To this day I have no idea how a puppet works. Looking at the strings and wooden sticks in a cross that somehow controls different parts of the dolls’ bodies. To me, it might as well be magic. Fortunately, you don’t need any knowledge of how dolls work to enjoy A Jongleur’s Tale, the debut title from German studio Kaleidoscube. A Juggler’s Tale is a puzzle platformer presented largely through the lens of a medieval puppet show, complete with its own narrator. Despite a few problems here and there, Juggler’s Tale manages to deliver a thoroughly breathtaking performance.
As mentioned earlier, 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 traveling circus. While she is the star of the show during the day, Abby is forced to sleep in a cage at night by the cruel ringmaster. One night, Abby has the opportunity to escape from her captivity and takes it without hesitation to embark on a thrilling adventure of braving the elements and evading a band of bandits hired to bring her back to her cage bring. The gameplay is pretty simple, with Abby having the ability to jump and interact with certain objects. She can also pick up small objects like apples to throw as a puzzle solution, although for some reason I always found aiming a bit shaky.
Because Abby and the world around her are portrayed as puppets, the strings attached to her limbs can get in her way and get entangled in objects in the foreground. This is the basis for much of the game’s puzzles, and later puzzles even involve using the same mechanic against a character chasing Abby. This is an incredibly unique take on the genre that I think turned out very well. That being said, there were a couple of issues I ran into that felt like the pieces of some puzzles weren’t as clear as I would have liked, leading to frustration if I missed necessary elements. Another source of frustration was some of the chases that had very little margin for error, which plunged me into a loading screen that was frankly too long for it to happen easily.
But where A Juggler’s Tale really shines is its presentation. The game’s environments are beautifully rendered and each character is incredibly emotional and full of personality, despite being literally made of wood. The story takes place largely on the stage of an old school puppet theater wagon, with a narrator telling the story as it happens in games like Bastion. This tale is read in an almost singing, Shakespearean manner, and the actor behind it has a very satisfying voice to hear. Unfortunately, there is a problem with this narrative. If you fail in a way that requires a reset to a checkpoint, the narrator has something to say (usually in a mocking tone) and some of those lines become excessively long and cannot be skipped at the same time.
Overall, A Jongleur’s Tale is a very nice experience with a fantastic aesthetic presentation, a fantastic medieval style soundtrack and a heartwarming but easy to tell story. The only real problem I experienced was some legibility issues when it came to figuring out what certain puzzles wanted me to do, but in the end I was always able to figure it out for myself. Playing through is quick and only takes about two to three hours, so it neither takes too long nor feels too short. If you’re enjoying a good puzzle platformer, A Juggler’s Tale is a worthy addition to your collection with no strings attached.