Can’t you see? The strings that hold you up, also hold you back!
To this day I have no idea how a marionette puppet works. Looking at the strings and the wood sticks in a cross that somehow controls various parts of the puppets’ body. As far as I’m concerned it all might as well be magic. Luckily a knowledge of how puppets work is not required to enjoy A Juggler’s Tale, the debut title of German studio Kaleidoscube. A Juggler’s Tale is a puzzle platformer largely presented through the lens of a medieval era puppet show, complete with its own narrator. Despite a few issues here and there, Juggler’s Tale manages to pull off a stunning performance through and through.
As stated before, Juggler’s Tale is a puzzle platformer that draws comparisons to games like Playdead’s Inside. You take control of a young girl named Abby, a juggler in a travelling circus. While she is the star of the show during the day, at night Abby is forced by the cruel ringmaster to sleep in a cage. One night Abby has the opportunity to escape from her captivity and takes it without hesitation, setting off on a tense adventure that will see her braving the elements and evading a crew of bandits who have been hired to take her back to her cage. Gameplay is rather simple, with Abby having the ability to jump and interact with certain objects. She can also pick up small items like apples in order to throw them as puzzle solutions, though for some reason I always found the aiming to be a tad wonky.
As Abby and the world around her are represented as marionettes, the strings attached to her limbs can get in her way, getting caught in objects in the foreground. This is the basis for a large portion of the game’s puzzles, and later puzzles even involve using that same mechanic against a character who’s chasing Abby. This is an incredibly unique take on the genre that I think it pulled off extremely well. That being said, there were a few issues I ran into where it felt like the pieces to some puzzles were not as clear as I would have liked them to be, leading to some frustration when I missed items that were necessary. Another source of frustration were some of the chase sequences that had very little margin for error, which dumped me into a loading screen that was frankly too long for how easily it could occur.
But where A Juggler’s Tale truly shines is in its presentation. The game’s environments are beautifully rendered, and every character is incredibly emotive and full of personality despite the fact that they are literally made of wood. The story largely takes place on the stage of an old school puppet theater cart, with a narrator telling the story as it happens in a very similar vein to games like Bastion. This narration is read in an almost sing-songy, Shakespearian fashion, and the actor behind them has a very satisfying voice to listen to. There is unfortunately one problem that comes with this narration. When you fail in a way that requires a reset back to a checkpoint, the narrator will have something to say (usually in a mocking tone), and some of these lines get overly long while also being unskippable.
Overall A Juggler’s Tale is a very neat experience with fantastic aesthetic presentation, a fantastic medieval style soundtrack, and a heartwarming but simple story to tell. The only real issue I experienced were some readability problems when it came to figuring out what certain puzzles expected of me, but I was always able to figure it out on my own in the end. A playthrough goes quickly, only lasting around two to three hours, so it doesn’t overstay its welcome nor does it feel too brief. If you enjoy a good puzzle platformer, A Juggler’s Tale is a worthy addition to your collection, no strings required.