Paper Sorcerer is one of those successful Kickstarter projects that has been released to the exact specifications that were promised in its Kickstarter campaign. If you didn’t back the original campaign, be sure to go and pick up this cheap little indie game. Because it’s ace.
Much like Might & Magic X and Legend of Grimrock, Paper Sorcerer is a love letter to classic RPG dungeon delves. The difference here is immediately obvious; Paper Sorcerer has a truly spectacular and unique art style. When I was a kid and reading the classic first edition Dungeons & Dragons manuals, the black & white drawings in those books appealed to me because, as simple as they were, they put a picture to the words perfectly and suggested adventure in exotic locations.
Paper Sorcerer is those art works given life. The high contrast hand-drawn aesthetic is wonderful in full motion, and makes the full 3D world to a joy to explore. Levels are small, contained pockets of adventure and set entirely within a dungeon’s enclosed spaces, but I have my fingers crossed that if this idea is successful, the developer gets more ambitious with the next game and does something with the same art style in a more open world. Wandering around the world is like exploring one of the dungeons of a game like Skyrim, and after a few hours I really hoped to see more than labyrinths, but was never quite satisfied there.
That’s not so much a criticism of this game, though, but rather a wish for the future. Paper Sorcerer as it stands is perfectly fine as a throwback to early-era Wizardry and Might & Magic games. The fact that there’s an “80’s Game” difficulty setting (and it’s darned hard on that setting) is a pretty good indication of what you’ll be experiencing in this game; full turn-based combat with tough enemies that demand clever use of minimal resources to survive and move on to the next conflict.
The character system in this game is quite interesting. The main character is a sorcerer, who can “summon” a wide range of allies to battle. A skeleton is a solid melee defender, for instance, while a goblin fulfills the role of a thief. Players can spend resources to level up these allies’ skill sets and equipment, but aside from that these allies are not especially customisable, with their skill development being automatic as they level up. This might seem limited at first, but there is such a range of these summons to choose between that there are many different ways that you’ll be able to approach the game.
There’s a good range of enemies to fight with, visually speaking. They also tend to hit hard, but the game’s combat doesn’t get as complex as something like Might & Magic X and working your way through the game is much more a matter of figuring out how to manage the damage dealt by the hard-hitting enemies and then win combats through a war of attrition. This certainly keeps true to the combat themes of the Wizardry games of the 80’s, but it was disappointing that a game with such a striking visual style had enemy AI that wasn’t modernised like it should have been. The art was more than enough to pull on the nostalgic strings, we didn’t need such straightforward enemy designs as well.
With that said the combat was easily forgivable, because the game’s entire premise is fascinating enough to keep players working through it. The reason that the game’s world looks like it does is explained at the start; you’re playing as an evil sorcerer who was trapped within the pages of an artifact book by a party of heroes. This isn’t a case of mistaken identity, either; the sorcerer is a genuinely bad dude and the book is a prison for the world’s greatest evils. While the premise never extends itself into allowing you to perform evil acts or explore the morality around such a character, the “prison of the damned” tone throughout the game is an intriguing one, and the game does a decent job of keeping the narrative surprises coming from start to finish.
The only time that Paper Sorcerer betrays its indie roots is with the soundtrack, which nearly made my ears bleed. Given how easy it was to turn off, however, I’m not going to complain about it, because in the broader picture, this game is genuinely good fun, and a true retro rush for people that grew up with classic RPGs.
– Matt S.
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