There are many things in life that go well together. Wine and cheese, chocolate and peanut butter, opera and… puppets? Well, if Battle of Puppets is to be believed, they do. While a great idea in principle, the performance is still in the previews stage.
In one of the most nonsensical plots this side of Plants Vs. Zombies, you play a puppeteer, trying to make your way to Broadway (never mind that the only opera on Broadway is haunted by a Phantom). But first, you must battle your way through rival puppeteers through five different operas, from Carmen to Madame Butterfly to Aida. Each opera has several battles, but they are all run the same.
Battle of Puppets is a fairly standard 2D real-time strategy title. Basically, you are managing resources, calling forth troops from your base to move forth and destroy your opponent’s base. The troops at the front automatically attack their opponent in front of them. There are several kinds of troops, from lowly attack grunts to archers to giant cavalry cannons. Each requires a certain amount of resources to make. Of course, the more powerful the troop, the greater the cost and the longer they take to build.
Along the way, the game will change from day to night, and even weather can affect your troops. Different troops and different operas are affected by different weather, so knowing what lies ahead in battle can be key to your strategy. For example, the puppets in Egypt from Aida sure won’t stand up to snow very well!
Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of variety to the battles. There are three basic kinds: standard battles, timed battles where you must defeat the enemy within a time limit, and survival battles, where you must survive wave after wave of enemy troops until a timer counts down. Since the only pressure you’re ever under is timed, there isn’t much else to do. Without any real functional changes to the battles, the game ends up feeling shallow.
Also, each opera isn’t really distinct from the next in any functional way. Granted, seeing the cute Egyptian troops from Aida differ in appearance from the Japanese-style characters from Madame Butterfly is very cute, but an archer is an archer, no matter how you dress him up.
The dressing in Battle of Puppets, though, is beautiful. The game has a hand-drawn style to it that is very reminiscent of the PlayStation 3 title LittleBigPlanet. Full of whimsy, charm and detail, the graphics help bring these little operatic minions to life.
But why, when a game is centered around opera, do we not get to hear a single theme from any of them? The music, while high-quality, is too cartoonish and literal. Considering the weight of some of these operas (the final opera, Salome, is about the beheading of John the Baptist and is very dissonant, yet trombone slides prevail), this seems like a wasted opportunity.
A lot of Battle of Puppets feels like this – a wasted opportunity. The game has relatively very few battles (only 22 of them). You are able to choose your route on the map, but can get to the end very quickly. If you wish to maximize your chances of success, you should take a longer route in order to snag some professions, which function like magic spells. They are indeed powerful weapons and are very helpful. Again, a big problem is how they are cast. After charging up the profession over time in battle, you double-tap the profession icon, causing the screen to flood with sparkles. Then, you have to trace a shape with your finger to cast the spell. Despite being absolutely certain I had drawn the right shape correctly, spells would work about half the time.
But perhaps the largest omission is a lack of multiplayer. This kind of title practically begs to be played against a human opponent. Other than OpenFeint compatibility for online leaderboards and achievement (of which there are quite a few, mind you), the package is pretty meager.
A great concept, fun graphics and solid basics are wasted on a game that feels not quite finished. Battle of Puppets has all the right cast members, but without a good script or director, fails to achieve a standing ovation.