Fernando Da Costa
Afterpatch Review: Paper Cut Mansion
Developer: Space Lizard Games
Publisher: Thunderful Publishing
Available On: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, and Nintendo Switch
Review Console: Nintendo Switch OLED
IT AIN’T NO PAPER MARIO! - Introduction
I’ll be honest; providing coverage for Paper Cut Mansion was a juggling act of indecision. I’d go from interest to disinterest, but something about the dreary, papery aesthetic finally latched on. The horror tinge also left me genuinely curious. It’s a far cry from the lightheartedness of other delightful romps sporting the same style. While I knew that perhaps the laughs would be toned down immensely, I hoped they would be replaced by disturbing imagery. Well, this title didn’t help that expectation, be it unfair or not, because the very first message I see warns of a troubling experience. I put in a request and waited eagerly - waiting, waiting, until finding out it was quietly delayed. Needless to say, that’s a red flag. Disrupting my schedule, too, but I did still give Space Lizard Studio a pass. Was it the right call?
WAIT, WHAT GENRE IS THIS?! - Writing
Let’s discuss the storyline because, at first glance, I knew nothing about the plot. Hell, the first thing I’m exposed to is a skeleton sporting an identical hairdo which piqued my intrigue, but it also spawned confusion. You see, Paper Cut Mansion is described as a Roguelite Horror, but that’s never made clear to the player. The writing leans heavily towards the silly side of the literary spectrum with a mix of fluff. There’s no attempt to focus on tropes such as the grotesque or the unsettling. When referring to the tale it tries to weave, the execution makes a mess of that front, too. In fact, I’m still trying to make sense of what happens as I type up this write-up. To put it bluntly, it lacks cohesion. The puzzle pieces don’t seamlessly fit, and the finished product comes out half-baked.
Make no mistake; the concept is creative. Sure, it’s one we’ve seen countless times, but it was shaping up to have a unique spin. Then you read the dialogue, and that all crumbles into dust. The potential is squandered. Not to mention that the explanation given for side quests never attempts to instill fear. To be honest, though, I actually enjoy the interactions with the NPCs because they’re the one instance of personality. Even then, it’s just a sliver, which isn’t very reassuring. I would’ve much rather Space Lizard Studio abandon striving to be a frightening journey and lean into the comedy. It’s obvious what we have here favors a foolish adventure over spookiness, so go with that. This game would only benefit from the tonal shift and allow the NPCs to shine.
SHH, I’M INVESTIGATING! - Gameplay
One of the main features of Paper Cut Mansion is the ability to closely examine the furniture and other Knick-knacks sprawled throughout the procedurally generated areas. It’s pretty vital, too, as that’s the way you complete the vast majority of side-quests that are given to you. Now, not everything is searchable, of course, but it’s easy to discern what can and can’t - a white outline indicates such, helping to streamline the session. That said, I was still terribly disenchanted by the absence of an incentive. Yes, while locating items crucial to completing the demands of these NPCs is enough, the instances of that only occur maybe twice or thrice. By default, the common find will be money. Initially, that’s fine, but once you run out of objects to purchase, it wilts down to irrelevancy. Granted, there are boosts found with this method, as well, but that’s a rare occurrence.
SPONGEBOB, IS THAT YOU?! - Gameplay
The second common objective of side-quests is to enact a hit essentially. See, a few NPCs are rather muffed by the appearance of certain enemies, asking you to go out to make sure they’re silenced. It’s a pretty common goal of genres across the board and something I often did in my many decades of gaming. What differentiates Paper Cut Mansion is, and not in a good light, is how effortlessly said foes absorb damage. In other words, my attacks are being sucked and reduced to fragile jabs thanks to their spongy nature. It’s pretty frustrating and prime fodder to become boring. The one reason for such an implementation that I can think of is to prolong the length artificially. As is, the duration will clock in at roughly six hours, give or take a couple of minutes - it’s a short king.
PICK A CARD, ANY CARD! - Gameplay
As with any Roguelite, there must always be that permanent element. You know, something that carries over to a subsequent run after death. Paper Cut Mansion is not very dissimilar in that respect. Scattered in a handful of areas are equipment cards that grant various perks. They come in three primary forms: weapons, armor, and helmets. Naturally, I can toss one of each on, but I must keep switching out if I fancy another. Reading this, I’m sure you’ve concluded that builds are possible. Sadly, that isn’t the case because try as I might, they lack any kind of actual unity. Sure, their effects may somewhat be alike, but nothing truly feeds off the other. I love the idea here, but unfortunately, execution leads to an uninspired title - it needs fleshing out.
To put it frankly, the absence of experimentation leads to being unengaged and going through the motions. I’m not actively participating in the game because there’s nothing about it I feel compelled to see. I realize I’m being overly pessimistic. For that, I want to look at the positives. For instance, I enjoy that chests are scattered around, requiring a specific level in a stat to grab the contents. That’s probably the only usage for the equipment cards I mentioned above. Without them, it’s tough to obtain higher quality treasures because you lack intellect, for example. By giving yourself an advantage from the get-go, it’s no longer a real issue. The caveat is, while you may get brand new trinkets to utilize, once you exhaust all of the available ones, opening these boxes becomes, at the risk of repeating myself, very redundant to do.
WHAT DOES THIS DO!? - Gameplay
After so many paragraphs, it’s clear that Paper Cut Mansion is problematic, but not for being an awful romp. The mechanics are just barebones. There’s also an inability to convey itself properly. I don’t mean with the narrative, however. To be precise, I’m referring to the aspects that coalesce together to make up this journey - to specify further; it’s those previously touched on statistics. Apart from one, I have no earthly inclination of what any do. Sure, they all utilize an icon for representation, whether a sword or a shield. My instant assumption to them is that these manipulate strength and defense, respectively. Well, when I bolstered the latter, there was no boost. If there is an improvement, my not noticing is a testament to the need for some explanation - perhaps tinkering with balance, too, so that bonuses, if any, are a little more evident.
DON’T CUT YOURSELF! - Presentation
I must applaud the visuals. They’re frankly the best facet of Paper Cut Mansion. I’m a big fan of the cardboard environments particularly, but the character models also come with their own charm. Maybe I’m being off-kilter here, but the design of every NPC has a Tim Burton flair to them. If vibrancy is something you expect, banish the thought because, thanks to the tacked-on horror label, it isn’t welcomed. I am surprised by how impressive the level of detail is when it comes to the furniture, though. Much effort went into nailing an old-timey appearance to the various chairs, drawers, and other objects scattered throughout. There’s just something special about the crafting vibe. Unsurprisingly, there is muddiness to the resolution. It’s perplexing since it’s simplistic, suggesting subpar optimization. Regardless, I do quite like the cartoonish graphics.
DO YOU HEAR THAT?! - Sound Design
Paper Cut Mansion won’t have much by way of a soundtrack, at least not when it concerns the musical side. Sure, there are occasional musings here and there, but it seems to concentrate on delivering ambiance. For the most part, I wouldn’t say it nails it in spades, but it’s adequate for what it is. It’s just a shame the score is, well, given the confusion of whether it’s horror or not, that indecisiveness carries into it. Granted, there’s the slightest inkling of creepiness, but that’s overcome by a ton of genericism that’s neither fear-inducing nor inspired. That said, I loved it when I’d transition into a brand-new area. There’s a vocalized song that’s charismatic and quirky. Sure, it’s the epitome of being out of place in a supposed fright-fest, but hey, it was delightful. Hell, I’ll say it, it’s damn entertaining.
AND THE STATIONARY VERDICT IS…
Paper Cut Mansion is having a major identity crisis, struggling to pinpoint who it is regarding genre. The warning in the beginning, setting the stage to a terrifying time before being entirely contradicted by the goofiness of the NPC's dialogue, is jarring. I was getting some hefty whiplash. The ideas for mechanics are exciting and, dare I say, poised to create a short but sweet romp, but everything is undercooked. I thought due to the unannounced delay, Space Lizard Studio would iron out the many features and give them substance. That’s not the case, however, making me curious about what occurred. Sure, If I were to peel back all these layers, intrigue would be found. The thing is, every mechanic is in desperate need of beefing up. In a Roguelike pond that’s overcrowded and deep, such raw notions aren’t going to shine.
PAPER CUT MANSION IS NOT RECOMMENDED!
Special thanks to the Publisher for the review code used for the purposes of this coverage