Paper Monsters: A Polished Pile of Cute
Are you a fan of overbright neon colors? Do you sometimes skip a song in your expansive Eurodance collection because it isn’t teeth-grindingly happy enough? Have you ever eaten a one-pound bag of sugar in a single sitting? If so, Paper Monsters if for you.
If you’re, say, a crabby game reviewer who generally despises cutesy art design and music, however, it most certainly is not. If you’re a crabby game reviewer who can still get behind a cutesy game if it’s a lot of fun… it still most certainly is not. Paper Monsters tries to do a lot of things – mostly by way of borrowing from iconic platformers on the way – and whiffs on almost all of them.
First off: This was the newest in a long list of games that wouldn’t let me take a screenshot. I am a lazy person. If I have to go online or use some optimized PR packet to find pictures of your game… you’re getting docked. I’m sick to death of games hobbling my phone’s basic functionality. In my (most prestigious and awesome) opinion, taking away the ability to screencap is no better than turning off the volume control. It’s senseless.
This is especially annoying when the game’s graphics, at least from a technical standpoint, are one of the things it does very well. Whatever your opinion of the art direction, there’s no discounting the talent behind it.
Actually… there is, now that I think about it. In some ways Paper Monsters is like reading a Pulitzer winner’s Naruto/Home Improvement crossover fiction. The talent can only carry the concept so far. And the concept here doesn’t go very far at all. You’d think a developer that so obviously “borrows” from classics like Little Big Planet and the venerable Mario franchise would have some understanding of what makes a good platformer, but no.
Instead, Crescent Moon Games crammed the game full of cute. So much cute every play session made me feel like I’d just eaten an entire box of sugary breakfast cereal and polished it off with a couple dozen milkshakes. The world your nameless cardboard box-person navigates is basically a Lisa Frank notepad on ecstasy. Colors pop, characters smile, reviewers shudder. You see where I’m going.
The gameplay does nothing to negate the saccharine overload. The campaign features sixteen levels (plus bonuses) spread out over four overworlds. It may not seem like a lot, but it gets real boring real fast when all you do is move, jump, and collect things – and let me be clear in saying that’s close to all you do.
I know a lot of games can be broken down to their basic components like that, but generally there’s a fun factor, an extra tweak of some kind, binding it all together. This is not the case in Paper Monsters. You jump on enemies’ heads, collect paperclips and buttons to unlock various articles of clothing for your character, and move onto the next level. Occasionally a power-up turns you into a helicopter or submarine, which at least allows you to shoot your enemies instead of leaping on them, but even that feels pretty weak… and it happens far less often than it should.
The game almost gets the controls right. Almost. As fluid and natural as the movement feels, however, the virtual control stick scheme (the only way to play, in my opinion) isn’t very forgiving when it comes to the “jump” command. Many, many times I found myself mashing the screen and getting nothing out of my boxman in return because I was a fraction of a centimeter away from the button’s hitbox. In a game that requires a fair amount of precision jumping, this is a dealbreaker.
Look at the Mario franchise, one title of many Paper Monsters tries to emulate. Sure, nostalgia’s undoubtedly a factor in the iconic (and vaguely racist) Italian plumber’s continued popularity… but the games are also fun as heck, largely because of quality level design and controls. Mario jumps, slides, and swims so well because you know what will happen when you hit each button. With Paper Monsters, I found myself hesitating to leap onto X monster’s head or double-jump up to Y platform because I didn’t. With a few tweaks, this could have been a great proof-of-concept for mobile controls working. As it sits, that isn’t the case.
Little Big Planet, another title the game’s makers obviously admire, suffers a similar bastardization. The whole “construction paper planet” motif screams of the PS3 classic, especially its earlier levels. The difference in this case is that LBP had personality, while Paper Monsters goes for the cute stuff. By now, you should know my opinion of the cute stuff.
Extra game modes are much the same, offering holiday-themed levels and assorted minigames. I do like that the ingame currency caries over: If you’re big into the game, you’re going to want to unlock all the wacky clothes available for your boxman, and there are a lot of wacky clothes available. You also have the option to buy currency, of course, but I don’t see much of a reason to spend actual dough on a pair of sunglasses or a Hawaiian-print shirt. If you do, well, I don’t know what to tell you. Other than keep away from me.
If I’m being too harsh, it’s because the game has – and squanders – a whole bunch of potential. I suppose in terms of positive reviews and graphical shine it’s already a AAA title, but for me, all the pretty graphics in the world can’t overcome uninspired gameplay. There’s a whole lot of both in Paper Monsters… and that’s a real shame.