William Shakespeare wrote, “All the world’s a stage” and in their debut game, Battle of Puppets, Spanish developer Small Wonders has quite literally illustrated just that (at least for the United States). Set in a charming world of cardboard cutout puppets and stage-like cityscapes, Battle of Puppets is easily the most visually appealing and captivating castle vs. castle genre game on the iPhone (let alone ANY platform).
The first thing players will notice is the stunning visuals and Little Big Planet-like characters. There is a wonderful soundtrack and some cute sound effects during the battles. Fantastic animations faithfully mimic stages being switched around as time progresses during a level or the weather conditions change. When a soldier dies on the battlefield, the body is dragged upwards and off the screen by it’s string (a nice little touch). The game truly plays as if you were watching the battle play out on a puppet theater, with cardboard backgrounds and characters.
Players start by choosing from five operatic-themed armies of puppets, each of which has their own pros and cons and favored weather conditions. Some are faster when attacking, while others are tougher but slower. For example, the ‘Aida’ army prefers the extreme heat, while the ‘Valkiria’ army favors the colder climates. Within each armie is a nice array of different types of soldiers. The weather dynamically changes throughout each battle, shifting the advantage in an out of favor. After selecting which puppet troop you’d like to control, you must select a city (level) from the game map that you’d like to capture. Based on the city selected, you will be playing one of the three game modes:
- Battleground : Defeat the enemy
- Survival : Defend your base against waves of enemy units (for the allotted time).
- Fast Battleground : Defeat the enemy (within the allotted time limit).
No matter the game mode, the basic gameplay is the same. Purchase and queue up your troops and (once “built”) they will be set forth onto the battle stage. As your troops defeat enemy puppets, you will “popularity points” and coins which not only unlock the ability to beef up your defenses, but it will also allow you to build new (stronger) types of troops, all of which can be purchased using your coins. There are additional (forward) bases which can be captured and upgraded along the way, and which can be used to build out additional troops of either of the two lowest-level soldier types. There is a really nice mini-map feature that let’s you quickly jump around the level’s map to get to any of your bases.
While Battle of Puppets’ basic gameplay doesn’t dffer much from other titles in the genre, there are several unique game elements which help to really set it apart from the crowd. First, there are the professions, a series of six unlockable gesture-triggered special weapons that recharge over time. These are critical to winning the game and add a really awesome twist. For instance, there is one (titled ‘Applause’) where you draw a circle on the screen and your troops start marching faster, and another (titled ‘Producer’) where you can draw and “S” and the enemies’ nearby troops will actually temporarily start fighting FOR you!
Another aspect that makes BOP so unique is the aforementioned map system. There are a total of 22 levels (or locations on the map) which you must successfully complete in order to win the game. The player has the ability to navigate and address these levels in pretty much any order of his or her choosing, assuming that they beat the preceeding level on their current path. This is a much nicer and more compelling option than the standard fare of just playing level after level until you die. Instead, you have a real sense if progress and accomplishment, always having a true end goal which is clearly visible.
While we feel that Battle of Puppets definitely ranks at or near the top of it’s genre, we do see a couple of minor areas for improvement, First, when playing through the game on normal difficulty, there seemed to be a point (in each location) where the opposing army just seemed to give up, letting us easily win without much of a fight. There is also an “easy” mode which we did not try, but we suspect it probably suffers a similar fate. The game’s “hard” difficulty was definitely the most satisfying.
Finally, less of a complaint, but more of a request…online multiplayer. This would be the perfect game for two people to go head to head over the internet. Perhaps at the start of a match each player could select one or two professions, then a flip of a coin could decide who’s troop of puppets would get the home-team (initial weather) advantage. And then the battle would be on! The key would be to have a way to find/challenge your friends in real-time. Perhaps a random/and or directed matchmaking system like Com2uS’ Homerun 3D Battle, or maybe one of the social networking platforms (like OpenFeint, Plus+ or Crystal) supports a feature like this?
Battle of Puppets is easily one of the most charming iPhone games we’ve played and well worth the price of admission. It has great strategical gameplay, to keep fans of the genre happy, and cuteness and innovation to win over casual gamers that tend to shy away from this style of game. Play through a single battle within 6 minutes or play for an hour no matter what, you’ll have fun. As soon as you lay your eyes on Battle of Puppets, you will be immediately captivated by the game’s stunning visual style and cohesive puppet show theme. We applaud Small Wonders on their fine debut production and give them an enthusiastic standing ovation!