EpiXR Games are one of the most prolific game publishers on the Xbox, releasing an Aery, Life of Fly, Murder Diaries or Paper Flight game every month. But while they’re one of the most active studios out there, they’re also one of the most risk-averse. Each game tends to be a rehash of the others, just with a new wrapper slapped on the front.
That’s the wisdom we were carrying into Paper Dash – Ghost Hunt, and that wisdom has turned out to be wrong – at least in this case. We couldn’t be happier that we’ve been carrying the wrong assumption. Because while Paper Dash – Ghost Hunt isn’t a gaming revelation, and it’s certainly not going to net any big scores, it finally feels like risks are being taken. As someone who has reviewed pretty much every Aery-styled game to release on the Xbox, it feels good to not regurgitate the same old criticisms.
The title is going to confuse a few people. This is not a Paper Flight game. That series, also released by EpiXR, has the player maneuvering a paper plane through devil balloons, popping them with a well-timed press of the acceleration button. There are no devil balloons and no crappy energy system in Paper Dash – Ghost Hunt. Instead, the paper plane is outfitted with some heavy ordnance and is shooting ghosts.
Now, this is a bit of a heel turn for EpiXR Games. The Aery series in particular is chill, low-speed and anti-violence. It’s pretty much an ASMR game for casuals, giving you the tingles as you swoop through architecture. To move from sight-seeing to combat is gutsy. This is not a small change.
Much like the demon balloons of Paper Flight, ghosts bob on the horizon, waiting for your approach. You can hold A to speed towards them with your little plane, or hold B to hit the brakes. Press RT and the firing happens: a constant volley of bullets that can reach halfway across the level to start damaging the ghost. Small ghosts tend to take three bullets to dispatch, bigger ones take about ten. But once they’re gone, the total for the wave goes down, and you’re circling round to find the next lot of spectres.
Each level is a sequence of waves, although waves implies that the ghosts move a la units in a Tower Defense. But they just sit there, waiting for death (or undeath, we suppose, since they are ghosts). They don’t fire or move. You merely get them in your sights and fire until they’ve blinked out of existence.
Which doesn’t quite make Paper Dash – Ghost Hunt an Ace Combat beater. While we’re making a big thing of the firing, you should be under no illusion that this is still a laid-back flight sim. But while it’s redundantly easy, it should be noted that the firing does still manage to feel good. Get a bead on a ghost, and you can steady the ship to kill it before pivoting round to the next ghost. Most of the strategy or difficulty comes from knowing which to attack first, and trying to get rid of them all without having to wheel round for a second attack.
What surprises most is that the shooting feels instinctive and issue-free. Sure, there are no power-ups, secondary weapons or anything like that, but what is here works perfectly. There are no bugs in the shooting (when EpiXR have a history of buggy releases), which means that Paper Dash – Ghost Hunt manages to find a sweet-spot where it’s not too intensive to alienate the Aery fans, yet it’s got slightly more interest for people like me; people who expect a complete lack of ambition.
It’s still got issues, and many of those carry over from the other games. The waves still feel like artificial lengthening: we were exploring the same spaces three to five times over, with an increasing number of enemies slotting into the same old nooks of the level. If the enemies tried something new with each wave, or if the level evolved over time – a drawbridge came down and suddenly we were exploring inside a castle, not around it – then the issues would be mitigated. But mostly it’s slightly larger enemies squatting in the seats of the ghosts that preceded them.
And if you’ve played more than one EpiXR release, you will be pointing at the levels, screaming ‘I’ve played this before!’. We think there is one, solitary ‘new’ level here – a spooky carnival. But the remaining ten levels are all replicated, in their entirety, from other games. There was an abandoned mansion that we recalled from an old Aery, and we guessed that an entire wave would take place in the mansion’s attic. When you can predict where ghosts will be played for a level, then you’re probably doing something wrong.
A common blot on the EpiXR scorecard is bugs. Releasing monthly games takes a toll on their games, and they often have more critical issues than they should. In Paper Dash – Ghost Hunt, there are some cosmetic issues – an achievement popped well before it should, and a couple of invisible walls stopped us from taking shortcuts – but otherwise, it held up well. This is just about the most polished of all of their modern releases.
Which is to say that Paper Dash – Ghost Hunt is something of a pleasant surprise. Sure, it carries some foibles from Aery and the others, notably the reheated arenas and overuse of repetitive waves, but it warms our cockles to see how adventurous it is. By slapping a machine gun on the front of a paper plane (aerodynamics be damned), Paper Dash – Ghost Hunt manages to add an extra, slightly more strategic layer to its well-worn template. If this is a new attitude being shown by its developer, we’re well on board.