A Juggler’s Tale Review: Do you believe fate pulls your strings?
For gamers of a certain age, we’re able to pick apart a large swath of gaming eras and understand what made each one feel so distinct. At 15 years of age, we’re now able to see the seventh generation of gaming through rose-colored lenses, romanticizing the gold that was released from 2005 – 2017. For those keeping track at home, the seventh generation refers to the PS3/360/Wii era, some standouts including No More Heroes, The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, Catherine, Viva Pinata, and LittleBigPlanet are among my personal favorites.
I say this because the longer I played A Juggler’s Tale, the more strongly I felt it was spiritually of the seventh generation, its gameplay, mechanics, and overarching story incredibly familiar to anyone who loved LittleBigPlanet, Tearaway, Puppeteer, Fat Princess, and other titles that defined an incredible era.
Developed by kaleidoscube and published by Mixtvision, A Juggler’s Tale depicts the story of a young puppet named Abby as she traverses through a surprisingly dark and dangerous storybook world. Described as a “bruised but beautiful fairytale” on its Steam page, A Juggler’s Tale asks players to “solve riddles, evade traps and shake off pursuers on the way to find freedom.” With a completion time of 2 – 4 hours, A Juggler’s Tale is a great little adventure puzzler that won’t demand too much of your day but will definitely be something you think about long after its encore.
A Juggler’s Tale opens up on a quaint tavern, with fully-animated patrons boozing it up after a long day. The in-house entertainment this evening is a delightful puppet show, where the narrator rhymes the entire story in couplet-style. Here we meet Abby, a talented juggler employed with a travelling circus, earning her keep by juggling and acting out daring-dos with her costar Urs the bear. To the crowds, they perform, smile, and wave; after the curtain falls, they’re both locked away in cages, held captive by a greedy ringmaster who forces them to work against their will. Will Abby ever be free?
Enter player, stage front and center — with the help of a fantastic throwing arm, conveniently placed objects, and clever wit, Abby breaks free from her captor’s grasp and makes a break for freedom, only to learn that the outside world has plenty of trials and tribulations of its own. And with the ringmaster’s hired goons hot on her trail, Abby must constantly keep on her toes to prevent herself from being captured and sent right back to her performative prison. Can you help cut Abby from the strings that bind her to this pitiful fate?
A Juggler’s Tale features beautiful aesthetics that transition from the hastily crafted cardboard cutouts of rocks and trees to stunning scenes of fields, forests, dungeons, and beaches with an impossible amount of depth for a puppet stage. Each scene has lighting that somewhat foreshadows what’s to come — for example, the immediate scene after Abby escapes isn’t all that bright and sunny, which you’d think would be the case until you realize the next scene takes place in a dark and rainy forest (which also foreshadows more danger). I imagine if you tried to glean the story just through lighting alone, you’d be able to get the emotional gist of what happened, a small nuance that I found to be quite exceptional.
The puzzles in A Juggler’s Tale are what first made me realize this game’s heart belongs to the PS3 era. A whimsical, storybook side-scroller where you push and pull objects to traverse below and above ground was enough to remind me of LittleBigPlanet (and with a narrator, no less!), but what really sealed the deal was the fact that these puzzles were all tied to Abby’s strings — literally! There would be obstacles in Abby’s way, like a tree branch, that she could not overcome if her strings got caught or were otherwise preventing her from progressing. I cannot adequately put into words how much I loved the dev team’s choice to lean into this ingenious mechanic like they did — so satisfying on such a simple level!
I refuse to spoil the story, especially considering the game’s length, but I will say that A Juggler’s Tale goes from delightful to dark real quick. Halfway through the game I was reminded of how sanitized the Brother’s Grimm fairytales are for modern audiences and how ominous those stories really are, if only because A Juggler’s Tale hinted at its roots. Additionally, while Abby remained steadfast, a certain person in the game had a steady yet striking character development that I wasn’t expecting, its jarring progression from cheerful to antagonistic a really interesting turn of events. Again, I won’t spoil anything, but it was such a unique aspect that it’s worth mentioning; I am not sure I’ve ever seen an ally go to an enemy in this manner.
A Juggler’s Tale is a short, classic storybook side-scroller that asks players if they’d prefer to let fate choose for them or to choose their own destiny. Featuring delightful mechanics set against a dark fantasy world, A Juggler’s Tale will instantly remind fans of the seventh gen era of classics like LittleBigPlanet or Puppeteer in the best possible way. If a twisted fairytale with unique mechanics, captivating aesthetics, and a fantastic story sounds thrilling, don’t sleep on A Juggler’s Tale.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: PS4, PS5, Switch, XBox One, XBox Series X|S, PC (reviewed); Publisher: Mixtvision; Developer: kaleidoscube; Players: 1; Released: September 29, 2021; MSRP: $17.99
Editor’s note: This review is based on a retail copy of A Juggler’s Tale provided by the publisher.