By: Mike Chen
Few games have successfully replicated the Smash Bros. experience. Paperbound, a new indie title for PS4 and Steam, offers something new for fans of couch brawlers. Up to four players can join in the action, and while there’s not a lot of depth, it’s a unique enough experience for hours of fun with friends.
Most couch brawlers have a straightforward control scheme of jump, melee and projectile/special attack. Paperbound adds a unique twist that literally changes the playing field: a gravity swap button. All of this is integrated into a crisp control scheme with well-balanced jumping and right-stick controlled projectile attacks. It’s a simple approach — there aren’t any infinite combos to memorize here — but it’s the way things are executed that defines Paperbound, for better or worse.
Paperbound uses a familiar cartoon graphical style to bring various literary characters and archetypes to life (e.g. Dante from Dante’s Inferno). These are painted on top of lush backgrounds that capture the book’s theme and era. It’s a combination of cute and exquisite, and additional character palette swaps bring variety to the whole experience.
However, since the game uses a static full-screen environment, characters are actually quite small; allowing these little details and graphical quirks can easily be lost. In some cases, if your character matches the color palette of a rival character, it can be really easy to lose track because of their size.
The flagship couch brawler is the Smash Bros. series, which provides a wide enough field of view to follow your character. Paperbound tries a different approach by having all characters on the screen at all times. Because of the game’s gravity flipping feature, up to four characters are constantly zipping around, sometimes flying all the way from the top to bottom (or left to right) edges in the process.
This mechanic adds a very specific twist, which creates a ton of mayhem. Environments are also different based on theme and level, adding explicit challenges and variety: moving blocks, no walls for edge-to-edge warping, etc. Gameplay also comes in several different modes, from the traditional last-player-standing battle, capture the flag (quill) and first to a set goal. All modes offer customization, making rounds as short or as long as you want — and as chaotic as well.
With four players, things can get intense. Unfortunately, they can get confusing, too. Playing on a couch in front of a 46-inch LCD TV, I still lost track of my character from time to time simply due to the combination of platforming and gravity inversions. Even when different color palettes were selected, characters could still get mixed up because of their relatively small size.
Despite this, it’s still a blast to play with other people. The problem is that the bots are predictable and not particularly challenging, so single-player mode is more or less a limited practice session at best. There’s no real campaign or reason to play solo, so the value you get out of Paperbound depends entirely on how often you can get friends together for a session.
Paperbound offers a fun and unique twist to the brawler genre. However, the overall experience is hindered by its small presentation and lack of single-player content. If you have friends ready for a competitive night, it’s a perfect game to download. There’s just not much value otherwise.