“Put Your Hand Inside The Puppet Head” grabbed my attention because it’s not what you’d usually see in IF. As it turns out there is quite a bit to say about it.
One on hand, it is a game about wearing puppets. On the other hand, it is also a game about wearing puppets, because you are literally wearing puppets on both hands. You also have a lanyard, but that doesn’t help me explain what the game is like. Here’s what does explain it:
1. The aesthetic and game feel:
As the IFDB page suggests, this is a mascot horror game, building on a genre that seemingly originated with Five Nights at Freddy’s. Looking at other examples, it seems that this game is a fairly unique example of the genre because the mascots are friends rather than foes.
In this case, the enemies are some sort of synthetic monster owned and employed by the corporation you’re up against. Their attacks are never overly violent or gory. Instead, as the author suggests, the attacks are at type of body horror. It’s a bit watered down, closer to getting smothered by the weather balloon in The Prisoner than any sort of horribly visceral transformation that you have to undergo.
In any case, it’s enough to be unsettling, and enough to make the monsters-slash-employees feel like they’re worth evading, even though you can use the save and load button liberally.
Normally, you would expect a game like this to also draw on the separate genre of adult puppet shows, in the vein of Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared or Avenue Q (either of which might be considered edgy or explicit depending on your tolerance level). However, the humor in this game is seemingly very clean…though maybe there is one double entendre that has to do with a certain writer. Anyway, the gentle humor is a good choice, because I genuinely cared about the puppets I was rescuing.
Beyond that, the jokes mostly land, and the puppets have genuinely creative names. I really like the idea of them being called “Handfuls.” The “exit through the gift shop” link had me laughing, regardless of whether it is a reference to the Banksy documentary, or just a reference to the sign that all of the gift shops have. I’ve also learned that the game’s title is a reference to a They Might Be Giants song.
I’m not sure if the horror of the monsters and friendless of the puppets converge as the game progresses, but there are hints that bad things happen to puppets that get caught. In any case, both the horror and the comedy elements of the game are gentle, but well-done.
2. The game mechanics:
The map layout is very good: small grids with a safe hub that you can return to pretty quickly. There is also some light color coding that helps with memorization. It would be helpful if the author had included a map, but then again, it is easy to draw your own.
The game also offers some very creative evasion and self-defense options when you are wearing particular puppets. At the same time, by the game’s own admission, it is often easiest to explore an area through trial and error unarmed. I am not sure if there are any sections where it is absolutely necessary to use a puppet to complete a goal, but I did not get that impression. Key items are held separately from your puppet hands, on the aforementioned lanyard.
I didn’t experience anything that outright broke the game or got me to a dead end. However, there is one thing that simply didn’t work: I hid in a freezer and the game told me it was safe to get out. I was immediately attacked by a monster-employee.
3. Ease of access:
Though I enjoyed the game, I recommend it simply because it’s is very approachable. One nice thing is that the game can be played only partially. You can exit and read an ending at any time after getting the first puppet, which is nice if you are playing casually.
It’s also explained in game that you only need to get 10 of the 12 puppets to truly finish your assignment. This threshold is a little high in my opinion but, again, it means that you won’t be hunting for one last obscurely placed puppet.
I haven’t assigned a star rating to the game because I’m writing this review after my first playthrough; I escaped with 3 puppets and haven’t seen the full ending. Still, I recommend it.
Note: This review is also published on IFDB