The incredible indulgence of watching a blockbuster movie is that every second of it costs tens of thousands of dollars to produce. Every minute, a few million dollars worth of production glitter is being poured into your flickering eyeballs as you stuff your slack jaw with popcorn. Papetura is at the same time exactly like that and not like that at all.
Primarily produced by lone creative Thomas Ostafin, Papetura burst onto crowdfunding site Indiegogo in 2015 but failed to reach its funding goal. However, after refusing to get discouraged for another four years, the game made it to Steam in 2019. If there’s a clearer example of a gaming passion project, we don’t know what it is. So while the megabucks aren’t flying at your face as you play, every background in the game, every animation, every puzzle, and every scene is made of pure, highly concentrated graft. And it feels like an indulgence and a privilege to play.
What draws you to the screenshots of this new graphic adventure is that it’s made entirely of paper. All assets are meticulously captured paper constructs, atmospherically lit, animated, then embellished with effects, button prompts, and image-based character dialogues. The limitless intricacy of these richly textured physical objects is a unique delight, especially on the big screen. The degree of shimmer is spectacular and the muted yet varied tones are sublime. As a result, while it’s reminiscent of ’90s stop-motion jewel The Neverhood, it’s less grungy and more soothing.
The simple story is based on the hero role Pape and his sidekick grub Tura. Beginning with a prophecy/request about Pape saving the paper world from fire, the two traverse some strange environments, encountering briefly sketched characters along the way. It again resembles the average blockbuster movie in its length, which is about two hours long.
While Papetura is a point-and-click game on Steam, it comes to Switch ready for a controller, of course. Rather than feeling like a compromise, using a controller really changes the game into something else. The puzzles are distinctive in that they often contain action elements, and there are skill tests that can sometimes fail (with a quick and easy restart). For example, you need to dodge falling obstacles or time your cast and reel to catch fish. Tura acts as a cannon that shoots small projectiles like Yoshi in Super Mario World 2, and several puzzles require careful aiming or planning trick shots. Movement with the left stick combined with aiming with the right stick and a trigger to fire almost let this Switch version feel, for now and then short moment, like an action platformer. However, some unfortunate scenes where it’s not clear which directions you can move in, coupled with Pape’s plodding dawdling, can make exploring difficult.
Papetura is a million miles from a blockbuster movie, but it shares the same sense of intense energy and craftsmanship that it distills into every second of its playing time. Every fold and fold of the landscape and characters sparkles with Ostafin’s passion. The rudimentary and vague story, the very short running time and control problems hold it back somewhat, but nothing can completely overshadow the captivating presentation.