May 25, 2024
Origami puzzler Paper Trail makes its journey through space and time, but how does the game unfold? The Finger Guns review:

Paper aesthetics in games have proven to be quite a popular approach in recent years. Games like: Gris with its watercolour paint exploding on a white canvas, Night in the Woods almost textile approach of creating life from coloured pieces of card, and Spiritfarer with the more traditional pen-to-paper look. All of them, however, exude that textured approach to bring hand-drawn visuals to life. Paper Trail takes that a step further by not being just a painting come to life but rather a malleable, foldable piece of paper on-screen embedded in the game’s core mechanics.

This is a debut for Newfangled Games but by no means the first outing for the talent behind Paper Trail. Brothers Frederick and Henry Hoffman have taken their previous experience in game design to form the studio, subsequently creating the game. Now, I’ve made a paper plane or two in my life but the way this title approaches the folding formula has me equally stumped and left spellbound. Let’s see how the paper unfolds, shall we?

Flipping Through The Pages

Paper Trail follows the story of Paige as she makes her unexpected journey to University. Paige isn’t a typical soon-to-be-student though, as she has the ability to manipulate space and time. The misadventures you go through showcase a myriad of visually lush areas. In one chapter you could be going through a dense overgrown jungle, thick with that rainforest humidity. Another will see you trawling the snowy rooftops of a bustling city. Paper Trail has an abundance of wonderful environments that can keep you guessing. However, the story isn’t quite the page-turner I hoped.

As you’re going through Paige’s journey, she provides narration, reminiscing about the time spent with her brother; someone who can also bend existence at their will. This space bending is what you see through the core gameplay mechanic. Paper Trail’s delivery of its narrative is told through illustrations on paper upon a desk, almost as if you were folding the paper in front of you. Between the main gameplay, you’re literally folding the unfolding story in front of you, as you work out which edges match the image on the back of the piece of paper.

It’s a neat way of engaging the player in the story as opposed to skipping the cut scene. With that said, by the time credits rolled, I can’t say the story will stay with me. There is a small mystery which is the crux of Paige’s story, the resolution was heartfelt, but not quite earned by the time I rolled credits. It is overall serviceable and perhaps just struggles to match the ingenuity that is the gameplay.

The Folding Path

Paper Trail makes every area essentially a new chapter. There’s only one set path to follow but the challenge throughout the game is how exactly to forge that path. As I mentioned earlier, Paige and by proxy- you, can fold the levels as you would a piece of paper. With the right analogue stick (or touchpad) you can move the cursor to highlight which part of the paper you want to fold, and then move Paige with the left analogue stick accordingly.

Think of the foldable dimensions within a piece of A4. You can fold in half both ways, take a corner and fold to the end of the other edge – is this making sense? Within the front and reverse of the pages are your walkable areas like footpaths, ladders etc forcing you to think about how you should fold next and thus transforming a new pathway for Paige. You can’t fold over Paige, so you’re constantly thinking about her footing, as well as the limitations of the paper so you can carry on the journey.

Finding Your Footing

If that doesn’t make sense still, I implore you to watch the trailer. As you progress through the levels, new puzzle elements come to fruition. To start with, you’ll have a moving platforming that you can move depending on its direction. Paige can also stand on it, so then you’re again thinking of ways to fold the paper/level in various ways to guide your way around.

To help you gauge the drawing that’s behind the level you can hold ‘Square’. It’s an invaluable tool to assist in how you think the level should fold. Failing that, there are also step-by-step instructions that show you which fold to perform as you watch an outline of the level transform.

It doesn’t hand you the solution though as you can’t see Paige or the level inside the sheet, but it’s just helpful enough to solve some of the pesky solutions. It’s a brilliant way to encourage the players to still do some of the thinking and overall make it feel rewarding.

Orig-army Of Puzzles

Paper Trail tested my patience, for sure, but it was never out of being unfair or commenting on the game’s design. I was just bad at it and too stubborn to use the hints. When I was done bashing the whole paper mill at the wall, and started to understand the way the game works it was brilliant…And then a new mechanic would be added that would throw everything I knew out the window.

The game does such a good job of implementing its rules, letting you learn steadily and then building on top of what you know. The humble yet distinct core gameplay loop unfolds into an incredibly executed series of traversal puzzles. Sure we’ve seen games bend the rules of your sandbox like Portal or Viewfinder, but like those games, it has found a footing of its own that I’d love to experience develop– even if I was terrible at it.

Alongside your travels, there are collectible Origamis to find. I know I’ve whinged about my stubborn woes of just trying to finish Paper Trails but getting the collectibles is a cut above my brain capacity. Similar to the overall objective of getting from point A to point B, the origamis are scattered alongside the areas, often meaning you have to solve two puzzles in that section simultaneously and then execute separately.

Definitely use the reverse page vision I mentioned earlier to find them because they’re tucked away outside of your normal gameplay. By going in blind this probably increased my gameplay by a wide margin as I finished on around 8 hours. There is a trophy to finish it in under 4 and I imagine that’s very doable if you’re blitzing through the main path without making it feel like a speedrun.

No Room For Paper Cuts

I’ve briefly touched on how the visuals are within reference to the game’s story, though I’d be remiss if I didn’t elaborate. Like the games I mentioned at the top of my review, Paper Trail is staggering. You’ve got the ornate art style jumping out of the pages, but it’s really the texture that you can almost feel that jump out of the screen. The crisp crackle of the paper folding, the almost parchment paper grain that flickers along with the environment, it all just adds to that cosy feeling of a textiles workshop.

The soundtrack also complements this. The minimalist approach of having sung vocal harmonies with a couple of wind instruments on top creates a whimsy that the visuals introduce. My personal experience is oxymoronic as I tried to finish the game efficiently but lacked the knowledge to do so, whilst the music was lulling me till my brain melted. In a more relaxing environment where you take your time and soak in the mis-en-scene, you’ll be easily enticed into its soothing charm.

If you’ve read any of my reviews before, you’ll know I’m an easy target for wonderfully crafted art and sound design. However, I cannot understate how excellent the core puzzle mechanic is. I do think there is a tiny bit of repetition as you start to understand how it all works, but it’s still an overall joy to embrace. Whilst I think the narrative takes a back seat and didn’t do any of the motivating for me to beat the game, I can appreciate how the gameplay speaks for itself and is a highlight for puzzle games in 2024.

Eloquent in design that never loses its puzzling magic, Paper Trail is a great entry into the puzzle genre. With perfect implementation of the ever-folding world you play through and wonderful visuals to bask in, you won’t mind if the story is by the numbers, as everything else will keep you glued to the page.

Paper Trail is available 21st May 2024 on PlayStation 5 (review platform), PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Netflix and PC via Steam.

Developer: Newfangled Games
Publisher: Newfangled Games

Disclaimer: In order to complete this preview, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.

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