The incredible indulgence of watching a blockbuster movie is that every second of it cost tens of thousands of dollars to produce. Each minute, a couple of million dollars of production glitz is poured into your flickering eyeballs, while you stuff your slack jaw with popcorn. Papetura is both exactly like that and nothing like that at all at the same time.
Produced mainly by lone creative Thomas Ostafin, Papetura burst onto crowdfunding site Indiegogo in 2015, but it didn’t reach its funding target. However, after four more years of refusing to be discouraged, 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 into the screenshots of this novel graphic adventure is that it is constructed entirely from paper. All of the assets are carefully captured paper constructs, atmospherically lit, animated, and then embellished with effects, button prompts, and picture-based character dialogue. The boundless intricacy of these richly textured physical objects is a unique delight, especially on the big screen. The degree of polish is spectacular, and the muted but varied tones are sublime. As a result, while it is reminiscent of stop-motion 90s gem The Neverhood, it’s less grungy and more soothing.
The simple story is based around the hero scroll Pape and his sidekick grub Tura. Beginning with a prophecy/request about Pape saving the papery world from fire, the two traverse through some strange environments and encounter briefly sketched characters along the way. It resembles the average blockbuster movie again in its length, which is around two hours.
Although Papetura is a point-and-click game on Steam, it of course comes to Switch ready for a controller. Rather than feeling like a compromise, though, using a controller really turns the game into something else. Its puzzles are distinctive in their frequent inclusion of action elements, and there are tests of skill that can sometimes be failed (with a quick and easy restart). For example, you might need to dodge falling obstacles or time your cast and reel to catch fish. Tura acts as a cannon popping out little projectiles like Yoshi in Super Mario World 2, and several puzzles involve careful targeting or planning trick shots. Left-stick movement combined with right-stick aiming and a trigger to fire almost make this Switch version feel, for the occasional brief moment, like an action platformer. However, some unfortunate scenes where it is not clear in what directions you can move, combined with Pape’s plodding dawdle, can make exploration hard going.
Papetura is a million miles away from being a blockbuster movie, yet it shares the same sense of intense energy and craft, which it distils into each second of its game time. Every crease and scrunch of its scenery and characters is shining with Ostafin’s passion. Its rudimentary and vague story, very brief running time, and control niggles do hold it back slightly, but nothing can completely overshadow its captivating presentation.