STAFF REVIEW of Paper Trail (Xbox One)

Monday, June 17, 2024.
by Peggy Doyle

Paper Trail Box art I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but I love cozy Indies, especially puzzle Indies. Paper Trail caught my eye when I saw the first trailer. It’s a cute game where you use paper folding to complete and solve problems to move your character through the game and story, and also to find hidden collectibles. What seems like a simple concept on paper (no pun intended) ended up being more complex gameplay than I anticipated, and in the best way.

Developed and published by Newfangled Games, Paper Trail is a top-down puzzle adventure about leaving home, set in a foldable paper (origami) world. You’ll play as Paige (quite a clever name), leaving home to complete her studies. You’ll traverse the world and discover many secrets along your journey.

As with all great Indies, you have to start with a backstory. Paige’s parents aren’t thrilled with her wanting to leave to pursue her studies because of the disappearance of her younger brother some years ago. But, as all good parents do, they eventually support their daughters desire to spread her wings and leave the safety of the nest. I’m not exactly sure where this university is, but Paige must traverse caves, swamps, temples, and remote towns on her journey.

Luckily, Paige has the ability to bend the world around her by folding paper, revealing paths and collectibles along the way. The core gameplay boils down to moving from area to area by folding the paper to create new paths to follow. As mentioned earlier, although a simple concept, I often found myself stumped (in the best way). Paper Trail was an exercise in patience and a real workout for my brain at times. No scene ever felt like busy work and each level was well thought out and deliberately crafted in such unique ways. The folding paper mechanic blends seamlessly with the other puzzle mechanics in the game, like pressure pads, statues, portals, moving stones, and light activated switches.

You can fold the paper from top, bottom, left, right or diagonally. You can even view the other side of the paper at any time so you can plan your folds. The only rule is that Paige, or moveable objects like stones and statues can’t be on the piece you are trying to fold. Not only do you need to determine how to fold the paper, but you also need to determine how far to fold each fold. Folding is done using a cursor, Right Stick, and Trigger to grab and fold. Relatively simple, but sometimes finicky on the controller.

Each section presented a new and distinct environment to move though. Each one delighting me and encouraging me to move on to see what would be waiting for me around the next bend and fold. Each section starts out with small movements, culminating in a larger and more complex puzzle requiring many folds and manipulations to complete. You will need to backtrack frequently, fold and unfold repeatedly to find the solution you seek. Many times, I found myself stumped, and often was tempted to use the built-in hint system. I loved that the hint system isn’t presented as an easy mode. It shows you where and how to fold, but not when, still encouraging you to figure it out on your own while providing guidance to those who need it.

Each section has a collectible in the form of an origami item. The hint system will help you finish the level, but not assist on how to get the origami collectible. Your level of enjoyment may vary depending on how you feel about being stumped at times. There are no enemies, time constraints or fail states, so feel free to take your time solving the puzzles. One minor gripe though, I would have loved an ‘undo’ option. The ability to backtrack a step, or many steps vs having to remember how to refold to backtrack would have been very helpful at times. Thankfully, the reset option only resets the current puzzle you are on and not the entire biome.

Important note, if you are an achievement hunter, there is an achievement to complete the game without using hints, and also one for completing the game in under 4 hours.

Despite it’s colourful storybook feel, I didn’t feel like I got a satisfactory ending to the story. Maybe that’s on me for having unrealistic expectations as to where the story was heading in my mind. Perhaps the story isn’t the most important part of the game. Either way, I felt a little unsatisfied after my journey, although not completely disappointed.

Along with it’s delightful visuals, a soundtrack by Claudie Mackula is full of whimsy and sorrow and complements the gameplay well in tone and feeling. While Paige’s diary entries are fully voiced, most of the dialogue in game is either text only, or nondescript sounds simulating speech. Not my favourite, but it’s functional.

At the heart of the story, Paper Trail is about living your life despite your past, and living your life in the moment and to its fullest. This is a story I think can resonate with everyone. It’s about forging your own path, literally, even when you have been told "No". Paper Trail is a perfect example of a simple mechanic executed well. It’s sweet aesthetic blends nicely with just enough spice in the difficulty presented with the puzzles and doesn’t create a sour experience with overstaying its welcome. It’s a fantastically balanced game that I will encourage anyone to check out if they want to give their grey matter a little workout while engaging in a cozy story.

**Paper Trail was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 8.5 / 10
Gameplay: 8.0 / 10
Visuals: 9.0 / 10
Sound: 8.0 / 10


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