I didn’t get my first console until I was about ten years old. It was an NES and I was nearly a decade late in discovering Nintendo’s greatness. Before my first venture with Mario and Super Metroid, I used to draw imaginary levels with friends where stick men came to die. After one of us came up with an absurd level design, the other tried to navigate his stickfigure creation step by step via drawings. It was a popular pastime amongst my friends back in the early nineties, but none of us ever imagined an actual video game resembling those ridiculous doodles would come to fruition all these years later. Paperbound is a Smash Bros. inspired 2D brawler that feels like a childhood dream come true. It’s developer Dissident Logic’s first project, and it’s already shaping up to be an indie gem.
Paperbound is developed by a brand new studio founded by High Moon engine programmer Daniel Holbert, who has worked on the excellent Transformers games. Unhappy with the creative restrictions of the AAA industry, Dan formed Dissident Logic, a developer dedicated to creative freedom and, in the case of Paperbound, classic gameplay purity. The premise is simple: pick a fighter, pick an environment and start chasing after your friends using gravity jumps, swords, scissors and ink bombs in 2-4 player arena battles.
"Paperbound is a Smash Bros. inspired 2D brawler that feels like a childhood dream come true. It’s developer Dissident Logic’s first project, and it’s already shaping up to be an indie gem."
You can choose from various stick men or characters from ancient books, as well as several cool cameos like Juan Aguacate from Guacamelee. Winning a round opens a tear in the world, and you have to quickly exit before others players take you down. The player who first reaches ten points wins. The gameplay is fast, frantic and dangerously addictive. Watching a gameplay of Paperbound doesn’t do the action justice. As players rapidly zig zag across the environment, the action looks like a hand drawn wuxia battle. Paperbound is all about quick reflexes, but the fighting does require some strategy. The anti-gravity jump can be used to creatively traverse each level, allowing fighters to cut through the entire screen diagonally and take out opponents midair. Tapping the gravity button rapidly allows players to hover, allowing players to trick each other. Some levels have movable platforms, requiring lightning-fast timing to dodge incoming attacks and successfully chase after the opponent. Dodging and tossing ink bombs and scissors is a blast, and I can only hope the developers add a few more projectiles to the mix in their final build.
"Watching a gameplay of Paperbound doesn’t do the action justice. As players rapidly zig zag across the environment, the action looks like a hand drawn wuxia battle."
There are five books, each packed with visually unique levels. Everything has a beautiful handdrawn aesthetic, and each environment represents a different theme. One fight takes you through the Inside Journey to the Center of the Earth, the next round you’re fighting in a Ukiyo-e inspired arena. The style is charming and colorful, although some arenas, like the cave level, have too much dark detail in the background, making the tiny fighters hard to see. However, this can easily fixed by adjusting the values or by adding more contrast to the figures.
"It may be too early to call Paperbound an instant classic, but its foundation is already so strong, Dissident Logic has a sure winner on their hands."
Paperbound is the type of game that can really benefit from a custom map maker. Letting players patch together their own arena from different objects would extend replayability tremendously. It would also be really fun if environmental obstacles could play a more integral part. In the Japanese levels, for example, the wave could temporarily cut across one half of the screen, forcing all players to jump to the other side of the map. The cave level could have deadly stalagmites falling through the map, and the Mushroom Sea level could have poisonous plants shooting slow moving projectiles to spice up the action. Paperbound has endless possibilities and potential to form a long lasting community.
It may be too early to call Paperbound an instant classic, but its foundation is already so strong, Dissident Logic has a sure winner on their hands. Much like the titles it draws inspiration from, Paperbound’s beauty lies in its simplicity. The gameplay is easy to pick up and perfect for those yearning the days of classic couch co-op action. Paperbound is set to release early February 2015 on Steam and Playstation 4, and will retail at a generous $9.99.
Preview by: Tin Salamunic | Previewed on: PC