London Games Festival 2022 preview: Paper Trail

Latest 20 Apr 2022

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Robert Maclver, member of Film London's Equal Access Network

Robert Maclver, member of Film London's Equal Access Network

Film London's Equal Access Network (EAN) recently got involved with the London Games Festival 2022 (April 1 -10), previewing a selection of games chosen as part of the festival's Official Selection. Below, EAN member Robert MacIver gives his thoughts on puzzle adventure Paper Trail.

A new indie game currently in development by a small team at Newfangled Games, Paper Trail is a fiendishly head-scratching puzzler wrapped in a delightful and charming package. I got a chance to play a demo for 60 minutes on this unique adventure.

After the beautifully rendered watercolour origami title, you begin your journey as an unnamed girl on an adventure to help her local townsfolk after a storm. This pleasant opening gives us our introduction to the mechanics; the girl helps out the townsfolk by folding the page of the screen and overlapping it to create new pathways; recreating broken bridges, clearing fallen trees and fixing a lighthouse. From there you venture into a cave system and are then left to your own devices; the tutorial on the mechanics is over and you have to use your wits to solve puzzles from here on out.

When you first play the game you are instantly transported to a place that looks like it can be viewed through the lens of a child's imagination. From the watercolour vistas, to the peaceful music, you can get lost in the world and relax. This is complemented by the style of the game, a puzzle game where you can stop and think rather than be under pressure to react quickly like so many other games. The controls supplement the aesthetics with a one button set-up that make it a game that's intuitive and quick to pick up.

This experience has a Jonathan Blow vibe, like his smash hit indie games Braid and The Witness, with a beautiful cartoonish art style laced with deceptively hard puzzles. I’ve gone through the wringer over the years on difficult puzzle games and had assumed, wrongly, that Paper Trail would be a walk in the park. What I didn’t expect was how hard it drops you into the deep end right after the tutorial.

Paper Trail, courtesy of Newfangled Games

Paper Trail, courtesy of Newfangled Games

Keeping with the style of a children's story, the origami-esque folding mechanics seamlessly fit in, as if the player were a child folding over pages to create their own story. The mechanics of this game are simple and easy to pick up - it is nice for once to not be overburdened with controls, as this game only requires one button so far.

You point and click at any tile on the screen and your character moves over to that tile. The puzzles come from clicking the corners or the side of the room you are in and dragging inward. In essence, folding the room in half to reveal a different floor on the underside of the playing area, allowing you to create a new path or image to solve the puzzles. Variety comes in the form of new mechanics gradually introduced, for example rolling rocks from one fold to another across the map. This allows a multitude of options to find the solution.

At the end, I felt like I was only just getting introduced to the innumerable possible objects/puzzles this game can throw at you and I am curious to see where they’ll take it. These extra rules add complexity to the puzzles that I welcome and will no doubt see more of as the game progresses.

Overall I really enjoyed this demo. I have a soft spot for games that lean into their art style and this splashed the screen with texture and spirit that left me wanting more. You can see Paper Trail is a labour of love by the creators and creating a unique vision with heart is one of the great perks of working in a small studio. I love that I can just sit back and enjoy the art and music whilst trying to figure out how to solve the riddle of any particular room. The unique puzzle mechanic is something I have never seen before and going into this blind, I was eager to see how they were going to set me the challenge. They didn’t disappoint. The puzzles function as well as they should and allow for some mind-bending paper-folding critical-thinking that I am all here for.

Paper Trail was selected as part of Made in London, 2022 Official Selection. Find out more about Paper Trail.

London Games Festival is part of Games London, an initiative delivered by Film London and Ukie, and Funded by the Mayor of London.