Game name: Paper Cut Mansion
Release date: October 27, 2022
Available on: Steam
Genre: Survival horror, roguelite
Developer: Space Lizard Studio
Publisher: Thunderful Publishing
It feels like ages since the last time we talked about Paper Cut Mansion, and now that I go back and read that article, I can confirm that my feeling was correct, as it’s been more than two years. Over that period of time, the game matured and has finally been released, so it’s time to ask the question I asked then once more. Can horror be charming? Back in 2020, based off the trailer, I concluded that yes, horror can definitely be charming. Will my thoughts stay the same, or will they evolve as I play the game? Accompany me in this journey to find out!
Let’s start by establishing what sort of game Paper Cut Mansion is. While technically a survival horror title, Space Lizard Studio‘s latest offering has a lot more in common with a point and click adventure than it does with Resident Evil 2, for instance. Then there’s the roguelite aspect, which I don’t feel was truly needed but, to its credit, works with the game’s narrative. So, we have a title that takes a good amount of inspiration from the adventure games of yesteryear, and manages to sprinkle some survival horror action on top, with a sometimes unhealth dose of roguelite trappings to top it all off. A quirky combination, and one that hasn’t really been attempted much, or at least I don’t remember many games going for it. How does it work though?
The basic idea behind Paper Cut Mansion is that our hero has to navigate not one but three different dimensions that share the same physical space, but have rules that only apply to each one of them, and wittily managing resources and doing what’s required of us in each realm or dimension, we’ll be able to unlock a trapdoor that lets us progress to the next level or intermission. If we wish to access these realms we must first find their specific portals, which isn’t exactly hard, as those things glow in the dark and emit eerie noises.
This means we have a puzzle solving dimension, where we’ll interact with furniture, rotate objects in order to find the money strapped to their backs or bottoms, and figure out what to do with certain clues so we can open doors and move forward. How do we get those clues? Simple, there’s a specific realm for that, but we also get a new threat, in the form of an ice cold atmosphere that eats away at our resistance, and requires the player to get near sources of heat and light from time to time. In this dimension we’ll be able to investigate objects that are relevant to the narrative, as well as find clues. But where do we get to the shooting bit we saw in the trailers, you ask? Well the, there’s the third realm, where we’ll find monsters, and our character will pull out a cute paper shotgun to blast them to bits. There’s a fair variety of enemies to fight, and certain tools can be unlocked to make our life easier, but overall, the shooting aspect of the game is very much an afterthought and not the main course of the meal.
As we navigate the titular Mansion’s floors and meet new characters that give us side quests, we’ll obtain medals that act as skill points and can be assigned to a number of attributes, helping us to deal with threats more efficiently, or to open certain chests that were previously out of our reach, for example. It’s all very basic, but it works well, so I have no complaints about this system. What I will note, however, is that any side quest that requires killing a specific amount of enemies in the combat dimension can become softlocked if we found and killed all (or most) enemies in the level before finding the quest giver, as the game doesn’t respawn foes in a level we’ve already explored, even if we travel between realms using the portals. This isn’t game breaking, but it feels like it’s more of a bug than a feature, as it’s very easy to annihilate half a level before ever finding a quest giver, depending on where we started.
The puzzle aspect of the game is excellent though, full of inventive roadblocks that will always have you going “a-ha!” once you finally manage to get past them. The idea of the three different dimensions also works very well to make the game’s relatively small play spaces work a lot better. There’s secrets hidden everywhere, quirky characters to meet, and pieces of the plot to discover (and speaking of plot, I was actually quite enthralled with Paper Cut Mansion‘s narrative, as this cutesy-looking horror title more than delivers on that front).
Moving on to the audiovisual side of the game, if there’s an area where Space Lizard Studio delivers, it’s this one. Graphically, Paper Cut Mansion is a tour de force, with a very particular art style that makes the game instantly recognizable, and lovingly crafted animations for every moving piece. Of course, that also extends to the sound aspect of the game, as our ears will also get to enjoy the sound of paper folding and moving around, as well as a charming yet ominous soundtrack and some excellent musical sections.
I did experience weird performance issues and strange bugs that locked me out of the game forcing restarts at inconvenient times, but hopefully the developer will be able to iron out these. The controls are also a bit wonky at times, but that’s already being worked on, and as of the latest hotfix, the mouse behaves a lot better, for instance.
So, what do I think about the game, does it successfully merge charm with horror and puzzle solving? Oh yeah, Paper Cut Mansion certainly delivers on that regard. Space Lizard Studio‘s latest is a very charming roguelite that manages to tell a compelling story while serving up inventive puzzles and serviceable survival horror action. It might not earn a spot on anyone’s Game of the Year lists, but I’ll sure look back on it fondly at Christmas time.
8/10 (Very good)