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March 2023

Paw Paw Paw

Platform(s): PC
Genre: Action
Publisher: GrabTheGames
Developer: Simpleton
Release Date: Nov. 13, 2020


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PC Review - 'Paw Paw Paw'

by Cody Medellin on April 19, 2021 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Paw Paw Paw is a 2D sidescrolling Beat ‘Em Up where you play as part of the resistance in their effort to bring down the King.

Before the one-on-one fighting game genre blew up, the beat-'em-up was the only type of game in the arcades where you punched, kicked, and occasionally slashed at opponents. We've seen the genre make a small comeback over the past few years, ranging from serious works like Streets of Rage 4 to more wacky ones, like Streets of Fury. Paw Paw Paw is on the latter side of the spectrum, and while there are some good parts to it, there are issues that might keep it from being enjoyable.

The kingdom of Paw Paw Paw is home to anthropomorphic animals and a benevolent king. While peace ruled the kingdom, a mysterious rock from space crashed into the castle. The king didn't die from the blast, but he did change from benevolent to tyrannical. His first order was to declare that everyone in the kingdom must wear pants. Outraged, a group of animals formed Antipants, swearing to never don the articles of clothing. You play a new recruit to the cause, initially tasked with rescuing the group's leader but ultimately sent to stop the mad king from carrying out his pants rule.

As you can see, the story is silly, and the game leans into that offbeat nature. The cut scene dialogue isn't serious, and while it doesn't necessarily succeed in eliciting a chuckle, it doesn't rely on memes or references to try to be funny. The setting makes you think that this should be in the medieval era, but wreckage of planes and a more modern postal service would have you think otherwise. It isn't an outright parody, but it is nice to see that it doesn't take itself too seriously.

Paw Paw Paw takes on some of the more modern trappings of the genre. Your character has light and heavy attacks, which can be used on the ground or in the air. Jumping is useful as a traversal mechanic, but you aren't going to leap over bottomless pits. You can't pick up weapons from the ground, but you can use special items from defeated enemies, which include a regular bomb and a flash grenade. Some of those items also include eggs, which let you hatch a mount for some extra attack power. You can also pick up healing items, which are the only things that can give you health in the middle of a level, as the food you find along the way are all used for currency.

As expected nowadays, the game has a good number of RPG elements baked into it, and what's here is more extensive than usual. For starters, the selected character belongs to one of four classes, each with their own weapons and special moves. The names may be different, such as botanist, but their roles are familiar with anyone who's ever played an RPG. Warriors can do a shield bash, while the botanist heals, and the archer can bring forth a rain of arrows. Aside from having different stats, each character comes with an extensive skill tree that bolsters their stats and abilities, while also unlocking combos every time you level up and assign a point in the appropriate slot. You can find weapons in treasure chests on the field, but you'll likely buy weapons with additional perks like ice attacks and bleed damage along with the usual stat upgrades.

The RPG/beat-'em-up blend works rather well in practice, provided you can live with a few concessions. The game can be played with up to four players simultaneously but only locally unless you're using Steam's Remote Play feature or Parsec to play with friends. There is no drop-in/drop-out co-op, and everyone has infinite lives, which sounds like a boon until you have an ally die on top of a spike trap, causing everyone else to die since there's no way to leave the body behind. The revival process takes too long to not get hurt. All leveling is restricted to whichever character you choose, so picking someone new for the next level means starting over in terms of XP and level. At least everyone shares the same pool of characters, so if you stop playing with the barbarian that you powered up to level five, someone else can take over and not have to start with a level-one barbarian. The same goes for any gear you buy, but the weapons being class-specific means that you can encounter new stuff that you can't use if you're playing with the wrong class.

There are some parts that actively drag down the experience. Players will appreciate the fact that the game sports well over 20 levels of play, so you're going to get your money's worth from the experience. Only a few backgrounds are used, so the experience feels like it can drag, even if the levels have abrupt endings and few boss fights. Speaking of which, the game exhibits several sharp difficulty spikes. Without any warning, you'll suddenly encounter a few regular enemies that cut your health in half with just one blow. It is a big annoyance, especially if you encounter one at the end of a level, since that means starting over from the beginning once everyone dies. On that note, the difficulty doesn't scale at all, but it seems more tuned for four players, so going at this solo is a hellacious experience.

Part of that comes down to the fighting. When you start the game, everything takes multiple hits to kill. That may seem fine since you're underpowered at the beginning, but even when you reach the max level, it takes close to 10 hits to break down a crate or tree, so the action becomes monotonous. Only your power moves do significant damage, so a jump-kick feels weaker than usual, an issue compounded by the attack's shorter range. Going on the offense means that you're lunging forward, which gives the enemy a chance to break free if you attack at the edge of the screen, and he is now pushed in the opposite direction. It also means that you're more likely to accidentally run into traps. More lethal is the fact that you have no recovery frames. Unlike the enemy, you can get hit while on the ground, so any boss attacks that hit the ground while you're there will hit you as well. Hitting a trap can also bounce you into another trap, putting you in a seemingly endless cycle until you die. You'll be more upset about your death when you try to lure an enemy into traps and see them only get hit once.

Then there's the actual issue of leveling up. While you will appreciate the fact that you can still earn XP when you die, the process of leveling up is very slow. That wouldn't be too much of an issue if it weren't for the fact that the skill tree for each character is massive compared to your XP level gains, and you could conceivably beat the campaign without unlocking even one-fifth of the tree. To make matters worse, several of the weapon upgrade paths require a great deal of points to unlock, and with the guarantee that you'll pick up a weapon you can't use since it's several levels above yours, you're more likely to be teased with something powerful that you can't even use by the time the end credits roll unless you return to older levels and grind.

There's more to do in Paw Paw Paw once you finish the campaign, but your desire to do so heavily depends on your love of the title. Aside from having the opportunity to return and level up any new characters you pick up during the campaign, a few of the levels have secret boss fights if you can figure out the requirements to summon them. Due to their ridiculously overpowered stats, you're better off taking them on later rather than when you stumble upon them in your first campaign run. Aside from that, there are the standard versus and survival modes. The former is a staple from the pre-fighting game era that is more of a curiosity than something to seriously play with friends. The latter is fine if you're trying to level up underpowered characters.

Like the rest of the game, the presentation is scattershot. Graphically, the game uses a cute style with muted colors and animation that is reminiscent of old Flash games. Characters are cute due to their rounded designs, which contrast greatly with the blood gushing from foes or and their heads rolling upon death. It is eye-catching at times, but it also gets misused due to having way too many foreground objects obscure the action at critical times, even with the transparency effects kicking in. The game doesn't differentiate between trees and crates that can and can't be hit for items, so you'll waste time trying to hit everything. The same can be said for how well your character blends in with the rest of the crowd, causing you to lose your bearings often in a skirmish.

The sound is where things get very strange, and that's all due to the music. One may expect to hear something medieval to spur you into action, but instead, you get the equivalent of dance music from beginning to end. The length of each environment makes it seem like there aren't that many tracks in the game, and even though the music is decent enough, it just feels like the wrong fit.

You're going to have a love-hate relationship with Paw Paw Paw. The story is wacky but not necessarily funny, with a presentation that's at odds with itself. The combat is easy to grasp but has a tendency to frustrate. The campaign is lengthy but feels too long due to the repeated backgrounds and long grind needed to handle the abrupt difficulty spikes. If you're not too discerning about your beat-'em-ups, then the game is a decent way to while away a weekend. Otherwise, you might want to hold off until you've at least beaten some other, better genre titles first.

Score: 6.0/10

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