Paperbound Review – Simple Charming Chaos (PS4)
There’s something about local multiplayer, an invigorating feeling you can only get when sitting in a room with other people, talking smack or hanging your head in brutal defeat, watching the same screen as someone — hopefully yourself — pulls off a near impossible move that would otherwise never be believed. There’s something about the camaraderie of scolding your friends for not wiping their hands of that pizza grease before grabbing your controller, and then soundly schooling their ass in a competitive game. There’s something about the tactical cooperative play of sitting on a couch next to your partner. There’s something about Paperbound that brings these things to life.
Online only gamers, lament, for other than Share Play, there is no way to play Paperbound via network. From the very concept of the single screen arenas and fast-paced, chaotic gameplay, this is a twitchy brawler title that is meant to be played locally. If you don’t have at least one other person to sit down and play with, there are bots to play with/against, but I’ll talk about the quality of the AI in a moment. For now, let’s examine what Paperbound is.
Appearances Can Be Deceiving
Paperbound could appear to be a simple 2D brawler game. You could assume that it is simply up to four players either battling to reach a certain kill score, capturing the quill (capture the flag), or not allowing your stock of lives to be lost. The magic comes when you introduce the gravity mechanic. By pressing triangle, gravity for your character reverses. If you were on the bottom of the screen right-side up, you will fly to the top of the screen upside down. It’s simple in theory, but ultimately finds itself to be a complex mechanic that turns what could be a simplistic brawler into a chaotic festival of unpredictable madness.
Imagine you’re about to be attacked by a character coming straight for you. Reverse gravity for a quick and unexpected escape. Want to swoop in to where someone will be standing? Easy enough when you can control your own gravity. You can also get a little more complex with it. Throw your pair of scissors mid-flight to score an epic kill, or bat someone else’s scissors out of midair before they can kill you. It really opens up the possibilities, but also proves to be one of the game’s barriers to entry. My wife was initially frustrated by the gravity mechanic when she played Paperbound with me, and if people can’t get over that initial learning curve of not only using it in combat, but even just navigating the stages effectively, it could prove to turn some potential players away.
Once that hurdle is passed however, the possibilities really open up, in a large part thanks to the vastly different stages and high level of customization you can control with every match. There are more than 15 stages represented across five different books that serve as art styles. These arenas add their own factors in to the match such as blocks that move when you stand on them, an arena with no outer walls that will warp you to the opposite side of the screen if you fall past them, and a variety of obstacles that will both help and hinder you reaching your goals.
Customize Your Play
Across these different stages, you can play free-for-all games, team matches, capture the flag, standard deathmatch, a king of the hill mode, and more. Certain stages are not available for some of the game modes and I wish the game did a better job of clearly communicating that, as I searched for some of my favorite levels but could not find them depending on what mode I was playing. You can set your number of kills or captures to win, stock of lives, and a variety of other factors in the match that really make this exactly the game that you want to play. Want quick matches? Set a lower number. Want to really go for a while? Increase the amount of lives that you have. The game allows you to control these aspects very easily and I had no difficulty adjusting settings on the fly.
Now that I’ve gotten you all excited for it, I suppose I’ll need to tell all of the lonely people about the AI. Hell, even I needed AI, as it’s just me and the wife at home, and we rarely have guests over who want to sit down and play a bit of PS4 with us (seems to me like I need to get new friends locally…). The AI is alright, and passable if you want to play a bit on your own, but the ideal way to play is with four human players. There’s no doubt about that.
The AI just doesn’t have that same feeling that a human player does, that unpredictable nature and off-the-wall strategic thinking that might come out of a person’s head. In addition, when we tried to play a two player match with no AI bots, it became a fairly boring game of cat and mouse, chasing each other around the stages in predictable patterns with no other players to throw a wrench in the works. It lost some of the hilarious chaotic nature that give Paperbound its charm.
A Visual Treat
The visuals are awesome. Each character has their own style, and each of the books offer different art style inspirations for the levels, so though it has a simple design, it always looks great, despite which characters you pick or stage you play on. One of the major problems that my wife and I ran into as we played was losing our character in the fray. With four characters running around the screen, throwing scissors, lobbing ink bombs, dying and respawning, it became a bit difficult in some cases to discern where we were. The fast paced nature mixed with the disorienting gravity swapping mechanic really calls for some better indicators of which player is who beyond just palette swapping the character. Palette swaps also mean that the guest characters like Juan from Guacamelee! cannot be used in team based modes, as they have no additional palette options.
Paperbound is a riot, and a ton of fun to play with a group of people. As easy as it is to quickly hop in and set up matches, and the fairly simple control scheme overall, it’s a great party game. Sadly, Paperbound may not reach its full potential for you if you don’t have three other people to play with locally. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad game, it just means that it is meant for four local human players by design. If you are looking for an excellent party game and a way to relive that classic, long-lost experience of simple, crazy gaming with other people in the same room, Paperbound is a chaotic festival of unpredictable madness that really deserves a home on your PS4.
Paperbound review code provided by developer. For information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.