What kind of videogame would you get if you crossed Mario, Sonic and a cardboard box? Allow me to suggest ‘Paper Plumber: Super Warthog Edition’ where a plumber made entirely of concertinaed A4 paper shoots Warthog entrails at his enemies while attempting to save a papier mache princess.
Good Lord, that’s a rubbish idea. This is why I don’t make iPhone games. Every time you log onto the AppStore to find out what’s new, be thankful I’m sat here reviewing them instead.
In the hands of a competent developer like Robots Vs Wizards (a name which would make an awesome videogame title in itself), the above elements would combine to look something like their new release, Paper Monsters; a traditional style platformer.
It’s kind of light on story. The opening sequence lets us know that Lord Papyrus and his minions have invaded Paperland and it’s up to you to stop them. If I was Lord P, I’d be wondering what my motivation was, but whatever. There also aren’t any cutscenes explaining why I’ve ended up in Green Tree Land or Rodney Mountain Place (note: these are made up names), so each level seems like it was inserted randomly because it looked nice. No one’s asking for War And Peace, but I do need to know why I’m doing what I’m doing at least.
‘You’ refers to the main character; a nameless little box guy who’s made out of cardboard. I’m a strong believer that videogame protagonists should be called something, so this contradicted almost every value I hold dear. However, I was able to get over it quickly when I realised that most boxes are nameless. Have you ever received an order from Amazon, opened it, then tried to decide whether the packaging should be called Harold or Gertrude? Neither have I.
So your nameless box guy is charged with restoring order to the land of paper, which he does traversing through lovely looking levels in typical platform fashion. So typical in fact, I kept waiting for the hook, or twist to jump out at me. Alas, there is none: hold down a direction on the screen to move, tap to jump (tap at the top to double jump), land on the heads of enemies to kill them and collect the buttons laid out across the level which you can trade in an in-game shop for different outfits. It’s all standard stuff.
Actually, I tell a lie. It’s mostly standard, there are portals which when entered, switch to different layers in the level, so that you’ll instantly jump to a layer in the background. It’s a real shame this idea wasn’t incorporated with more strategic gameplay in mind. It would’ve been cool to use layer switching at will to beat certain enemies or find your way round a seemingly blocked path. As it is, it’s just a graphical effect. Also while looking nice, it does make the scenery and your character a lot smaller. It isn’t that much of a problem, but controlling your box dude does become slightly more fiddly. If you’re playing on the iPhone as opposed to the iPad, and like me have clubs for thumbs, beware.
There are also a few power-ups which add a bit of interest to proceedings. At various times in the game you’ll be granted special abilities such as transforming into a box-copter allowing you to fly, or turning into a submarine with a rocket launcher to dispatch enemies. I wish there were more areas like these, I like shooting things. Mind you, I’m kind of asking for a completely different game there. If it were up to me, Mario would’ve been armed with a plasma gun and Sonic with a chainsaw.
But generally each level is pretty similar: jump on platform, jump on bad guy, walk to platform. Repeat. I guess you could say that’s the point of a platform game, but the main problem here is that the levels aren’t all that challenging. You never really feel like you’re in any danger. I had more trouble working out how to move my character at the start than I did getting the end of any one stage, although that probably says more about me than it does about the game. Me and my club thumbs.
A few examples if I may: aside from the aforementioned layers, levels are all very linear. Sure, no one wants to go back-tracking so far they end up purchasing the game at the AppStore. but most of the time there’s only one way to go. There aren’t any fiendish environmental puzzles to solve, and even though it isn’t literally a case of ‘Walk forward till you get to the end’, there’s no real moment when you’re stumped. Only in the last level did I feel like throwing my iPhone at the wall. I’ll take the game that makes me want to destroy my phone over the one I can waltz through blindfolded.
The bosses are also ridiculously easy. It’s three strikes and they’re gone. Literally. You’ll figure out their attack patterns in approximately 0.34 seconds and dispatch them accordingly. This is the first game I’ve played where I’ve felt guilty for beating a boss so simply. It was only the final showdown with Lord P that felt like the odds were stacked against me, (although it still took only three hits to be done with him.) Perhaps this game peaks too late.
Paper clips and Adventure Cards can also be found in each level. The former nets you a bonus at the end of the stage if you collect all three of them, but unlike at the TouchGen office, they’re all pretty easy to find. The latter are for players who like to go slightly off the beaten track and explore, although they don’t actually seem to reward you with anything other than the fact they’ve been found.
I noticed a couple of bugs too. Occasionally when you snuff it, your options will be obscured, meaning you could end up restarting the level entirely when all you meant to do was restart from the last checkpoint. Club thumb strikes a third time. There’s also a moment that happens where you’ll end up falling through the bottom of the level…and keep falling, leading to a swift restart.
I realise I’m being a little harsh here, but there is much to like. The graphics and art direction are lovely, you can see straight away it’s been inspired to a large degree by Little Big Planet. And why not? There are worse games to take your cue from.
Dash Mode -available once you’ve cleared all portions of a stage- sees your character trotting across the level automatically without your help. Your job is to negotiate the level only by jumping to avoid obstacles, collect buttons and deal with enemies. Sounds simple, but the timing required to make it to the end it actually gets quite tricky places. It’s probably more addictive than the main game.
I also have a soft spot (no jokes about my stomach please) for cute games. I can’t help but love the little box guy toddling around with a painted smile on his face, letting out yelps of excitement as he jumps into the air set against a cutesy techno soundtrack. Everything in this game is cute. Even some of the enemies look so adorable you don’t want to kill them. Remember what I said about feeling guilty hurting the bosses? Try a whole game of it.
All in all though, as good looking and charming as it is, it needs a little more imagination. And for a game who’s main character is a cardboard box and lives in a land of paper, that’s saying something.
And now that we’ve come to the end of the review, I know what you’re thinking. ‘How could the words “think outside the box” not appear once, especially as he’s complained it lacks originality?’ You should know me better by now. I’m more original than that.
What do you mean I used those same words in the last sentence? Oh, I see. You win.
paper Monsters is out now for $0.99. Get it on the
Follow more of Kevin’s rubbish videogame ideas on Twitter: @dreagleg.