Less like Shakespeare, more like that one book you hated in eighth grade lit.
In Bookbound Brigade, you play as a group of famous characters from classic literature and various historical figures in a Metroidvania world. Characters like King Arthur, Dorothy Gale, and Queen Victoria make up the party that fights and travels together in order to restore the Book of Books - better known as BOB - that has been torn to pieces, sending the literary world into chaos. It could’ve been an intriguing concept that helps set Bookbound Brigade apart from the crowd, but the poor execution of these recognizable characters is only one of a number of issues that serve to make Bookbound Brigade just another unremarkable Metroidvania.
Unfortunately Bookbound Brigade just isn’t very interesting to play. There isn’t a lot of exploring to be done since the levels are largely linear and filled with platforming and combat obstacles that make traversal a huge chore. One of the earliest challenges in the game is a corridor filled with pillars of fire that turn on and off, requiring you to carefully time your movement between them. This obstacle course happens to come shortly after you learn to stack the members of your brigade on top of each other to form a vertical tower, and it’s here that I learned the characters on top of the tower wobbling back and forth wasn’t just for show. In addition moving quickly enough to match the cycle of flame pillars turning on and off, I also had to make sure I moved slowly enough so that the top of my tower didn’t wobble forward into the flames, instantly killing me. It was a repetitive and frustrating task, and most of the platforming challenges in Bookbound Brigade are just as boring.
Combat doesn’t fare much better, as it’s mostly standing over an enemy and button mashing to try and kill them before they kill you. There are some interesting skills you gain like launching an enemy into a larger enemy to stun them, but this can only be done consistently if there are smaller mooks around constantly spawning to be used as ammo. You’ll encounter a lot of areas in the game that lock you into a combat encounter with a lot of enemies at once, and you often won’t have the option to speed up combat with stuns.
It’s also difficult to avoid taking damage while attacking, so you’ll need to choose between going all-in and taking a lot of hits while mashing buttons, or getting a hit or two in every now and then and extending a quick fight into a drawn-out endurance match. Most enemies have too much health for the careful approach to stay interesting, so I found the best option was to just mash the attack button and hope for the best.
The characters from history and classic literature are overall not very entertaining. They’re written with very juvenile senses of humor, and the “unbound” versions of characters that have been warped by the stolen Book of Books often go for the most obvious surface-level gag that gets old almost immediately. For example, Joan of Arc’s only character trait is a fear of fire since historically she was burned at the stake. Every single line of dialogue when she’s around has some reference or pun mocking her for this, and she rightfully decides she wants nothing to do with the characters of the brigade by the end of her quest.
Cassandra, the prophet from Greek mythology who was cursed to never be believed, is depicted as an angsty teenager who’s upset that no one listens to her. Dorothy Gale is described as “one of those MTV generation punk-ass-brats” who can’t help but constantly say “oh my!” - as in “lions and tigers and bears, oh my”. The literary and historical characters are all misused, with dialogue being groan-inducing at best and downright embarrassing at worst.
Between it’s poor writing, sloppy controls, and lackluster exploration, Bookbound Brigade has a lot of missed potential. With how long and difficult a linear corridor in the game can be and exploration overall taking a backseat, it doesn’t succeed very often as a Metroidvania. Meanwhile the bad characterization and juvenile writing kneecaps a framing device that could’ve been interesting enough to make up for the bland gameplay. I can’t see myself ever returning to the game, and I don’t have much reason to say anyone else should bother with it either.