Paper Cut Mansion in the test – good design does not make a good game

Paper Cut Mansion in the test – good design does not make a good game

The market is littered with so-called rogue-lites. It feels like more titles are added every week that have to hold their own against genre greats such as Hades. This requires a unique selling proposition so that you don't disappear into insignificance next to the tried and tested representatives. Paper Cut Mansion from the developer Space Lizard Studio takes on this premise and tries to draw attention to itself with a papercraft look and a horror setting. In this test you will find out whether the work should end up crumpled up in the paper bin as a blank slate or whether it can unfold its true potential.

Three dimensions of cultivated boredom

You start after the intro with the detective Toby, who is in a mysterious mansion to uncover the mysteries of this ominous place. You use three different dimensions for this: the neocortex dimension, the protoreptile brain and the limbic system. The game always starts in the first named dimension, in which you have to look for clues and solve puzzles. In the manor house in the proto-reptile brain there are suddenly a number of opponents who you turn off with your shotgun or other weapons found later in the game. In the limbic system, on the other hand, the house has been covered with a chill, causing you to constantly lose life energy and rely on torches and other heat sources to find more hidden objects. The dimensions are always the same in terms of structure, which is why you often have to search the rooms in triplicate to find everything. The goal is to open a talking door that requires you to find a key. Along the way you will also meet various characters who will give you absolutely generic fetch quests in order to get to the designated goal. Unfortunately, there's no interesting character progression or story to be found here, so feel free to ignore the conversations entirely.

Oh, another item to investigate can be. How exciting!

© Space Lizard Studio

In the Neocortex dimension, we usually initially look for clues or puzzles, sifting through a number of pieces of furniture which we examine in Resident Evil fashion. Most of the time though, we just flip the item upside down and are rewarded with some coins that act as in-game currency. It's so repetitive that the player quickly starts examining the item without looking too closely. Pick up, spin, collect coins. Sounds fun, and it is. Occasionally, for example, a ghost comes out of an examined furnace, which announces itself by "Jumpscare". Then you have to run away for a short time because you cannot defend yourself in this dimension. After a short time, however, this disappears again and you can resume your investigation. Sometimes items will fall over and damage you if you don't get out of the way in time. The puzzles that arise are quickly solved, run according to a plan and after a short playing time you have already felt as if you have seen everything. For example, you solve a letter lock that uses circled symbols on a piece of paper to show you the order in which they are to be entered you for the first time to the shooting iron and are confronted with all kinds of nasty vermin. From ghouls and zombies to ninjas there is a lot. Overall, the fights are pretty unspectacular. There is no dedicated dodge roll like in other genre representatives, you can only use your weapon and aim. New weapons will be added later, but nothing that would knock off the stool of inclined rogue-lite enthusiasts. Often the most effective method is to run backwards while simply locking-on targeting enemies who are extremely resilient, completely unfazed by your shots and showing zero hit feedback while the Knift fires with no ammo required. That sounds as undemanding as it is. The opponents often show their moves beforehand with an indicator, so that you can either avoid them without any problems or you don't have a chance anyway, which rarely happens. Your goal here is usually to kill a special enemy so that you can advance in another dimension. The standards here aren't particularly high and you don't have a real sense of progression either, since you don't get better with every run through perfected mechanics such as dodge rolls.

The medals after completing quests don't change that either For example, give a passive bonus to your strength. The whole progression system is boring and doesn't make you want to start multiple runs.

Shot, shot, shot... A fight like this can take a long time.

© Space Lizard Studio

The limbic system is freezing cold and you are constantly losing health unless you go to safe, warm places that restore life energy. The third dimension seems absolutely superfluous and half-baked. In principle, the goal here, just like in the Neocortex dimension, is to look for clues or solve simple fetch quests. The difference is the time pressure created by the cold. That's it already. The health bar is individual for each dimension, so if you are badly injured, you can switch dimensions to avoid screen death. As soon as a gauge is empty, the run is over, regardless of how you are doing in the other dimensions.

The papercraft look and the soundtrack are really good and add a lot to the atmosphere in the game. However, you quickly get the feeling of "style over substance" here, since the gameplay mechanics seem superimposed and are not the core of the game. As good as the style looks and the soundtrack may sound, the overall flow of the game is poor. The motivation to start a new run is extremely low when you're already allowed to collect three bottles to satisfy an NPC or turn over hundreds of items only to discover coins again. The procedurally generated levels are also not exactly conducive when it comes to a beautifully designed game world. One notices far too often that certain rooms are useless and yet appear far too the same. You can virtually watch the parameters as the room is created. Four walls, three pieces of furniture that stand on the walls and are searchable, possibly an NPC and there is a certain percentage chance that a piece of furniture will "suddenly" fall over and cause you damage. You as a player should then please get a fright, even if it couldn't be dull.

But wasn't there also talk of a horror title? The mansion is said to be spooky and occasionally uses jumpscares, but they really shouldn't scare anyone. The entire story about Toby comes across as trashy and humorous and can actually only be classified in the horror genre by the setting. There would have been a lot more there. Technically, the switch port can be described as okay at best. The game often drops below 30 FPS and noticeably jerks, which definitely cannot be excused given the level of detail and the general appearance. The controls are definitely designed for mouse and keyboard, which you will notice for the first time in the menus at the latest. Anyone who still develops mouse pointers that can be moved using an analog stick in the best Destiny manner has understood absolutely nothing about good menu navigation and should torment yourself through your own menus.

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