IFComp 2023: Put Your Hand Inside the Puppet Head

This one’s a little complicated to explain. The idea is that you’re a professional puppeteer raiding a former workplace, the workshop and studio of Malcolm Newsome, a Jim Henson-like visionary who recently died, with the goal of sneaking out as many puppets as you can to preserve them before the whole site gets demolished by its new corporate owners. But the only good way to carry the puppets around is by wearing them on your hands, at which point they start talking to you.

So basically it’s a treasure hunt where the treasures are characters, who comment on their surroundings and banter with any puppet on your other hand (albeit only when they first see each other; the game wants to encourage you to keep at least one hand free most of the time). Not all the puppets do this, mind you. There are supernumerary puppets that are basically mute and inert. But the major characters, the ones with Kermit-level importance, not only have voices, they have special abilities that help you overcome obstacles and avoid hazards. In a slightly Five Nights at Freddy’s-like touch, those hazards take the form of freakish automated puppets repurposed as security bots by the parent company.

There’s a lot of world-building, and the world it builds is largely a realistic one, except in that the puppets seem to have independent minds. They definitely display knowledge and abilities that the player character doesn’t possess, something that the player character only remarks on as strange once the night is over. By the end, this knowledge included the real facts about Newsome’s death (the official story being marked as suspicious from the get-go). I won’t go into details about that, except to note that it doesn’t go in the direction that it seems like it’s going to. The whole thing is really kind of a character portrait of Newsome, observed largely indirectly, through the characters he created. My one complaint is that the truly interactive portion is sandwiched between a longish static intro sequence and an even longer epilogue, because there’s more to Newsome’s story than could be easily fit into the middle.

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