Sometimes, a game doesn’t have to suck up hours and hours of time to have a lasting impact on players. While A Tale of Paper takes less time to finish than a movie, its simple and emotional story left me wanting to experience it all over again. Although the game features some annoying camera issues, and has fairly generic platforming, I found myself thinking less about timing my jumps, and more about the beautifully crafted world I was exploring. For an entirely linear game, its different levels were surprisingly rich and different. And, it succeeds in wonderfully in creating a whole range of emotions in each level; I swerved from panicked, to relaxed, to saddened within minutes. This game excels at storytelling, even if it comes up a bit short in its gameplay.
Story – A heartfelt journey
It’s hard to explain how a story of few words made me feel quite the way I did while playing A Tale of Paper. While the game’s narrative remains pretty unclear until at least half way through, discovering the game’s story through subtle hints led to a greater emotional response than I would’ve thought. To be clear, this story isn’t fed to you with cutscenes or dialogue. You have to look around in different areas, and pay close attention, to figure out what’s going on. And, while I feel like even touching on what the story is would ruin the experience, it’s a tale of loss that wraps up in one of the more touching climaxes I’ve seen recently.
While the above explanation of the story might not be the most clear, it’s more important to view the story through its effect on the player. A Tale of Paper doesn’t have hours on end to tell its story, but it utilises what time it has to make something that resonates with you. For a game with a paper figure as its protagonist, the story feels surprisingly human. And, the mystery of what’s going on is part of the game’s charm. Waking up with no explanation as Line (the figure) encourages the player to push forward, seeking out answers.
However, there is a small issue with how the game tells its tale: collectibles. In each of the game’s 8 chapters, finding a collectible allows you to see a little part of the backstory (as a drawing) when you return to the title screen. These collectibles are mostly easy to find, but some are hidden quite well. With so little explanation in the actual game, it feels unfair to lock key parts of the narrative and backstory behind these collectibles. But, when you find them all, it does provide the player with a small but important clarification on what happened.
Gameplay – conventional puzzle platforming
A Tale of Paper‘s platforming is based on the concept of origami. Line can transform into a number of different origami creations, each with their own abilities. The frog can only move by jumping, the ball can roll down narrow tubes, and other forms also help navigate specific challenges. The game’s platforming was at its best when it forced me to change rapidly between these forms; however, the rarity of these occasions was startling considering how much potential the concept has. And, while the second half of the game features all new, all different forms, the platforming sections were still too short to really utilise these.
These platforming sections, while actually quite good, often suffer from problems with the camera. The game features a fixed camera, meaning platforming is sometimes hampered by being unable to see Line. And, although these problems don’t often result in deaths, you can end up missing jumps and starting all over again. Where the platforming felt quite smooth, it was occasionally interrupted by getting stuck somewhere I couldn’t see.
Also, some of the puzzles and mechanics really felt like they could’ve been expanded on. Line can move screws with his mind, but you only see this power when he opens vents. This small mechanic had the potential to add a lot to the game’s puzzles. But, instead, you only ever see it for opening doors to other areas. And, while the puzzles themselves are quite good, they have the same problem as the platforming: time. While neat bits like turning pipes to get the right water flow were fun, they weren’t frequent enough to fully realise their potential. Overall, in a game where the focus is on the emotions created by the world and story, the gameplay takes a bit of a back seat – a shame, considering how clever its concepts are.
The world from down low
For a game that is in some places so bright and beautiful, A Tale of Paper can also create a lot of tension. In the same way as Little Nightmares, it turns mundane parts of our world into enemies and hazards. Cleaning machines zip about, looking to shred you to pieces. An entire level is devoted to fleeing a spider – which, from Line’s perspective, is like a giant frostbite spider in Skyrim – that is, huge and horrifying. The game really knows how to use perspective to add to tension or excitement. While I’ve mostly highlighted enemies, the platforming also nicely weaves in real-world objects in a fun and unique way. From jumping between bird boxes while ascending trees to crossing hanging ceiling lights, Line’s perspective on our world gives you something familiar but new to traverse (or avoid).
Speaking of the world, level design is actually one of the game’s stronger points. While the platforming and puzzles were indeed infrequent, each level acts as its own distinct and well-designed area. Each level has a different tone, and platforming that uses the different environments well. Earlier sections in a house use boxes, tables and chairs as obstacles, whereas the later observatory level has lots of space-related barriers. Each of these different sets of obstacles help to differentiate the actual platforming as well – the spider chase feels very much like a simple run and jump bit, while the observatory has you using all the origami forms. Overall, the level structure splits up the gameplay into thematic chunks, and it does that well.
Graphics and Audio – Simple yet stunning
Visuals and music are both essential to A Tale of Paper‘s story and atmosphere. In the absence of dialogue or text, the game’s varied soundtrack is the true driving force behind a lot of the emotions you experience when playing. Sections designed to provoke terror feature strong beats to get your heart pounding. More contemplative sections have much softer music as a backdrop, that creates an atmosphere of both joy and melancholy. And for visuals, the game’s art style is truly stunning. It strikes the right balance between realism and style; each part of the game looks detailed, yet fits the slightly cartoony approach. A lot of the storytelling is done through the look and sound of the game. Without its great art and music, a lot of the game’s emotional resonance would be lost. With it, this game perfectly hits its poignant highs and lows.
A Tale of Paper was reviewed on PS4, with a review key provided by Jaleo PR.