We’re closing on summer, and with it E3; that means that AAA releases are going to start slowing down and we’ll have to count on indie developers to feed our need for new games. Paperbound is one of those new indie titles that hopes to devour your free time. It’s a Smash Bros.-inspired four-player brawling title, which certainly sounds promising, but it doesn’t quite fill those big butt-kicking shoes.
Paperbound is a strong contender for the most indie game ever made. For instance, it features local-only multiplayer, a feature loved and touted solely by indie game developers. As for the rest of us, well…the lack of online hurts, and even cute euphemisms like “couch multiplayer” don’t change the fact that it’s a missing feature, plain and simple. Paperbound’s Steam page explicitly mentions the game’s lack of online play, so I wouldn’t count on this changing anytime soon.
It’s also got a spread of cameo indie game characters, which I’m ambivalent about. It beats having cameo characters based on YouTube “celebrities,” at least – something we saw most recently in games like Awesomenauts and Speedrunners. Some of the cameos are a little odd, though. Tumblestone, for instance, is a game that hasn’t been released yet, so people probably wouldn’t recognize its representative.
The gameplay is fairly simple: you select a character and a stage, then get to work beating the crap out of everyone else. Characters are largely just skins and your choice doesn’t really change how the game is played. They’ve all got a melee attack, a grenade and a throwing weapon; all of these are instant kills and the latter two are limited use, so matches are generally decided pretty quickly. Melee attacks will reflect throwing weapons back to their origin, allowing for interesting and hilarious tennis-style bounce wars, and it’s possible to retrieve weapons from a missed throw. Grenades, however, ensure death for anyone in the blast radius.
The primary gimmick here is the use of a gravity-flip system a la 2010 indie darling VVVVVV. Tapping jump will reverse gravity for your character, allowing you to land on the ceiling or deftly float through the air. It’s a cute idea, but it makes for a few awkward moments as your movement is relative to the screen, not to your character. If you’re on a wall facing “left” – or up – then you’ll have to press up to keep going in the direction you’re facing and down to go the other way. You’ll eventually get used to this but it’s a bit of a hurdle at first, and the problem is further compounded when you’re dealing with rotating or moving stage elements.
Speaking of those, there’s a pretty wide and varied selection of stages from different classic books. They vary in size and have differing platforms on which to fight; some of them even have obstacles, like a giant rotating black hole that can crush hapless players. The book theme is endearing, but it’s only kinda-sorta cohesive and the addition of the other indie game characters feels a little disjointed.
By default, a match is won by a player that achieves a certain number of kills, then leaves through a page tear portal that opens up. If they’re killed before leaving, the portal closes and they have to score again before it reopens; if multiple players have reached the goal score, this can lead to a tennis-style tug-of-war. There’s also a more standard survival mode available, as well as capture-the-flag and king-of-the-hill options, though the default proved to be the most entertaining.
Paperbound is simple and cute, and if you’ve got people for local multiplayer it’ll be a good time, I suppose. But chances are if you’re doing local multiplayer you’ve already got better options, and it’s impossible to excuse the lack of online play as anything more than a design flaw. This is unfortunate, as it could certainly work as an online game and would be one I’d recommend from the highest rooftops and mountains.
Similar and superior indie title Lethal League, by comparison, has excellent, lag-free online multiplayer. We’re reaching a point in the growth of the indie games scene where multiplayer-focused games really should offer this feature. As a result, it’s difficult to recommend Paperbound, particularly as a $10 title against Lethal League’s $14.