A Juggler’s Tale review: poignant puppeteering

A Juggler’s Tale is so utterly ingenious in its presentation that I’m honestly surprised it hasn’t been done before. I’m pretty quick to glom onto games that have a storybook aesthetic to them, but one that’s based around a puppet show is a new one on me. The game opens on a raucous night in a stereotypical medieval pub, where a puppeteer named Jack enthralls the inebriated crowd with a quaint story about a girl named Abby and her desire to be free from the confines of the circus she’s found herself the star attraction of. Each act starts off as if it was presented on an tiny stage with hand-drawn props, which then fades away into a beautiful world that presents itself to our heroine as a little bit of heaven and a little bit of hell.

I’ll get to the mechanics of A Juggler’s Tale in just a moment, but I still want to hone in on how wonderful the presentation of the game is. All the characters are minimalistic by design, with strings attached to them to remind you that they are all marionettes. The animation is purposefully janky to sell it even more, and it’s all set against immaculately designed landscapes that I often found myself stopping and staring at in awe. I would also often halt in my travels to listen to the puppeteer Jack, who also happens to be the game’s narrator. Although it doesn’t always pan out, most of the plot is told in rhyme, which goes a long way towards giving A Juggler’s Tale an aura of being a grandiose fairy tale. Furthermore, Jack will chide Abby if she makes a wrong move in a curiously distracting fourth wall break, which feeds into the narrative in ways I’d rather not spoil here.

While adventuresome in spirit, A Juggler’s Tale is a very straightforward game that has you solving environmental puzzles in little vignette set pieces in between gawking at the lovely world. Each act plays around with certain elements and has you exploring them in different ways. These moments do a good job of staying in between being glaringly obvious and frustratingly obtuse, with interactive elements being denoted with a certain color that will usually catch your eye. The best comparison I can come up with is that it’s very much like Playdead’s Limbo, minus the gruesomeness of course. I wish the game had used the fact that Abby is strung up to more effect, but what’s here works well.

A Juggler’s Tale can be played in the span of an afternoon, which feels in line with its puppet-show inspiration. Yet its short run time packs in an interesting tale with intriguing puzzles, and the game exits stage left long before it wears out its welcome. It’s a pleasant and mesmerizing experience that I can see myself going back to every now and again just to marvel at. Even cooler is that the press material for the game reveals that the it’s going to be adapted into an actual storybook, which I’m very excited to check out. It’s a rare and clever use of cross media synergy, and I’m looking forward to seeing what Kaleidoscube does down the road.

A Juggler’s Tale was developed by Kaleidoscube and published by Mixtvision, and it’s available on PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox and Switch. We played the Switch version.

Disclosure statement: review code for A Juggler’s Tale was provided by Mixtvision. A Most Agreeable Pastime operates as an independent site, and all opinions expressed are those of the author.

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