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Paper Trail review: A charming yet complex origami adventure

Paper Trail review: A charming yet complex origami adventure

A delightful top-down puzzler that proves there's immense depth in delicacy

Paper Trail is quite simply dazzling. Much like the artform it is based on, that of origami, it is both simple and complex, creating a juxtaposition that really heightens the game’s sense of challenge and reward. An origami swan may look delicate, but it’s a robust creation made with only the most exquisite and accurate folds. Origami reminds us of the depth there can be to something that on the surface may seem so simple, a lesson that’s similarly reflected in Paper Trail.

Players assume the role of Paige, a teen who’s ready to journey off to university, much to her parent’s sadness. It’s a somewhat odd journey to get there, with the one and only path taking Paige through a series of kooky locations. With Paper Trail being a top-down puzzler though, of course, things are not that simple. Every level represents a piece of paper which’ll display a broken path that Paige must traverse. It’s up to you, the player, to fold the page until you complete the path allowing her to progress through to the next location.

Take a look at Paper Trail in action below.

Paper Trail’s concept is an easy one to fall in love with, particularly given the fact that the game does carefully ease you into things. To begin with, there are just a few small gaps in the stone path that lies ahead of Paige. With a few sequential folds, it’s easy enough to progress on with a somewhat naive sense of confidence, as I did.

Paper Trail will soon humble you though. There are nine chapters to progress through, with each new locale offering an increased sense of difficulty. Before long, you’ll also be able to utilise a number of moving platforms, allowing developers Newfangled Games the opportunity to up the ante on the puzzles.

This is all pleasant enough and, at this stage, still relatively easy to follow along with. At the touch of a button, Square on PlayStation, you can reveal what lies on the backside of the paper level you’re on, helping you to visualise where you might need to fold. A level may be solved in as few as four or five folds, whilst others are much lengthier. To fold the paper, the game utilises a cursor.

Paper Trail /
Newfangled Games

On PlayStation, you hover over the edge or corner you wish to fold with the cursor, and hold down R2 to drag it to your desired location. Typically, I’m somewhat critical of cursors in console games but I have to say, it works perfectly well here. As soon as you’re near a particular edge or corner, Paper Trail senses it, adding some much-needed breathing room when it comes to accuracy or lack of.

It’s when you reach the swamp that Paper Trail really takes things up a notch. With the game’s basic concept under your belt, you’re thrown a new challenge in the form of boulders. In addition to getting Paige from A to B, you’ll need to transport a number of boulders onto certain stone switches that’ll help open up the path forwards.

Let’s not forget that you’re already dealing with broken paths, many of which are only one square wide. Now, you’ve got to contend with shifting about a stone that can only be moved forwards and back or from side to side. I’ll admit, Paper Trail isn’t going to be for everyone. Once the stabilisers are removed, it requires some serious thinking but for those of you who were raised, like me, on franchises like Professor Layton, your problem-solving skills will be put to perfect use.

Paper Trail /
Newfangled Games

That’s not where the increasing intensity ends either. In other locations, you’ll need to traverse over to a key before returning to a locked doorway, whilst later chapters will also involve teleporting doorways and manipulating light beams in order to activate certain mechanisms to help you proceed.

On the larger levels, it’s easy to look at the page and just think, “Where do I begin?” Thankfully, Paper Trail has an answer for that too. If you are stuck, the game has a generous built in hint system. On PlayStation, you can press Triangle to reveal the sequence of folds you’ll need to reenact to complete the level.

I’m not ashamed to say that on occasion, I did utilise this but what delighted me most wasn’t the availability of help. It was the fact that this help didn’t strip the game of all of its puzzling goodness. Yes, these ‘hints’ take away the challenge of working out where to fold the page, but they don’t tell you where Paige should be situated at any given moment, nor what you should be doing with any movable obstacles like boulders or light-reflecting surfaces.

Paper Trail /
Newfangled Games

This meant that after folding a page the way in which the hint had told me too, I’d still have to look at the fold and ask myself a number of questions. What’s the significance of folding the page this way? Can I continue on with the next fold given the location of both myself and the moveable obstacles? That was key to understanding whether I was on the right path.

Elsewhere in the game, I was happy to go it alone but having that helping hand there made certain that I was still able to enjoy Paper Trail even when my brain wasn’t feeling as switched on as it perhaps might’ve been during other sessions.

There’s a delightful sense of charm to the game’s aesthetics and sound design. It really does feel like you’ve stepped inside a magical storybook, the pages quite literally becoming your gateway to the tale that lies ahead. Characters you meet along the way will speak in a series of nonsensical noises that if playing on PlayStation, will sound from your DualSense’s speaker adding a welcomed sense of silly to cut through the oftentimes intense concentration before you embark on your next challenge.

Paper Trail /
Newfangled Games

If Paper Trail has a hindrance, it’s only that its story is oh so very simple. Then again, that’s clear from the start. We’re getting Paige from her home to university, from A to B. She’s the first from her village to achieve such a thing though. The strife we go through to get Paige to university echoes the challenges she’s been through to break through the status quo and secure a position there in the first place. There’s a carefully considered connection between the game’s story and the way this is represented via the gameplay. It just simply isn’t the most emotionally arresting story you’ll encounter this year.

Still, I find myself totally blown away by what Paper Trail offers. It’s a simple story told via, what appears on the surface to be, a rather simple gameplay mechanic and yet Paper Trail is anything but simple. From relief to joy, this is a game that elicits so many complex human emotions all via the simple art of virtual origami. It’s a charming game that I hope to see on many year-end lists and easily my favourite indie of the year so far.

Pros: accessible level of challenge thanks to hint system, unique puzzle mechanic, charming world and soundtrack

Cons: simple story

For fans of: Professor Layton franchise, Venba, Journey

9/10: Exceptional

Paper Trail is due to be released on PlayStation, Xbox, Steam, and Nintendo Switch on 21 May (tested on PlayStation 5). A review code was provided by the publisher. Read a guide to our review scores here.

Featured Image Credit: Newfangled Games

Topics: PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo Switch, PC, Indie Games