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Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4
Genre: Fighting
Developer: Dissident Logic
Release Date: March 31, 2015

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox One is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.


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PC Review - 'Paperbound'

by Brian Dumlao on April 29, 2015 @ 1:30 a.m. PDT

Paperbound is a smash-up brawler that combines platforming, twitchy combat, and gravity redirection in a four-person competitive couch multiplayer setting.

Fighting games are experiencing a resurgence, and while games like Mortal Kombat X, Street Fighter V and Tekken 7 are getting all of the attention, the local multiplayer brawlers are sneaking in and expanding the audience. With a combination of simple mechanics, easy-to-understand rules and a bit of chaos, they're a nice gateway for fans who aren't usually interested in the hardcore fighters. They can jump in and see what the fuss is about without immediately getting clobbered. Super Smash Bros. is the obvious big name in this sub-genre of fighting titles, but others — Gang Beasts, Samurai Gunn and Towerfall: Ascension — have been getting some well-deserved recognition for their tight and enjoyable gameplay. Paperbound is another game that wants to be lumped in with this crowd, and it's leveraging the fact that it's developed by someone who's involved with the Call of Duty franchise.

In Paperbound, you're thrown into an arena with up to three other combatants, and you only have three weapons in your possession that you can use. You have a melee weapon that looks like a pencil, staff or ax but performs the task of hitting whatever is in front of you. You've got a pair of scissors that can be thrown in a straight line and picked up in case you miss your target, and it hits a wall or floor. You've also got an ink bottle that acts like a grenade in that it explodes on contact and takes out anyone that's covered in the blob it leaves behind. Both the scissors and ink bottle are limited to one per life, and both can be reflected with your melee weapon. No matter which weapon you use, it only takes one hit to kill your opponent.

There are a number of fighters to choose from, with some representing literary works, like Journey to the Center of the Earth and The Book of Five Rings. There are even a few cameos from games like Monaco: What's Yours is Mine and Guacamelee thrown into the mix. What's interesting is that your character choice doesn't affect your gameplay. Things like your jumping, speed and weaponry remain unchanged no matter who you pick, so the choice is more about aesthetics than anything else.

One element that makes a difference in fights is gravity. With the press of a button, you can switch your internal gravity so you'll walk on ceilings. Walking on walls is another trick you can perform, and switching gravity sends you to the other side. Gravity-switching is a quick process, and it isn't uncommon in a match to see bodies being flung around as a means to avoid getting hit or to get the drop on someone.

The variable gravity shifts are put to good use in a variety of levels. Every level takes place in a single screen, so the action is always on due to a character's proximity to others. Some levels feature gimmicks like rotating curved surfaces, moving platforms, or environmental traps. There's even a level where you can warp from one side to another, but one thing they all have in common is the layout, which forces you to constantly change gravity to traverse it all. Though platform-switching via gravity is almost a necessity, it leaves some open space around, so you can engage in air duels or dodge some projectiles while you're airborne.

Paperbound features a few gameplay modes. In Survival, you try to deplete your opponents' lives until you're the last one standing. Long Live the King has you trying to kill the person who's been crowned king, and you need to hold on to that position until you reach the appointed time limit. Versus has you reaching the given kill count, but there is a twist: Once the kill count is reached, a tear opens in the world, and you must reach the tear to end the match. The tear is only good for the player who reaches the goal, but it goes away if you're killed before reaching it. It reopens up in a different location once you get another kill, but the end-of-match scenarios become quite frantic since everyone scrambles to try to knock out the potential winner.

While the three modes can be played in a free-for-all fashion, they can also be played with two teams of two, with the added option of friendly fire. Capture the Quill is the only mode that is solely available for team play. Here, your team must capture the quill in the enemy's inkpot and return it to your own inkpot, which still holds your own quill. You fight in the same arenas, but the available selection is drastically reduced. Still, the single-screen nature of these arenas makes the action frantic enough that games can last quite a while, even if you select a low flag capture goal.

The game is quite fun if you have other people playing alongside you in the same room. Go beyond local multiplayer, and the game loses a large amount of its appeal. Solo play is fine since you can have as many AI bots as needed to fill up the empty slots. Thanks to a recent patch, they play rather well in four-player games and are quite decent when those numbers are reduced. If you're expecting more than just AI bot practice, you'll be disappointed since nothing else is available. Also, the restriction to bot play and local multiplayer means that online play is nowhere to be found. If you can't get enough people to go hang out with you to play the game, the motivation to play it drops significantly.

Graphically, Paperbound is very charming. The character designs and animations are simple, but the real star is the environments. Each one is stylized after the book it takes place in, and the result is that many levels look wildly different from one another. Going from traditional Japanese woodblock to much more detailed sketching can be jarring, but each level looks impressive, especially for those that feature lots of floating dust and moving objects.

Unlike the graphics, the sound isn't quite as memorable. Each environment has a track that matches the level theme quite well, but the tone is a bit too low-key. Instead of inspiring one to fight, the music is better suited for classic exploration adventures that could take place in the given worlds. Meanwhile, the sound effects are basic enough, and like the attacks, everyone shares the same effect, so throwing melee attacks as Juan, for example, is no different than what you'd hear from one of the stick figures.

In the end, Paperbound is a good game if you enjoy local multiplayer action. The core mechanics provide a good amount of chaos and strategy while remaining fun for players of all skill types. Though the modes don't seem to have much variance, the gameplay is solid enough that few will find the lack of variety to be detrimental, and the presentation is distinct enough to stand out in what is starting to be a rather crowded fighting sub-genre. The lack of a true single-player mode and online multiplayer hurts the game when you compare it to other titles, but if you play lots of local multiplayer anyway, you and your friends will have plenty of fun with Paperbound.

Score: 7.5/10

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