arenas and environments are, it is kind of ridiculous this is even an issue in the first place. Platforming suffers even more from this. Around half way through the game it starts requiring pretty precise platforming and the camera can hamper your ability to see the next platform or a hidden trap. Sadly, even the simple act of jumping feels clunky and overall mediocre. That is mostly due to the funky way double jumping works in Clash of Puppets. As soon as you jump, you must immediately jump again or your second jump simply won’t activate and you will fall to your doom. You will never feel confident in your ability to land a jump. All the things that I have mentioned with the combination of being put back at the very start of the level if you die, makes for a very annoying experience.
Puzzles are pretty fun, though they nearly always involve fixing a lever and are all extremely easy to figure out. It is weird, it is a game likely to be far too difficult for children to get into, but has very simple puzzles. There are a few sections in the last few levels that introduce portals to the game. These are beyond annoying and require a mix of trial & error along with exact memorization of how you got there, otherwise you have to start the entire process over again. The last few levels are pretty happy to waste your time actually. You will be running back and forth through the same areas over and over again, as you find a lever that unlocks a gate on the other side of the map and then find another lever that unlocks a gate from the side you just came from. That will happen multiple times and is a pretty cheap way of expanding playtime.
Enemies differ from area to area as each of the three areas are themed, so you won’t be seeing Dracula in a Asian setting. They are quite varied and you will be facing all sorts of wacky and cute enemies. Most of them attack in the same matter and are usually just visually different, such as orcs and samurai. Enemies all have their own battle cry’s which are usually adorable like the werewolf’s barking, that never fails to make you smile. Well, as long as he is not ripping your face off that is. When you attack them, they will “bleed” fluff and surprisingly enough, you can even cut them in half if you have a sharp weapon. Enemies will always alert you of there presence before attacking via a introduction cut-scene from the start of the game till the end. It is nothing game breaking but having the option to skip them would have been nice. At the end of every 9 missions a boss will appear and it is a pretty cool fight. For the first time, you see, the boss is the same every time, only difference being it has more health now. That was very disappointing and felt like a missed opportunity to keep you pushing forward to see what giant monster you will face next.
Clash of Puppets is an eye-catching and charming game that is sadly plagued with issues. From your character freezing up when you try to shot a weapon that is out of ammo to the platforming you will be doing most of the time. Aside from the main adventure there is also a survival mode to take part in. You will be able to select from any of the three themes you have reached and will enter with the weapons you currently have in story mode. This is a serious problem as the first two theme enemies will be a cakewalk if you are far into the story mode and have end game weaponry. Since it continues until you die, you will more likely die from boredom, before your character himself dies. Why they didn’t balance the enemies or start you off with basic weapons and having random weapon drops is beyond me. Clash of Puppets has a lot of neat ideas but rarely seems to pull any of them off, in a fun matter. It’s a shame, this game is simply gorgeous to look at, but the actual gameplay itself is nothing but disappointment. It is not beyond repair however. If the devs add more striking range to melee, gives us control over the camera, fixs the jumping and work on survival mode, it would turn this into a decent little title. As it is however, I simply can not recommend it.
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