Paper Dolls Original is a first-person horror game. You play as a man who has just experienced a car accident and has woken up in a large abandoned mansion. As you attempt to locate your daughter, you encounter several enemies that haunt the corridors of the manor.
While Paper Dolls Original does a great job at creating a spooky and eerie environment, its muddled story, below par sound design, and unfair puzzles distract you from feeling scared, which should be the main intention of a horror video game.
Paper Dolls Original is available for purchase on the Nintendo eShop for $16.99.
Paper Dolls Original starts off with your character driving. As he vocalizes his internal thoughts, things quickly turn south when he suddenly gets into a car accident. When you awaken, you are in an Asian mansion that was built near the end of the Qing Dynasty. As you gather yourself, you see your daughter disappearing into the dark and gloomy halls. You attempt to locate her and brace yourself for the evils that could be hiding around every corner.
Within the game’s menu, you instantly have access to some journal entries that your character wrote prior to the events that occurred at the start of the game. It’s pretty transparent that your character suffers from serious mental illness to the point of suicidal thoughts. As your character experiences odd and supernatural experiences, it makes you wonder if everything you see is actually happening, or if it is illusions of an unwell mind.
As you make your way through the manor, you discover several documents that attempt to shed some light on the history of the house. However, even after collecting several documents, I still did not have a good grasp of the overarching narrative. I was able to piece together that the notes were left by the same wraiths who were terrorizing you, but I felt the developers could have leaned in a bit more when it came to explaining their backgrounds.
Paper Dolls Original‘s story was my biggest criticism of the game. After the credits rolled, I was left confused and felt that the story was extremely disjointed. Even though dialogue from the ghosts and the discovered journal entries did outline some backstory, I was left with the unanswered question as to what purpose the story was trying to tell.
When it comes to gameplay for horror games, it’s crucial to find a formula that never feels repetitive. The main objective is to scare the player and if developers rely on cheap jump scares, that terror will fade quickly. Unfortunately, the gameplay loop in Paper Dolls Original loses its originality fast, leaving the scares much less impactful. Within the first 30 minutes of the game, you start to realize picking up items, solving puzzles, and hiding from enemies is really all you will be doing.
Paper Dolls Original focuses on the hide-and-seek mechanic. As you explore the house, you will find yourself encountering these “paper dolls” who will attempt to kill you. Having no weapons or resources, you will rely on going undetected as they zero in on your location.
Several rooms have furniture in them that can aid in hiding your presence. In addition to finding places to hide, you will have access to one safe room where enemies won’t be able to reach you. It is also extremely important that you save your game every time you enter the safe room as Paper Dolls Original does not have autosave.
As for the enemies, they move at a fairly slow pace. Getting away was never that challenging. When I did get caught, it was usually my fault for going into a room that had no other exit. For the moments where getting away quick is necessary, your character does have a “sprint” function, but he will only go for a few short steps before panting for air as if he had just run a marathon. I understand that giving your character infinite sprint would completely remove all difficulty of getting away from enemies, but being restricted to running a measly 10 feet is incredibly silly.
While you walk the halls of the house, you will notice several doors are locked off. You have to find keys scattered around the manor in order to gain access to different rooms. Some of these keys are simple to find, such as on a table or in a drawer. Other times, you have to solve puzzles in order to get your next key. The puzzles were pretty unbalanced when it came to difficulty. The first major puzzle you encounter didn’t take too much thought to solve, whereas later puzzle solutions felt as if they were created from thin air.
To be completely honest, I came across a couple of puzzles where I just couldn’t figure out the solutions. Even after I found a solution from a walkthrough online, I still didn’t understand why that process was the answer to the puzzle. Most times if I have to seek some help when I get stuck, I at least realize I was the one making the mistake. That was not the case for Paper Dolls Original where it constantly felt unclear. Ultimately, this type of gameplay is fairly standard for a horror game such as Paper Dolls Original, but it lacked any originality that puts it above other games of this genre.
GRAPHICS AND AUDIO
For the most part, Paper Dolls Original’s graphics are fairly decent on the Nintendo Switch. The game runs on the Unreal Engine, which can sometimes be a gamble for performance on the console. While playing in hand-held mode, textures and objects aren’t completely clean and crisp when you get up close, but it never negatively impacts gameplay. If you are interested in checking out the game for yourself, I would recommend looking at other platforms that may do a better job from a performance perspective.
The game can also be a bit dark and hard to see. Paper Dolls Original does have an option to adjust brightness, so players can sacrifice the feeling of being afraid in the dark in order to get a better view of your surroundings.
As for the game’s audio, the music was well matched for the environment, but every sound effect felt as if it was from a royalty-free sound clip website. For example, every door in the mansion has the same canned sound clip when you open the door. Recycled sounds may help with a game’s budget, but it will make an impact on the tone of the game.
Another annoyance was that the sounds of the enemy’s footsteps matched the sounds of your characters. I never knew if that footstep I heard was coming from myself, or an enemy making their way towards me. That being said, you could look at that from a different perspective and see it fits perfectly into the horror genre trope of “What was that noise?”
There were several instances where the audio would come to abrupt stops. At one point, my character was shrieking in terror as an enemy lunged towards him. His scream was cut off prematurely, which obviously was unrealistic.
When picking up in-game items, the eerie background music would stop. I initially couldn’t understand why the developers made that choice, but it’s possible some technical restrictions pushed them towards interrupting the mood.
The voice acting is another noticeable blemish. Whenever my character delivered dialogue, it felt campy and unrealistic for what was happening in the world around him. At no time did I believe my character was actually afraid of the ghosts and if my character doesn’t seem scared, why would I be scared? Paper Dolls Original is clearly not a big-budget video game, but even smaller titles should hold some sort of minimal expectations when it comes to sound design.