Our protagonist — a puppet on his way home from work — was so happy when he found a drive-in theater offering an all night b-movie action marathon, and immediately stopped to check it out. However, he fell asleep in the middle of it all and immediately began to imagine himself fighting swarms of monsters — who themselves are also puppets — across settings such as: Transylvania, the Far East, and Fantasy in general. Thus begins the premise to Clash of Puppets (out now, $2.99), one of the most recent iOS releases to arrive from heavily prolific mobile games publisher: Crescent Moon Games.
During the adventure — which plays out as a mixture of “Hack ‘n Slash” and “Platform Jumping” gameplay — players will have to smash or shoot every single puppet monster that they comes across, all while avoiding various environmental traps. Along the way there will be coins laying all over the place, sometimes hidden, all of which the player is tasked with picking up in order to earn maximum honors upon a level’s completion. These coins — outside of the vanity value — don’t serve any other purpose, as you will never find anything to actually purchase within Clash of Puppets (not even by means of IAPs.)
The entire left hand side of the screen — as far as controls go — serves as a giant virtual floating analog joystick, something I am going to cover in far greater detail further down the line. On the right hand side of the screen we have buttons for melee attack and jumping, and this half of the screen also serves as a second virtual floating joystick (think Smash TV style controls) whenever you’re using a projectile weapon. At the bottom of the screen is a button to drop traps at the hero’s current location, and swiping up here also causes the game to pause and let you select which weapons are currently equipped.
Everything will seem to be fine when you initially start playing Clash of Puppets, but you’ll quickly begin to run into problems that almost entirely stem from the game’s control scheme. The first of these is that the game uses a floating virtual analog joystick instead of a fixed one, which — although it works well enough in some titles — will help you royally screw up jumps here. Specifically: a floating virtual analog joystick is one that always starts at its zero position no matter where you place your finger on the screen, and always re-zeroes itself the moment you lift your finger up.
The problem in Clash of Puppets is that you’ll often be put into classical platforming scenarios, such as having to jump from one disappearing platform directly to another disappearing platform. Anyone who is a long time player of platforming titles is going to have a strong desire to left off the stick when they’re over top of a platform, so as to ensure they don’t overshoot their target, but here that leads to highly unfortunate results. With the movement stick now zeroed out the moment you put your finger back down, you’ll find yourself jumping straight up — instead of forward — and subsequently getting hurt when the platform disappears before you had a chance to realize what went wrong.
While not impossible to retrain your mind on how it wants to approach the controls, coming to terms with Clash of Puppet’s jumping mechanics still aren’t going to be very fun. The far larger game breaking issue — however — is going to be that the combat system quickly collapses in upon itself as more options are added, and this begins happening before you even get halfway through Transylvania. You will often find the game attempting to shoot your guns whenever you want to drop a trap, and going to the weapon selection screen whenever you’re trying to use your guns deliberately.
While both of those examples are certainly bad, and will do their fair share of helping to let the enemies smack you around, they are still not the worst problem in Clash of Puppet’s combat system. Each time your puppet is hit he will spend a lengthy moment stunned, during which — unlike most classical platformer games — he is completely open to be restunned by any follow up attack. This quickly goes sour when the game adds the vampire type enemy, who can chain pelt your sleeping hero from afar with fire balls that endlessly put him into stun lock (and remember, this is on top of all the other problems).
Some people might be able to look past all of these issues, train themselves to carefully use the controls such that they never misfire, and actually push forward with the adventure all the same. For those that manage this feat, Clash of Puppets does feature over 30 stages — tons of weapons — and rather pleasant looking 3D graphics that feature both real-time dynamic lighting and shadowing. There is also an optional endless survival mode, complete with online leader board, but the only selectable weapons will be the ones that you’ve already first found within the game’s primary story-mode.
Ultimately — despite the game having some very nice things in it — I would personally have to recommend against buying Clash of Puppets, at least not until Crescent Moon Games fixes the many control issues.
iFanzine Verdict: With it’s great graphics — amusing b-movie beat’em up conceit — and the total absence of IAPs, I really wish that I could give Clash of Puppets a higher recommendation than I currently am. However — as things currently stands — the game is more of a hassle to play than it is actually worth, thanks to controls that generally do everything other than what you ask of them. There is still hope — though — that Crescent Moon Games will release a patch to the many input woes to be found within Clash of Puppets, at which point it just might become a smash hit worth checking out.