Author Topic: Paper Trail (Switch) Review  (Read 1480 times)

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Offline lolmonade

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Paper Trail (Switch) Review
« on: May 22, 2024, 09:18:12 AM »

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Paper trail by Newfangled Games caught my eye when a playable demo was featured on a Steam Next Fest.  The brief demo featured a puzzle game with a neat hook, an art style befitting to the gameplay structure, and an endearing story about a woman who goes against her parent’s wishes to break through their boundaries and travel to places she’s never been.    I was allured by the experience and left wondering whether that slice of gameplay would translate well into a longer form.  The sign of a great puzzle game is when it makes you feel smart for every obstacle hurdled over without being so head-bashingly difficult that you lose hope and give up.  Paper Trail deftly balances their feet on that tightrope through a series of mind-bending challenges.

Paper Trail is the story of Paige, a young woman from a small, sleepy fishing town.  She aspires for her life beyond being a townie, striving toward traveling to a university to pursue higher education.  Despite her parent’s protest, she chooses to sneak out from home and set herself on a journey filled with a diverse cast of characters with well written, distinctive personalities that made for a living, breathing world.   They handle storytelling in a storybook-like manner.  Each chapter begins with a page filled with a scene like Paige laying on the bed reading.  As she narrates her story, you’ll bend the pages to create a wholly new scene, prompting the next line of dialogue spoken and a new mini puzzle to fold through.  I really appreciate this kind of interactive storytelling, and it turns what could have been dry sections to sit through into something you can connect to through that additional engagement.

Paper Trail’s main hook is deceptively simple.  You’ll travel along a flattened map with separate screens that contain new puzzles, like top-down Legend of Zelda with how each screen is its own constrained space.  Each section’s backdrop is like pages of a book, and you can fold the map from either a side of the page or by the corners, which depending on where it’s bent from will open new pathways or directions to go in.  You cannot layer the folding pieces on top of each other, a limitation that made me consider just how far a paper bend should go. Like any good puzzler they start with that foundational building block and layer over new mechanics that require a solid understanding of the basics.  It’s like learning math – you’ll learn addition & subtraction before moving onto multiplication & division.  Some examples include boulders which must be pushed or pulled to a switch on the ground, locked doors needing keys, and interestingly floor tiles that look like dice which can’t be walked across unless a matching tile connects to it.  Deeper into the game some screens will include multiple pieces of paper, requiring the player to think about the connective tissue between those papers when folding and plotting out a path.  It forced me to think creatively and tested the limits of my ability to think holistically while juggling all the pieces of the puzzle.

It’s an incredibly clever shift in perspective, and one which took me some time to get comfortable with.  I couldn’t quite wrap my head around the concept at first and some of the introductory screens found myself picking away at every nook & cranny trying to understand what I’ve done wrong.  â€śHow do I open this path without blocking off another piece of walkway?” was a common refrain as I got my bearings.   I just could not understand what I was missing.  In light of this, I did what I try to avoid – use the assist tools and hint systems.  One lets you see-through the page to view the layout of the opposite side.  Especially when pages get busy, and you’ve folded them every which way without progress it can be the tipping point toward solving the problem.  The powerhouse assist comes from the other tool. An outline mini-map is displayed with a bullet-pointed timeline below.  Sliding the cursor gives each required bend in sequential order.  Despite being such a substantive tool it never feels like a cheat because it provides details on how to work with moveable items on the map.  Those helped me get over the initial hump and made much clearer to me the baseline logic and how to think through each puzzle.  I felt much better prepared for the pages that followed.

Paper Trail is a series of gratifying problem solving that challenges the player to think differently by bending their brain with every page turn.  It isn’t often I run across a game that’s so thematically cohesive, but between the puzzle structure, storytelling, and crisp and colorful world, this is an experience that feels like every detail was considered in its development, especially for those who get regularly stymied by thought exercises.  Paper Trail is a present that’s just as much fun to unwrap as it is to play with, and ranks in some of the better gaming experiences I’ve had this year.