If I may borrow a note from the Boromir meme that’s going around nowadays: “One does not simply review Paper Monsters (Out January 26, $0.99) without discussing aesthetics first.” Robots vs. Wizards and Crescent Moon Games have scored a total visual knockout, bringing us one of the most beautiful titles ever to grace iOS. Good thing too, because there’s only the barest semblance of a story and the player’s avatar is literally a walking cardboard box with a smiley face painted on it; the player gets sucked so quickly into Paper’s pop-up book world that these potential turnoffs are easily forgiven. If the startlingly realistic origami textures, the catchy atmospheric tunes, or the dynamic lighting don’t get to you, certainly the fact that Paper’s parallax-scrolling backgrounds serve as playing fields unto themselves will. You’ll see what I mean a few minutes in, and your jaw will drop.
All that said, a game can’t just sit back and look pretty — it has to be darn fun, too. Much of Paper’s appeal lies in how many gameplay elements it plucks straight from the console classics: warp pipes, spring-loaded mushrooms and snowboarding segments leave the game feeling like that high-budget Mario and Sonic mashup you always wanted. This works decisively to Paper’s advantage because all the tried-and-true platforming tropes are masterfully worked into varied environments here. It rises to its very best, of course, on the occasions where the developers stir in unique twists; levels where the boxy hero folds itself into a little submarine or helicopter are sure to become favorites.
The range of platformers that have hit iOS in recent months have given us plenty of occasion to discuss the ways a game’s fun might be baked into environments or else into the player character. Paper is definitely a case of the former. Levels hide tons of little secrets and branching paths, but it’s all our stubby-limbed hero can do to bop enemies on the head and pull off a double jump. Even boss battles depend on leveraging environment objects like mines and cannons.
Where Paper Monsters earns such a lofty score is its perfect interface — it’s the best I’ve seen in any platformer that’s hit the App Store yet. I’m not talking about the default virtual joystick; I have my usual misgivings about the way the player can place it too close to the touchscreen edge. The real star of the game is Paper’s backup control option, a virtual D-pad that hits on a design principle I’ve mentioned quite a few times in my critiques: touch response area is king! Paper’s D-pad may look woefully small at first blush, but the response areas around it are so generous I never missed an intended step. The bottom-right corner of the touchscreen reacts as one big jump button for all intents and purposes, and that works well for me.
The developers sure have guts, letting Paper Monsters release with 16 levels in a market where the expectation is something like, what, a billion stages nowadays? To their credit, these levels get pretty big, and the player who absolutely loves to play dress-up will spend plenty of time finding the gold pieces needed to accessorize the hero. There’s also an infinite runner mode for those who haven’t tired of that genre yet. Otherwise Paper can be counted on for a solid three to four hours in a straight playthrough, and more levels are promised in updates.
iFanzine Verdict: Paper Monsters sure is beautiful, but it isn’t just about looks. There’s a masterfully designed – if traditional – platformer underneath the glitz and glamor, and it’s all backed up by a wonderfully solid interface. With its lighthearted mood and well-varied level design, this is your new go-to app for the kiddies — but chances are it will take you back to your own childhood as well.