Very few people like being told what to do, especially when it involves the enforcement of something they disagree with. While some see it as a nuisance and just comply to avoid trouble, many of the residents in Paw Paw Paw – who happen to be anthropomorphic animals – have not taken kindly to their ruler’s latest law. As such, there’s an uprising led by some of the populace and the resulting war is played out as a 2D side-scrolling beat ‘em up. Is Paw Paw Paw a barking mad idea that makes for a fun experience, or is it ultimately a toothless affair?
In terms of originality, Paw Paw Paw delivers an interesting concept alongside typical beat ‘em up gameplay, and is rather enjoyable to play. There are a couple of areas in which it is lacking though, so don’t expect a direct rival to the likes of genre behemoth Streets of Rage 4.
So, what’s going on in Paw Paw Paw to cause such an uproar? Well, the great leader, King Bunnylord III, is suffering from a bout of madness, which may be related to a recent meteor landing. All of a sudden, he’s decided everyone must wear pants from now on or face his wrath. Those opposed to such nonsense, including all sorts of animals, have formed a resistance known as the Antipants group. You’ll join the Antipants and fight for the right to live free without the restrictions of pants, no matter who or what gets in your way.
The premise works because it’s so silly and lighthearted, making proceedings quite humorous during the text-based conversations between the warring factions. While dogs appear the driving force behind the movement, it’s funny to see ferocious bunnies battling alongside bears, rats, and a goat. This slice of narrative merely serves the purpose for the core of the game and doesn’t matter too much, except to lighten the mood a tad as both sides look to tear each other to shreds.
First though, you must decide upon a character to use from the four available at the start: Archer, Barbarian, Botanist, and Warrior. The Archer possesses a bow, enabling enemies to be slain from distance, while the Barbarian swings a mighty axe to cause much damage, albeit at a slower pace. For a real nimble fighter though, the dagger wielding Botanist is ready and raring to go. The classic Warrior however, is more of a classic all-rounder equipped with a sword and shield. It’s a decent selection when you factor in the four unlockable extras and the fact you can switch them between levels allows you to find out which playstyle suits best.
Once settled on who to pick for the battles ahead, it’s time to delve into the 30 levels on offer via the Story mode, catering for up to four players locally. They’re mainly swift and straightforward, taking no longer than 5-10 minutes each, which seems ideal for a beat ‘em up. Venturing from left to right, the aim is to defeat every enemy you happen to encounter; ranging from rats and different types of birds, to rottweilers and cavemen.
The arsenal of attacks at your disposal isn’t vast, but two regular ones, two special abilities and a few additional combos to unlock are just about enough to avoid it feeling too repetitive – the level pace helps in that sense as well. Some of the abilities are lacking in creativity, but the standouts include raining down a load of arrows onto the battlefield and trapping enemies within plants. Through earning experience and levelling up though, you can spend the skill points acquired on a skill tree to improve the special maneuvers. Here, it’s also possible to put them into tree nodes to increase stats such as defense and strength. Again, not the most inventive list of upgrade options, however there’s nothing to be overly critical of.
If you’re going it alone, it’s not easy by any means and so if you think mindless button smashing will see you through Paw Paw Paw, you’ll be wrong. Dodging, jumping and blocking to negate damage taken is essential, with regular baddies proving tough and wily. Although the challenge is welcome, it sees the boss encounters become terribly difficult and in some ways quite unfair. Whether it’s the giant cave-baby, the fire-spreading eagle or the knights who are seemingly going for a Batman homage, they’ll absolutely drain your health bar in a flash; sometimes quicker than you can drink a potion to recover.
Despite the dread of trying to overcome a boss, it’s good to have them appear every few levels to ensure plenty of variety. That’s not all though, as there are a handful of gimmicky levels to tackle also, with snowboarding down a hill, pushing a cart towards an enemy camp, and navigating dangers while falling into a deadly pit, among the activities. Furthermore there’s a general freshness in place due to the many environments you’ll fight within and the hazards littered throughout. Expect to traverse the forests, the inner-city, caves, mountains, a train, and more, en route to taking down the king.
So far, so good on the whole, but Paw Paw Paw certainly has some areas to improve on. From a technical standpoint, the hit boxes are irregular and it becomes more apparent when using a ranged fighter like the Archer. Arrows that should meet their target instead fly past it and it’s a little frustrating. Further to that, the AI companion you can hire is practically useless, often dying with a whimper. Given that they cost a hefty amount of in-game currency – food – you might as well not bother.
Outside of the campaign, there are two other modes, but I really wouldn’t recommend wasting too much time on these. Survival pits you against waves of enemies in the most drab looking environment and you just last as long as you can. And then there’s the VS mode, for you and up to three others to go head-to-head. Both seem tacked on for the sake of it and don’t bring much to the table.
Overall, Paw Paw Paw on Xbox is a pretty decent beat ‘em up that doesn’t take itself too seriously and is reasonably priced for the fair few hours it will take to get through. There will be retries and replayability as you come up against some darn tough enemies, but the short levels help alleviate stress. Variety is really good throughout the levels too, but it would be nice to have more moves at your disposal. Unfortunately, the faltering AI companions and unreliable hit detection puts a damper on things.
While it doesn’t really excel in any area, as long as you like a challenge, then Paw Paw Paw does enough to satiate your beat ‘em up needs and is worth a look.