A Blank Sheet

HIGH The wonderful animation of paper.

LOW The tedious puzzles.

WTF The main character looks like South Park’s Towelie.

Papetura is a point-and-click adventure. Without any overt narration (textual dialogue is omitted) this short story is about an unconventionally-shaped creature navigating an unorthodox habitat being threatened by an enigmatically-motivated evil, intent on setting the environment on fire. On the road to saving the place we meet a string of new friends who each help the main character progress this undefined journey. Ultimately, it ends up being a conventional ‘beat the bad guy’ kind of plot.

The 2D gameplay consists of navigating confined environments and solving local puzzles. A major tool, next to walking and climbing, is the interact button. Interacting with the right objects and inhabitants (and at times avoiding obstacles as they appear) is the key to success. Furthermore, a convenient slingshot-like item operated by our main character allows us to interact with some objects from a distance. Since the gameplay is minimal, Papetura’s focus appears to be on its atmosphere — more on this later.

During Papetura’s short runtime, the player is presented with a multitude of puzzles. Mainly, these are straightforward-yet-minimally-explained challenges such as a fishing minigame or a Pac-Man-like task. Peculiarly, none of these puzzles demand creative solutions – I found the answers to be so basic that they were easily overlooked, and they usually demanded excessive patience rather than clever strategy.

For example, one level requires us to traverse a body of water, and we’re presented with a sea monster, who is aggressive toward our character upon contact. Armed with our slingshot, we may get the monster on its back by hitting its fin-like appendages. Meanwhile, onion-shaped creatures perpetually fall from the ceiling. Our slingshot’s ammo bounces off these creatures, allowing us to make surprisingly-angled shots to ambush the creature. This, then, is what I at first attempted.

The actual solution? Lure the monster to a certain position by standing at its level and waiting for an onion-shaped figure to fall on top of its fin. That’s all there was to it, and it was far simpler than what I thought a properly interesting approach would be. Such a basic task represents the depth of Papetura’s overall design, and obstacles like these make playing through the adventure feel tedious, even with its considerably short runtime.

In terms of gameplay, there’s not much else to say about Papetura. However, there is one element which holds weight and value all of its own accord — the visuals are handcrafted, and the entire affair is created out of literal paper. Suddenly, there’s a new element to consider.

For starters, Papetura’s unorthodox characters are granted a new significance. They are no longer undefined and enigmatic creatures, but instead represent the very matter through which the animation arises. Even though their characteristics remain unclear (in fact, the main character resembles Towelie from South Park) we now know that in a way, they represent the spirit of animated fantasy itself.

The story, about a threat of fire destroying the habitat, also makes a lot more sense in this context. While it may still be too abstract to draw much thematic meaning from it, the cryptic symbols in Papetura‘s speech balloons (there is no actual text) now fits nicely within the material context. The slow pace of the game may reflect on the slow-paced process of handcrafting animation, bringing the player closer to the central theme of paper. But above all, the result is a wonderful-looking world that is precisely created for this specific journey, simple as it is, to take place in.

…And yet, it feels like being a videogame is not the right medium for this content. Despite the attractive appearance, I found the visual design confusing, with some environmental details obscuring the paths that could be taken, at times hindering my process. At more than one point, a subtle slide down or up was the only way forward, and it would take me more time than is reasonable to find it due to the graphical murkiness.

Furthermore, despite Papetura‘s interesting nature, the puzzles were not entertaining and the story lacked a strong central theme or premise beyond ‘paper’. As a demonstration of the craft involved in animation, Papetura is a wonderful artifact. As a videogame, it is considerably less successful.

Rating: 4 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Petums. It is currently available on PC, PS5, XBX, and Switch. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Switch. Approximately 2 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to PEGI, Papetura’s rating is 7+. Themes of fire, destruction, and even critical (yet not visible) wounds are present, but otherwise this is a title accessible to all ages.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game does not offer subtitles. There are no relevant audio cues, and text dialogue is lacking altogether.

Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable.

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