Beautiful in concept and creation, Papetura may not be complex in design, but it's certainly enthralling from start to end.
Reviewed on PS5. Review code provided by the developer.
Before sitting down to write this review, I played Papetura twice. The first time I practically reached the end before being waylaid by life and mistakingly thinking the game would save my progress – it did not. On the second playthrough, I started off rather annoyed before I sat back and lost myself in the music once again, the beautiful art style, and a certain sense of endearing adventure that I don’t think I’ve quite had in a game before. While Papetura is short, it is by no means a half-experience, quite opposite in fact, and my only wish with the game was a good one: I wanted more.
Papetura is a game that went through development for seven years, developed by the studio Petums. The catch? It is a one-man company that serves as the brainchild for Tomasz Ostafin, a Polish architect who made Papetura in his own time. As expected of a one-man game, Papetura is simple, elegant, and most importantly, beautifully imagined.
The story of Papetura can probably be summed up in one line, and in that one-line summary, it would simultaneously be filled with spoilers. So on that front, play Papetura, and find out its more “overt” narrative for yourself while seeing what story you take away in your own interpretations.
Akin to Journey, most likely some of the inspiration behind Papetura, the game is delivered without dialogue, and relies solely on music, crumpled pieces of paper in the shape of speech bubbles, and a whole lot of artistic styling. In fact, it’s the artistic style of Papetura that is its main selling point. Crafted from real-world paper mache backdrops, Papetura, has a slow, sometimes janky appeal that gives it a stop-motion feel that’s both cinematic and wholly unique. At times its animation and little creatures felt plucked from the mind of Henry Selick, but more as a homage rather than creative theft. Everything in Papetura is themed around paper, and that’s where its heart lies: endearing, wholesome, and whimsically intriguing.
Papetura does a lot of whimsy, sometimes to great effect, and occasionally at a grating pace. The character you control slowly bumbles through the world he inhabits, but when pushing objects have you fall over every time you interact with them, Papetura risks taking time for granted. In fact, Papetura has a lot of backwards and forwards, something it takes for liberty and only just manages to pull off because of its beautiful world. In a different game with a different art style, whimsy would potentially be shortchanged for frustration.
Thankfully though, Papetura is a short experience, meaning even its backtracking and sometimes slow puzzle solving never has a change to overstay its welcome. Granted Papetura‘s 1.5 hour game time would probably only be an hour if your controllable character walked a bit faster, but as a design point that really wants you to pay attention to the level of detail that the crafted world is created with, it’s forgivable and somehow relaxing.
It goes without saying this sense of relaxation comes from a soundtrack that often conjured moments of Hollow Knight and Ori and the Will of the Whisps. It soothes and captures the more emotional elements of the game’s narrative, all the time being the perfect backing to simple puzzle solving, and the occasional calming effect it landed on rare occasions where I was stuck on what to do. Even the rare occasions where the soundtrack was swapped for sounds of the game world (my favourite being the short intake of breaths your companion makes when using them as a paddle to your raft), Papetura takes care to find the perfect inclusion of them that only enhances the beauty of its world.
From a gameplay point of view, Papetura is simple. You move a character, interact with puzzles, and occasionally play mini-games like a short reimagined Pac-Man that has your companion fleeing through a maze as he holds onto a key for dear life. Occasionally, the puzzles border on the tedious, slowly watching a hook fall to the deepest recess of a lake or pushing a walking weight that your character always falls over to in response. That said, Papetura is a short-game, and thankfully those grievances eventually boil away to nothing as you finally move to its closing moments.
There’s an irony in the fact that this review has taken me longer to write than a playthrough of the game, but I don’t see that as a shortcoming. In fact, Papetura could inspire an essay in response, but for now, you’ll have to do with this review. Would I recommend it? Absolutely, even if it’s just to get lost in that soaring soundtrack and beautiful world-design.
Papetura is out now on Nintendo Switch, and releases for PlayStation and Xbox on the 9th March, 2023. You can watch the trailer below: