icon Author: Zipakna
A Juggler's Tale review

Remember the magic of puppet theaters from your childhood? Lifeless pieces of wood and fabric, brought to life with a tug of a string. In A Juggler's Tale, a puzzle platformer made by the German game studio kaleidoscube, you will find yourself drawn right into this magical world of fairytales, where every movement is controlled by the delicate dance of the strings. Or is it?

Who is pulling the strings?

You find yourself in the role of a puppet called Abby. She performs at a circus and the crowd loves her. But as soon as the last viewer leaves, the ringmaster throws Abby into a cage and you realize that everything is not as idyllic as it seems. So you set out on a quest to free Abby and her bear friend, who performs with her by day and shares the same fate of being locked away by night.

Everything that is happening on the screen is being commented on by a puppeteer, who also controls Abby's strings. He is the embodiment of an unreliable narrator and you can never be sure of his intentions. At times, he aids Abby by lifting her over obstacles with her strings. But he also uses the same mechanic to yank Abby in a different direction, when she's not willing to follow his narrative.

After Abby manages to escape from the circus, sadly without her bear friend, the ringmaster hires bandits, led by Tonda, to track her down. Tonda pursues Abby relentlessly, and the more she rebels against the narrator, the more the puppeteer aids Tonda in his pursuit. As Abby gets further from the circus, the environments she encounters become increasingly challenging. She has to travel through swamps, dark forests, and war-torn villages while being chased by the bandits and sabotaged by the narrator. It's only up to you to give her the happy ending she deserves and hopefully reunite her with her bear friend.

Behind the curtain

The puzzles you have to solve along the way are usually environmental, or stealth-based sections where you must avoid being captured by the bandits. Most puzzles are rather short and not overly complex, so don't expect a brain-melting difficulty. However, this keeps the pace of the story flowing smoothly so you're not stuck on a single screen for dozens of minutes, racking your brain with how to progress. The only case where I needed more time with a puzzle was when I did not notice that some objects were interactable. I thought they were just a part of the scenery, but turns out they were needed for solving the puzzle. After finishing the game I found out that there is an accessibility feature that highlights objects with a more visible color, so that might be useful to turn on for those who get stuck.

Although the puzzles are relatively easy, they have one unique feature and that is the fact that you are playing as a string puppet. The strings don't only hold you up, they also hold you back, so you can't climb below obstacles or anywhere they wouldn't normally reach. This forces you to approach each puzzle a bit differently than you would in any other puzzle platformer.

The visuals of A Juggler's Tale are pretty unique too. The game is structured into five acts, each one starts with the view of the puppet theatre where Abby is surrounded by what looks like hand-painted set pieces. As she moves to the sides of the screen, the scene slowly transitions from set pieces to a charming low-poly art style. The background continually changes as you navigate through different environments, never overstaying its welcome, always presenting new, beautiful views. Even the grim areas have some sort of charm. 

But the game is more than just a feast for your eyes. The entire journey is narrated by a talented voice actor who describes your every action in verse. The only time his narration stops rhyming is when he gets really angry at you and it perfectly emphasizes the severity of the situation. On top of it, the game features a beautiful, atmospheric instrumental soundtrack, that I found myself listening to even after completing the game. Like everything in  A Juggler's Tale, it may seem simplistic at first glance but works perfectly with every other element of the game. 

Controls are also rather simple, there are only directional controls, jump, and one interact button. It is playable on a keyboard, but I preferred using a controller, mostly because of sections where Abby needs to turn a wheel or aim to throw something and it's much more intuitive to control that with a joystick than the arrow keys.

The only shortcoming of A Juggler's Tale is its length (sorry, couldn't resist). The playthrough takes about 2-3 hours and because the game is just one linear story, there is not much of a replay value. You can repeat some chapters to get the achievements you missed, but that's about it. On one hand, the length is perfect for the story the game is telling, it's as if you were watching a fairytale movie. On the other hand, I would love to spend more time in the colorful, yet often grim world of puppets.

The base price of 15 € (18 $) can also be a bit steep for the content of this length, but I highly recommend grabbing the game on sale. It's a work of art that is definitely worth experiencing.

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