I’m always suspicious of traditional platform games on a touch screen, because it’s one of the genres most dependent on a physical joystick and buttons. However, Paper Monsters is one of the rare platformers that not only works with a touch screen, but also thrives on it.
It puts you in control of a cardboard crusader, on a mission to save the paper kingdom from an evil tyrant. In the process, you stomp and jump and run your way through four worlds, collecting buttons and traversing platforms. Paper Monsters is adorable and fun, and I’m rather besotted with it.
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The Cardboard Hero’s Journey
Paper Monsters offers a 16-level main adventure, plus three additional modes. The main adventure takes you through four chapters, starting in the Paper Hills, then on through the Yibiki Peaks and Cardboard Dunes to the Papyrus Ruins.
Each chapter sports a distinct color scheme and mood — the bright, happy, and colorful first chapter gives way to a desaturated and snowy second chapter, which is followed by an orange and red-hued third chapter and a green, red, and dangerous-looking fourth chapter. The game’s difficulty follows a similar curve, springing more surprises and deadly obstacles as you progress.
You control your cardboard crusader with a virtual joystick on the left side of the screen. This is a floating joystick by default, appearing whenever and wherever you touch the screen, but you can toggle a setting that puts it in the corner, visible at all times.Tap anywhere on the right side of the screen to jump (or shoot, if you’re in the submarine). Tap a second time while in the air to double jump. The controls are sharp and responsive, and jumping feels right — not too floaty, nor too heavy.
Most of the standard platformer tropes are here. You jump on the heads of enemies to kill them — unless they’re armored — and lose health if you touch them in any other way. There are lots of
coins buttons to collect, along with three paper clips to look for in each level. Traversing through levels requires a mix of running, jumping, double jumping, and dying because you got the timing wrong. And there’s a boss fight at the end of each world, which involves jumping on them or shooting them three times to kill them. It’s all pretty normal fare, except for a couple of things.
I grinned from ear to ear the first time a pipe — yes, there are pipes too — sent me into the background. When this happens, you do all of the same platforming, only you’re no longer in the foreground of the image, as is the norm for such games where the background would typically just be a static painting. Paper Monsters isn’t the first game to offer a separate plane of platforming, but this is still a rare concept — and seldom is the execution so good.
Sometimes a pipe spits you back out as a submarine or flying box. Underwater sections are a great change of pace for the adventure, swapping the running and jumping for dodging and weaving and finally letting you shoot bad guys. Flying sections give you freedom to explore further, going to heights and depths you could never safely reach via platforming.
These different mechanics pop up from time to time throughout the game, never lasting for an entire level. They tighten the pacing of the adventure, which might otherwise come to feel stretched out or tedious, and actually remind me of the way Super Nintendo classic Donkey Kong Country mixed underwater and mining cart adventuring to keep its platforming fresh.
Mini-Games and Themed Adventures
Paper Monsters has three other game modes to sink your teeth into, and they’re just as fun as the main adventure — albeit without much meatiness or longevity. The Drag ’N Dash mini-game sees you running a side-scrolling obstacle course, with buttons strewn along the way that need to be collected. You have control only over when your character jumps — he/she/it runs automatically — and the course is short. Once you master it you’re unlikely to ever go back, since there’s just the one course, but it’s fun while it lasts.
The other two modes are more like extensions of the main game. The Halloween-themed Punkin’ Time is a fun six-level side-quest through a world of pumpkins, spikes, and cemetery backgrounds, minus some of the more inventive ideas of the main adventure.
Heartbreak Showdown is similarly six levels and designed much like the main quest, but it throws in the cool twist that you need to find and collect a certain number of candy hearts hidden (or plainly visible) around the level. This side-quest is also notable for having a completely-different look to the rest of the game — it’s full of purples, violets, reds, and love hearts.
There’s a kind of domestic charm here not unlike that found in Media Molecule’s LittleBigPlanet series on the PlayStation 3. Everything looks like a hand-made cut-out, and you even get a similar dancing-on-a-stage celebration at the end of each level. It’s a good aesthetic style to ape, especially when coupled with Paper Monsters’ more precise, less airy controls — which is a strange thing to say, given that touch screens are typically less precise.
Paper Monsters draws comparisons to LittleBigPlanet in its character customization, too. Just as you can deck Sackboy out in all sorts of costumes, your little cardboard-box hero can wear different clothing and accessories — which you purchase with gold buttons collected from wrapped-present boxes in the game. The selection is fairly diverse, catering to many different styles and sensibilities, but unfortunately you can only choose two of these at a time — a head-piece (eg. a hat or headphones) and a body-piece (eg. a box-shaped suit). Nonetheless, it’s easy to add a sense of individual flair for the cost of a few gold buttons.
Paper Platforming Perfection
I adore Paper Monsters. It’s cute, fun, light-hearted, well-designed, and a breath of fresh air. I usually get bored of platformers well short of the end, because of a combination of repetitive, uninventive level design and an unshakeable feeling that I’ve played the same thing before — only it was better then.
Paper Monsters avoids this by presenting a cut-out cardboard world of whimsy and wonder, which pays homage to great platformers of old without directly aping them. With tight, responsive controls and a reasonable difficulty curve, Paper Monsters is a winner.