By Angela Hinck / February 26th, 2015
|Release Date||March 2015|
|Platform||PC, PlayStation 4|
Paperbound is a multiplayer brawler with a lot of promise. As I stated in a preview of the game earlier this month, it brings together classic literature with some really interesting gameplay mechanics. But, for a game that’s all about stories, it doesn’t restrict itself to the already well-known narratives of games in the same genre. Does this mix of classic and unconventional bring enough to the world of multiplayer fighting games to warrant you purchasing it for your PC or PlayStation 4 in March? Read on for more details.
The main theme of Paperbound is books, which is obvious from both the title and the way the menus are styled. The desk and the book motifs were all a nice touch. All arenas fall under a theme inspired by a classic story, including the following: Journey to the Center of the Earth, Dante’s Inferno, The Book of Five Rings and The Book of the Dead. Strangely, the fifth book, entitled Skull Kingdom, doesn’t seem to have a real life literary equivalent and was instead inspired by The Nightmare Before Christmas according to the game’s Kickstarter page. Within each of these categories are several different levels to choose from, each with its own unique layouts, challenges and design.
When I first started playing this game, I thought the levels were much too simple with regards to mechanics. The easiest levels are typical playing fields just featuring a few platforms. I wasn’t fooled for long, though. That’s just the beginning. Digging deeper reveals a dearth of clever tricks incorporated into arenas that make things a lot more interesting. They feature moving and rotating parts, platforms that can be moved, walls that allow you to phase through to the other side of the area and walls made of lava. Having this variety between simple and chaotic allows both new and experienced players to choose a level that fits their experience level and playing style.
The only thing I didn’t like about some of the levels was the large difference in design detail. Some playing fields, like the ones featured in Journey to the Center of the Earth, featured really detailed design elements. Others, like Inferno and Book of the Dead, were more plain by comparison. This isn’t a major gripe, since it doesn’t affect the quality of the gameplay, and I liked how the styles between books differed, but I would have liked to see an equal level of detail throughout the levels to give them that little something extra.
While there seems to be an inconsistency in the design of the fighting stages themselves, the character designs are all really unique and fun. They follow the same pattern of the stages in that, for the most part, they’re all themed after one of the books. A few are actually characters from other video games. Like I said in my preview, video games are stories, too, so including some other indie characters was a nice nod to that. You can choose characters from Guacamelee!, VVVVVV, Monaco, Cards and Castles and Tumblestone.
While the designs differ, the characters’ stats and abilities do not, so all players are equally matched in battle. I actually prefer that. No extra gimmicks means the game’s inherent mechanics can shine.
Speaking of, now we get to the heart of this game: the gameplay itself. For the most part, Paperbound‘s controls (which must be operated with a gamepad on the PC) are pretty standard: you can jump, swing a weapon and throw a pair of scissors as a projectile. But there are a few more surprises. You also have another projectile at your disposal — a pot of ink that can take enemies out like a bomb — and the ability to reverse your character’s gravity. Want to stand on the ceiling instead of the ground? You can do that. Want to reverse the direction you’re falling in to throw off your opponents? Go for it.
When the unique elements of the levels come together with the fighting mechanics of this game, it is a ton of fun to play. I only played one-on-one, but I can see how this game could quickly become chaotic with more players — and I mean that as a compliment. It’s the sort of chaotic that is great at parties and has everyone on the edge of their seats trying to keep up with what is happening on the screen. One fun detail I discovered playing with a friend is that, if you time your swings right, you can block another player’s weapon and even direct a pot of ink back their way. Since there’s no HP in this game and one hit means death, that’s something that will definitely come in handy.
If just fighting to the death to wear out the other person’s lives first doesn’t sound exciting enough, then you’ll be happy to know that there are many more types of gameplay available. Capture the Quill is just like its namesake Capture the Flag and was probably my favorite. There’s also Classic Versus, where the first person to get 10 points and exit the fight through a tear in the background wins. This last one will probably yield the most gameplay hours, since a point is lost every time you lose a life. So, if you have 10 kills and get killed before claiming your win, your chance is gone.
Though the sound effects and music might be the last thing you’re thinking about while trying to take out your opponents, both are very successful in this game. The music isn’t particularly catchy or memorable, but it’s got a great adventurous vibe that reflects each of the levels’ unique theme. The sound effects are also well done, and there’s a great attention to detail there. You can hear flames cackling in the Inferno levels, and the sound of two blades clashing accompanies each parry.
While Paperbound is inherently simple in both design and mechanics, that is precisely why it’s so good. It’s just classic enough to satisfy old-school gamers, but it also brings enough unique charm and mechanics to attract a new audience. For $9.99, I’d say this is definitely worth picking up on either Steam or PSN.
Review Copy Supplied by Publisher. This review is for the PC version of the game.