Welcome to This Is Not A Review. In these articles we discuss general impressions, ideas and thoughts on any given game, but as the title implies, it’s not a review. Instead, it’s an exercise in offering a quick recommendation (or dismissal) after spending enough time to grasp the ideas and gameplay of a thing without necessarily playing it from A to Z.
The subject of this installment: My Beautiful Paper Smile, developed by Two Star Games and published by V Publishing.
My relationship with horror games is somewhat strained. I dislike typical ‘scary face’ caricatures because they’re overdone and weaken whatever substance their story was supposed to convey. Far worse than caricatures, however, are jumpscares. I despise them and feel they’re a cheap, ungrounded and somewhat unethical way to make a game ‘scary’.
Still, some of my favorite games belong to the horror genre — the thing is, they’re dystopian horrors that make the story and world scary rather than relying on shocks or creepy faces. With My Beautiful Paper Smile, I’d hoped that the overused plotline of citizens being forced to wear smiling masks at all times would lead to an experience of intellectual horror, but my first impressions paint a different picture.
Perhaps I should have heeded the warning posted at the very start of the game — Paper Smile occasionally uses light flashes to scare the player. Still, this 3D third-person dungeon crawler-like adventure drew me in with a black-and-white paper cut-out aesthetic.
The player starts as an unnamed character in a prison that represents a society. Its inhabitants are ‘Joyous’ — those who wear a smile mask on their faces and are restricted to only a few areas. It seems like the concept of a panopticon has heavily inspired this title, and I was interested — or at least I was until I got to the gameplay, which is dungeon exploration.
The Joyous carry a ‘life’ (similar to a torch) with them which keeps the darkness out. Most of the play area consists of walls, and a majority of exploration results in walking into dead ends and a few items. There’s not much difficulty in the exploration itself, but there are lethal enemies that relentlessly pursuit the player, and upon contact, cause a very offensive jumpscare.
While Paper Smile‘s gameplay is supported by some environmental storytelling — such as writing about death and torture on the walls — the story itself doesn’t feel substantial or distinct enough to legitimize slogging through these jumpscare dungeons. If My Beautiful Paper Smile is capable of delivering more than a quick shock, I didn’t see it.