They aren’t bad, they’re just drawn that way
Kickstarter has made it possible to resurrect old game franchises and genres once thought to be dead and buried. Paper Sorcerer starts out as most dungeon crawlers do; you are trapped in a dungeon and must work your way out, battling various foes in the process. What sets Paper Sorcerer apart is the interesting storyline; you are an evil sorcerer trapped in a book, who must unbind the book in order to escape into the real world. The spirit of the book comes to you in the form of a mouse to help you escape your cell.
Gameplay is exactly what you would expect from a turn-based RPG. You use energy when you perform skills and that energy refills slowly each round. You can then use leftover energy outside of battle for healing. Each team member and enemy has Hit Points and Defense Points, the best way to defeat enemies is to overtake their Defense Points first then drain their HP. Outside combat the control scheme is the usual WASD movement and mouse look we’ve all come to expect from a first person perspective.
Dialog in the game can be a bit strange: “It feels like your body is getting pushed through a cheese grater, but not in a painful way.”. Exactly how do you pull that off? Each stage is called a block and each block is made up of four or more levels. The last level is occupied only by the boss of that block. After the battle is finished the sorcerer un-binds that section of the prison book.
The “safe zone” of the game is known as the Sanctuary. This is the place where you can go to buy new armor, weapons, and potions from a zombie. You have a room here, and you can train with a goat-human hybrid master. You can also talk to a few of the vile villagers wandering around through the streets. Though this section of the game is presented as a 2D menu so you cannot do the wondering yourself.
Within the sanctuary is an optional side quest you can find souls that have escaped the book’s catacombs. One soul is found in each of the blocks. These challenges feature a seemingly endless supply of enemies but powers can be increased or a series of rewards can be found at the end of each level of the Reaper’s Dungeon.
Menus featured in the game are saturated by a large number of options available to choose from. This can cause some irritation and confusion when looking for a simple upgrade to armor or an accessory, to use it becomes a quest in itself. It wouldn’t be surprising if you found yourself taking notes in order to figure out what you wanted to buy, then equip, then sell off what you didn’t need anymore. This is our main gripe with the game.
Musically the game is impressive, featuring a 1980s synth pop vibe. The battle music particularly shines as it calls back to older RPGs, giving a sense of urgency. Ambient music fills the halls of the game while the player explores. Sound effects are interesting and well placed, and almost sound as if they were directly ripped from an early 1990s video game.
The games visual style is impressive; the whole thing is done in a pen and ink design, similar to 2009’s MadWorld. It’s a simple but very effective stylization that conveys the game’s central theme. Most interestingly, prior to combat, enemies are shown as a collection of ink blots which can occasionally be avoided on your way to the exit. Some items in the background disappear when you look at them from another angle. This may be due to the limited color palette they chose. Battle animations are in a retro stylization switching the games 3D world into a classic 2D battle sequence. Both friend and foe alike have movement in combat.
Paper Sorcerer is a love letter to older MacVenture style games such as Uninvited and Shadowgate. Because of this homage, it is not an easy thing for a newer RPG fan to get into. The game features a brutally punishing mode called 1980, for those that want to be tortured just like the old days. Perhaps the most impressive thing about the game is that it was built from the ground up on the Unity Engine by two people, Jesse Gallagher and Kim Crenshaw. Paper Sorcerer boasts Steam Achievements as well as trading cards. At $5 Paper Sorcerer is a cheap old school dungeon crawler that will keep you entertained for hours on end.