by Cameron Woolsey on April 9, 2015
In Paperbound, warriors rip through their paper confines to perform gravity defying battles across a host of colorful worlds. Ninjas clash with guardians of Egyptian pyramids, while demons and skull-headed monstrosities fight tooth and claw. Paperbound is a frantic arena game promising hours of vivid combat, though some flaws make sure those hours are short.
Like Gang Beasts and TowerFall Ascension, Paperbound is a local arena multiplayer game. There is no online component whatsoever, making the game a more natural fit in the midst of a party. There are options for bots if you can’t manage to fill all four player slots, and they actually do a decent job at keeping the competition fierce. However, Paperbound is best when played with a group of people hollering and laughing at the chaotic action onscreen.
In Paperbound, warriors rip through their paper confines to perform gravity-defying battles across a host of colorful worlds.
Much of that fun comes quickly, thanks to Paperbound’s effortless combat. The game offers a trinity of attacks: melee, projectiles, and bombs. Every one of the cartoonish characters come with his or her own aesthetically different, but functionally equal melee weapon–a comically oversized pencil, perhaps, or a sword–in addition to scissors to throw and an ink bomb. A flick of the right analogue stick sends a pair of glimmering scissors slicing through the air, instantly killing any foe it reaches, while holding a shoulder button down allows you to prep an ink bomb (a little red inkwell) in place of the scissors. You get one pair of scissors; a small icon floating above your head shows you when it’s in your inventory (as with the ink bombs) at the start of each life. But you can pick up and store scissors stuck in the walls, floors, or other objects, allowing you to turn yourself into a scissor-flinging paper ninja–as long as your scissor greed doesn’t get you snipped in the process. The ink bomb bursts in an explosion of black ink that can blot out several enemies at once in a single glorious splash. But unlike the scissors, which can travel from one end of a level to the other in a straight line, the ink bomb flies in an arc–so aim well, you only get one!
Weaponry aside, Paperbound’s main feature is gravity manipulation, which has its ups and downs (and no, I will never apologize for that pun). With a press of the button, you can send your nimble fighter from the ceiling to the floor or from one wall to the other. Changing gravity only affects your own character, so don’t be concerned about someone else tossing you about. It can be fun, but mastering gravity and using it as an effective tool in Paperbound is, well, a tad tricky. The problem goes beyond just trying to get from one part of the map to the other. Changing gravity will cause you to be attracted to any nearby piece of land, floating or otherwise, so your plan to fly to a certain area of a map may not always end up in your favor. The challenge is elevated in levels with many floating islands, and it’s easy to get frustrated while trying to understand the gravity twisting concept. I foresee issues with newer players trying to perform well against experienced ones who have already passed this tall hurdle.
Mastering gravity and using it as an effective tool in Paperbound is, well, a tad tricky.
Once everyone is on the same page, the action is an explosive brawl of clinking blades, sailing ink bombs, and raucous laughter. Battles in Paperbound are intense, as weapons clash and lethal scissors fill the air. Due to its rarity, picking off an enemy with a well-timed fling of the scissors is easily one of the most gratifying feelings you can find in any competitive arena game. In fact, as you become more experienced, you begin to grasp some of the finer details of the game’s combat. Scissors and ink bombs, for example, can be deflected back toward attackers with a deft swipe of a melee weapon, swiftly demonstrating to any would-be assassin that you won’t be caught with your paper trousers down. Using gravity to maneuver in mid-air also becomes more natural, allowing you to accomplish feats such as nabbing that perfect sniping position while “floating.” If you’re savvy enough, you will never have to touch ground as you fly around the map by rapidly tapping the gravity button. The most energetic matches are almost as entertaining to watch as they are to play, as tiny fighters zoom through the air, dodging and knocking away deadly projectiles like a silly action romp inspired by The Matrix and Inception.
Paperbound isn’t nearly as tonally heavy as those films; its art is light and welcoming, if not particularly striking. Levels are grouped into a set of five books, each with a unique motif. One set of levels has you zipping around environments inspired by ancient Egyptian tombs, while another group mimics classic Japanese art. But while the look of the game is clean, the simplicity of the style isn’t inventive enough to be memorable. However, several levels employ some nice visual flourishes worth mentioning. Tall grass and mushrooms sway as characters swiftly pass by, while floating particles of dust whip through the air with each melee clash and ink bomb explosion. The horror book levels, steeped in rich hues such as purple and green, feature the most interesting details, with curling pen scratches and, fixed in the background, blinking eyes and grinning skulls, giving everything a slight Tim Burton feel.
The action is an explosive brawl of clinking blades, sailing ink bombs, and raucous laughter.
Though it is steeped in adventurous, fairy tale themes, Paperbound is not quite a wonderland of different game modes. You can play in four modes either in a free-for-all or with teams: Classic Versus, Survival, Long Live the King, and Capture the Quill. These modes are more typical of the competitive genre, although they use some different names to describe age-old ways of playing. Classic Versus sets players against one another either alone or split into a team of two; survival is similar to versus, with each player granted a number of lives; Long Live the King is akin to Call of Duty‘s Juggernaut, in which a king earns points while being hunted and the player who kills the king becomes the new king. Finally, Capture the Quill is, obviously, Paperbound’s take on capture the flag, except with a quill, inkwell, and so on.
Paperbound at least attempts to add its own flair into some of the modes by not giving the top player an instant win once the point goal is reached. Instead, in modes like Survival and Versus, scoring enough points opens a tear that appears in the level’s fabric, which you must enter in order to make your escape with the victory; dying removes the tear, and you have to score another point to create another. This ramps up the challenge, giving other players a chance to make a comeback, all while creating some rather brief and shaky truces.
Beyond the handful of game modes, Paperbound doesn’t have much else to offer. It is great in bursts, and when you have friends playing with you, Paperbound glows with energy. But the lack of online or additional content takes its toll. Yes, the matches are exciting but, while plenty of laughs and shouting can be had, that excitement wanes after several intense hours. Still, like a good short story, Paperbound is worth returning to on occasion when you would rather play something fun for a quick hour or so. Just be sure to bring along some reading buddies.