Dissident Logic is at it again. Since early 2014, we’ve been keeping tabs on this indie developer and its flagship release, Paperbound. And not without reason, either. A finalist at the Seattle Indie Game Competition and an Indie Prize Showcase Selection in Amsterdam, this game is a brawler with a twist.
Paperbound is a one-of-a-kind couch platformer with single and multi-player game modes. Co-op and local multiplayer games produced a number of great offerings in 2014, but this action platformer is in a class all its own. Perhaps the developer says it best: it’s like Smash Bros. meets Inception. This title combines platforming, twitchy combat, and gravity redirection for some really unique mechanics and gameplay. Paperbound is slated for release May 31, 2015 on Steam and Playstation, and is brought to us by the mind of former Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare developer Dan Holbert.
The battles in this puzzling multiplayer game take place between the pages of old tomes, and players have freedom to move a full 360 degrees around the whimsical and sometimes macabre environments in the game. The artwork is fantastic and strange, and the backdrops and the music all compliment this peculiar-yet-polished environment. I thought the game was hard enough to put down in a single-player story mode when I previewed the title roughly a year ago. The addition of multiplayer and multiple game modes, however, has made Paperbound impossible for me to ignore.
The last time I played Paperbound, the star of the show was Eddy the Stickman. Eddy, since then, has been fleshed out some. Now that players can get their friends in on the fun, Eddy can, too: Ninjeddy and Jasmine are two more stick-figure-esque additions to the stick family theme. The game leads players through a maze of obstacles that are not what they seem, and takes our doodle hero, Eddy, between the pages of bizarrely interpreted landscapes taken from classic literature. Skull Kingdom, The Book of Five Rings, Dante’s Inferno, Book of the Dead, and The Journey to the Center of the Earth are the five books that players can jump into, dominate, and escape from (in that order).
In game modes like Classic Versus, players will go head-to-head against any of the eleven other playable characters (including six characters that hail from other indie games, including Guacamelee!, VVVVVV, Monaco, Cards and Castles, and Tumblestone. In maintaining a sort of rock, paper, scissors motif theme, each of the three available weapons interact with one another. Players, for example, can reflect scissors with swords, as well as detonate ink bombs with their trusty scissors. Friends can slash, stab and sabotage one another in thirteen different interactive and entirely original environments. Keeping inline with the theme of literature, the weapons of choice for Eddie and his cohorts consist of classical bookish tropes. Ink bombs may be lobbed at enemies, and the paper-made mercenaries run with scissors and swords across scenes reminiscent of the books in which they are set.
Other game modes, such as Capture the Quill, Long Live the King, and Last Man Standing pit players against up to three other local multiplayers. Tragically, hopelessly alone and without human contact? No worries—Paperbound has prepared for that scenario, too. Players can go up against one (or up to four) AI bots, who are also perfect for rounding out teams that fall a little short. As an added challenge to battles, once a player has reached a total number of deaths (the default being 10, although that number is customizable by the player), portals open and appear as tears in the page. Players must exit through these portals in order to be set free from their paperbound arena.
The gravity and reorientation of the game, during the title’s early releases, was perhaps the most original feature of Paperbound. The artwork, however, has adapted and evolved along with the game. The creatures, allies, and Eddy himself have all undergone a notable transformation since last I played this indie release. The characters are bold and enchanting, and the environments are as interesting as ever. Whether your heroes and villains are defying gravity, levitating to evade capture, running up the walls, or traveling upside down to cut another literary element down to size, this game is addictive and original.
When we spoke to Dissident Logic in 2014, developer and general wearer of all hats Dan Holbert explained that he had no plans to release a mobile port for the game. I thought (and still may think, present tense) that such a move might make sense somewhere down the line. The reorientation element in mobile phones and tablets seem to speak to the implications this might have for a free-wheeling and frenetic game such as Paperbound, methinks. Holbert explained in our dialogue, however, that the hardware was just not equipped to deliver the experience that he had intended for Paperbound. “People mention the mobile thing to me a lot, and I can appreciate that. I think it stems from the fact that it’s a quick pick-up-and-play 2D game that you can play for five minutes at a time, if you want to. But it’s a multiplayer game, and it really plays best with a controller, both of which pose problems for mobile. I really have trouble seeing it as being fun with a touchscreen, and mobile controllers aren’t widespread-enough nor of a high enough quality to really target that platform.”
The multiplayer element lends this title even more appeal than it had for me when I first tried the game out in pre-alpha, and now it seems like there’s no end to the replay value for those who like one-up-man-ship and a little friendly, local competition. If I had one regret, it’s that I didn’t see any sort of single-player/story mode. I liked the idea of guiding Eddy through a landscape of fantastic foibles inspired by literature, maybe beating bosses per book.
Still, this title is one that has stuck with me over time. Its quality and originality really spoke to me. We all see games that attempt to break the mold, and that’s hard to come by because we want something familiar, but better somehow. I really enjoyed Paperbound, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who has ten minutes or two hours to kill, either alone or with friends. The fast-paced gameplay, unfamiliar mechanics and unique artwork make this platform brawler one to watch.