We can’t deny that Flat Kingdom: Paper’s Cut Edition has a lot of ideas. But it keeps adding more and more, to the point where it wobbles and falls off a cliff. We imagine a version that left a couple out: it might have been something special.
Idea number one is that Flat Kingdom: Paper’s Cut Edition is a papercraft platformer. This isn’t necessarily new – Tearaway and Paper Mario hold up your hands – but on Xbox, a world that’s been cut out with scissors and pritt-sticked together is reasonably fresh. It makes Flat Kingdom: Paper’s Cut Edition stand out from the Xbox Store crowd, and we’d go so far to say that it looks above the indie par.
Idea number two is to include a bit of character-switching. Now, this one is definitely tried and tested: from Lost Vikings to Lemmings, switching characters to overcome different obstacles is a tale as old as time. In Flat Kingdom: Paper’s Cut Edition, there are three characters, and they are all available at the press of an X, Y or B button.
B turns the main character – Flat – into a circle. Circle can double-jump and move at a reasonably fast lick, so acts as the all-rounder. Pressing Y turns Flat into a triangle, who is a curious mix of extra-fast but rubbish at jumping. Finally, X turns Flat into a square, and Square is a lumbering oaf. It can push blocks and sink to the bottom of water, but it’s slow and jumps like a brick. We will try not to be offended that the shapes are clearly chosen to match the buttons on a Playstation controller.
It’s a system that works on paper, but – oddly – is a bit naff in execution. There’s nothing wrong with the character switching itself: that’s fast and intuitive, and you can pull off changes mid-jump or mid-run, which is essential for some of the combination power-ups that you unlock in the latter game. What makes it so clumsy is the difference in value between the shapes.
Circle is god-tier. The levels are absolutely riddled with double-jump platforms, so you need Circle out almost all of the time. It makes you notice how often you need a double-jump in a platformer, even when platforms aren’t around: it keeps enemies at a distance, and it makes you feel more secure when you wander into an unknown area.
Square and Triangle are garbage. The lack of a meaningful jump, let alone a double-jump, means that they feel dumpy. Triangle’s speed doesn’t mitigate it: you rarely want to move fast, as it’ll just catapult you, Sonic style, into an enemy that you hadn’t prepared for. And Square – pfft, Square – is ridiculously, painfully slow. There is no need for Square to be as laborious as they are. Even when you do need Square for the push of a block, you’ll be sighing and tutting as they take forever to get there.
And onto idea number three. This idea is to bring a bit of rock-paper-scissors to Flat Kingdom: Paper’s Cut Edition. Or, more specifically, square-triangle-circle. In the Flat Kingdom world, square beats triangle, triangle beats circle, and circle beats square. When an enemy clambers into view, it will be associated with a shape – some of them might look a bit like an actual square, triangle or circle – and it’s down to you to choose the right shape and headbutt them, sending them spiraling offscreen.
Much like the character-switching, it’s good in theory, rubbish in reality. For one, it’s about as intuitive as an oven clock. Sure, you can bring up a permanent prompt that sits on the screen and reminds you what-beats-what, but that’s papering over some cracks. We couldn’t wrap our head around it for a good hour, and it left us wondering why it didn’t use actual rock, paper and scissor-themed enemies. It would have saved so many headaches.
But the real kicker is that the enemies often don’t look like circles, triangles or squares. A designer somewhere might think they do, but they don’t. What does a pelican make you think of? Or a killer whale? Or a volcano? The answers might not be the ones that you think. It’s a constant stream of trial-and-error, bumping into enemies in the hope that something good might happen, and then switching quickly to another shape. It’s not exactly a triumphant feeling every time you encounter a new enemy.
And don’t get us started on bosses. These screen-sized enemies shift their weaknesses around with each phase, making them fun to look at, irritating to master. Too often we were death-staring the screen, screaming ‘what do you want from me?’. The killer whale in particular can do one.
If Flat Kingdom: Paper’s Cut Edition kept to one of the ideas and buffed it to a mighty sheen, this review would be glowing. A character-switching game where every character is viable, with some strengths to go with their weaknesses, would get a fat green tick. A rock-paper-scissors based puzzle-platformer, with enemies clearly made from each material, might have been a winner.
Because the six levels in Flat Kingdom: Paper’s Cut Edition are lovely. They not only look good, but they have some imaginative moments, and plenty of collectibles tucked away. Remove all of the ideas and chuck Rayman into the levels, and you’d have a passable platformer.
But Flat Kingdom: Paper’s Cut Edition couldn’t help itself. It overburdens itself with different mechanics, and the simple, effective platforming ends up being sunk by its ambition. It is death by a thousand paper cuts.
You can buy Flat Kingdom: Paper’s Cut Edition from the Xbox Store