Despite it’s simple appearance, Paperbound Brawlers certainly has a learning curve. Even after clearing the (admittedly short) campaign and playing multiple multiplayer matches, the nature of the gameplay meant I was often not exactly where I wanted to be in fights. It’s fun, for sure, but perhaps it’s true brilliance as a local multiplayer game will only shine if you can gather some dedicated regular players.
What is it that makes things so difficult to grasp then? Well, Paperbound Brawlers in a single screen 2D brawler – and a pretty competent one at that. The combat is fast and fluid, decked out with little details such as being able to parry attacks should you time things right, and single use projectiles that close the gap on particularly evasive players. On some of the simpler stage layouts, things get frantic as up to 4 human or AI players battle it out in one of several game modes. Deathmatch, Capture the Flag and King of the Hill are all present and correct, as well as a mode that feels a little like Rocket League for brawlers; tasked as you are with fighting off players as you attempted to fling the ball in to the opposite teams goal. With only 2 players per team, I did find the soccer mode a little hard to compete in at times, though harder AI or more skilled players definitely aid us in this.
So far so good then, but in addition to jumping around the levels fighting, completing objectives and scoring goals we also have a button to change our gravitational alignment. A press of Y sees us fling from what ever surface we are on to the opposite side. Along the way, various extra platforms or islands require navigating in our bid to chase players down. While some of the simpler stages are easy enough to handle, when the edges of the screen allow you to pass through them, coming out the other side, or uneven planes see us flinging off in the wrong direction, the already hectic action becomes quite hard to keep on top of. I’d be pretty fascinated to see a bout between 4 skilled players down the line, but for now I think the gravity aspect may end up putting more people off than pulling them in.
Again though, I had a good time with Paperbound Brawlers for the most part. The single player campaign, though brief, encompasses the full range of modes and has 4 difficulties, allowing you to really test your resolve or simply breeze through should you wish. It can also be played with up to 4 players, though I was only able to test 2 player co-op which altered the campaign to include more co-op fights rather than one on one matches. Throughout, we jump from one themed book to another, with several stages in each needing clearing before moving on. The visuals are all presented as hand drawn artwork, doodles come to life as it were, with some nicely drawn designs unlocked as you play.
Multiplayer is the clear focus though, and for what it’s worth I can see this becoming a favourite among regular groups to add in to the rotation. No online play is a little disappointing, but it just serves to emphasise the local aspect more so. The learning curve might put off more casual players mind, though using team based modes may help them on board that bit better.
Paperbound Brawlers is a fun, frantic local multiplayer game that just misses the mark due to one of it’s core mechanics difficulty preventing a quick pick up and play approach. More dedicated groups will no doubt find much to enjoy about it though, and the short single player campaign does a good job of preparing you. The visuals are charmingly drawn, and stage design is great – though some make the already difficulty gravitational aspect that much more challenging.