Paperbound Review: White-Knuckled and Whimsical
Anders Howmann / Mar 31st, 2015 No Comments
Paperbound’s tone might be whimsical, but this four-player couch multiplayer brawler is white-knuckled in all of the best ways.
Developed by San Diego-based indie operation, Dissident Logic, Paperbound is a 2D fighter that combines lightning-fast combat, gravity manipulation and a pen-and-paper theme. Players battle in a series of storybook-themed stages with a quirky combination of literary figures and indie game characters.
A broad set of familiar free-for-all and team modes can be played on stages set across five classic books — Journey to the Center of the Earth, The Book of the Dead, A Book of Five Rings, Skull Kingdom, and Dante’s Inferno.
Players can face off in simple games of deathmatch, or hustle feathery quills across the map in a book-themed version of capture the flag. Longer Live the King, a game type in which players must kill each other to become the “king” and survive as long as possible to accrue points, is especially intense.
Each character is equipped with three attacks: a close-range melee, projectile scissors that can be lobbed at enemy players and a grenade-like ink bomb. Each yields a one-hit kill, creating fast but satisfying showdowns.
The ability to change gravity on the fly adds an entirely new level of depth to matches. The mechanic allows players to bound quickly to and from opposing surfaces. For example, a player who changes his or her gravitational orientation while running up a vertical wall will immediately fly across the map in the opposite direction of the original surface. The mechanic is dizzying at first, but immensely satisfying to master.
Skilled players can use variable gravity to launch a high-speed offense or dart away from impending doom. After a few introductory matches, I found myself using gravity to joust with enemy players. I eventually became quite proficient at slashing my opponents to a paperback pulp while careening through the air.
Ink bomb projectiles are also subject to players’ gravitational orientation, but skilled players can use this mechanic to their advantage. I would often change my gravity just before releasing a bomb in order to escape from the blast radius.
Scissors are perhaps players’ most valuable resources during brawls. The weapon is a one-hit kill and can be thrown by flicking the right thumbstick in the direction of an oncoming foe. Players only receive one pair of sheers per life, but the projectiles that miss their marks remain in the environment for any player to pick up and throw again. I often used my scissors defensively to cut down charging foes.
Smart players will expend their sheers and bombs before braving dangerous close-quarters melee fights. Expert players will eventually learn to use the three attacks defensively. Well-timed melee and scissor throws can block enemy attacks, and ink bombs can be blown up in mid-air with a well-placed scissor throw.
Reaching the required score limit doesn’t always yield a win, however. In many game types, leading players or teams must successfully escape through a “tear” in the stage to win the match. Other players must block the leading player from making his escape, creating a fever pitch of excitement as the match comes to a close.
Apart from animations and cosmetic differences, each of Paperbound’s 11 characters play and feel the same. A variety of color skews allow players to keep track of their fighters during the fray.
A few characters from other popular indie games make an appearance in Paperbound’s roster, including Guacamelee’s Juan Aguacate and VVVVVV’s Captain Viridian.
The lack of gameplay variety among Paperbound’s characters does not detract from the game. I personally appreciated the game’s focus on simple, yet deep mechanics.
Starting a match is also delightfully simple. The Steam version quickly recognized my Xbox One controllers and placed my friends and I into a match. Paperbound’s menus are streamlined. There are no loading times, and it takes only a few button presses to jump between stages and queue up rematches -— trust me, I kept playing “just one more match” for the better part of the night.
Easy on the Single Player
While its multiplayer offering is robust, Paperbound is largely devoid of single-player content. Matches can be padded with up to three bots, but obviously it’s much more satisfying to face off against a full couch of friends. Plus, bots are brutally hard to beat and there are no options to adjust their skill level.
Paperbound’s visuals and sound design are obvious labors of love. Bright orchestral scores back the beautifully-rendered stages. It was hard not to smile at the charming scenery as I hacked and slashed three of my closest friends to smithereens.
Paperbound’s whimsical theme and passionate celebration of classic stories makes it both approachable and memorable. At $9.99 on Steam and PlayStation 4, it’s a perfect couch multiplayer game for Friday night beers or a family get-together. Its simple mechanics are easy for non-gamers to pick up quickly and fun for the hardcore to master.
The game’s lack of single-player content leaves a bit to be desired, but hopefully we’ll see a more robust sequel to this lovingly-crafted brawler.
Note: Paperbound was reviewed on PC using a code provided by the publisher.
tags: couch multiplayer , dissident logic , paperbound , Paperbound Review , review