A gamer and writer at heart who wants to combine his hobbies into one. I am 25 years old and I'm from the Netherlands. Having played many games over the years, I wanted to express my love for them, however obscure they may be!
Though I do love the Super Monkey Ball franchise, I have only played a select amount of games. I mention this franchise specifically because Paperball is obviously inspired by it. Of course, I will judge this game on its own merits without comparing it to its inspiration, but this does mean that I may give praise or criticism that diehard fans might scratch their head at. My apologies in advance if that happens, but that does hopefully result in truly giving this game a review as a stand-alone game. Before I started writing this review, I’ve made sure to test out every mode (except for Multiplayer) and also finish every level including the three DLC packs. This does also include all Encore stages! I know journalists are supposed to have a bad rep for not being able to get past the first level, but I did it!
Also a short disclaimer: Paperball is still getting updates in the forms of DLC and more, and a Nintendo Switch release with exclusive content very soon. I felt that the core game is more than worthy enough to get a review though. If any major changes happen, this review will get updated!
If there is any company that just does not know how to deal with their franchises, it’s SEGA. They look at a few specific ones, namely Yakuza and Sonic the Hedgehog, and neglect most of their other IPs. The Super Monkey Ball fanbase is no exception to this, with the only game in recent years being a remaster of one of the more disliked games. I am of the opinion that some fans are overexaggerating when they say the majority of the franchise is bad, but putting that opinion aside for another day, it does still show that SEGA doesn’t know what the fans want. And that’s when we look at indie games again!
I don’t remember how I came across this game exactly, but I feel I was either looking at the Super Monkey Ball: Banana Splitz HD page and then looking for similar games, or found a well-known Youtuber in the SMB fanbase stream this game. Regardless of how I found it, it was love at first sight. This looked to be exactly the game many of us have wanted for years, and I couldn’t wait to play it. So without further ado, let’s roll into Paperball!
Paperball is made by Cliax Games, a small indie developer founded by Austrian developer DJ Coco with help from many freelancers across the world. Their driving force is not just to make games that fill the gaps in this wide industry of indie games, but especially games they would like to play themselves. Founded in 2014, they released their first game a year later called Nulldrifters on Steam, with two other games called The Lower Right and Shape Impact following. A few other games were also in development such as the main inspiration behind the studio’s name, Cliax Codec, but I unfortunately couldn’t find much information on them. Paperball released in 2020 on PC and is their most successful game to date, receiving a very positive reception from the fanbase looking for a game like this. It didn’t stop at just the release either, with several level packs later on and even an upcoming Nintendo Switch release dubbed Paperball Deluxe! This version does not only take advantage of the Switch’s unique features, but also introduces even more stages! There’s definitely more to come from Cliax Games, and I’m looking forward to what the future has in stock for them.
The name behind the game is explained right away in a cutesy cutscene. Coco the cat is part of an art class where the current theme is recycling, and after getting a paper prop thrown to her head by bullies, she came up with the idea to make a paper ball rolling game! God, I wish I had as much creativity as this cat–I would probably make a paper prop shooting cannon with the excuse that it is made for recycling, just to shoot the bullies. Also, the artist behind Coco dropped by in my Twitch stream telling me that the cat is cute, so now I’m forced to say the same. Who knows what will happen to me if I don’t agree?!
And before I move on, I also greatly appreciate how the entire game looks like, well, an art project. The paper ball itself looks like a prop of paper–and don’t worry, the ball is actually spherical too so rolling still feels satisfying. The backgrounds are clearly made of paper as well, and so are the multiple skies. There are even objects in the skies such as clouds and stars just hanging on a thread, and of course, the platforms themselves look hand-painted as well. They didn’t have to go this far to bring a point across but they did. They did it for us and mother nature.
Right after the cutscene ends, the menu opens and… there are so many modes! Arcade Mode is obviously the default mode to play, but I couldn’t help but check out what else there was to see before I actually started playing. Most of them were similar to Arcade Mode where you have four sets of separate level packs each with their own designated difficulty, such as Rush Mode where you’re on a time limit that you can increase by reaching the goal, and Blitz Mode where you can jump and potentially make the stages a bit easier. Both add a lot of fun and variety to the game itself because one makes the game more stressful, while the other allows you to skip parts and potentially discover new shortcuts as well.
Then there is the mode I probably spent the most time with myself: Medal Mode. Here, all levels are split into several worlds and you can select them one-by-one to try and achieve the highest medals so you can move on to the next world. I am a completionist after all, so rewarding me for my efforts is something I’ll gladly take. And whenever I play games like these, I love trying to find the quickest way to the goal through whatever means necessary, so Medal mode is perfectly catered to me.
I love trying to find the quickest way to the goal through whatever means necessary, so Medal mode is perfectly catered to me.
Another mode I also highly enjoyed was the Mad Shuffle Mode, which allows you to select one or multiple ”deck of cards” from all difficulties which the game then shuffles, returning a set of completely random stages to see how far you can make it within a specific amount of lives. The mode speaks for itself really but hey, I enjoy my randomizers so of course I enjoy this mode as well. There are also two more multiplayer modes, one with the emphasis of racing each other and the other having two players control the same ball, but that’s unfortunately not something I could check out as a lone wolf. Definitely sounds fun though.
All of these modes together aren’t just there for fun and replayability, but also brings up another point that I will probably bring up multiple times: accessibility. People who want to make the game easier- or harder for themselves have Rush and Blitz modes respectively, and people who just want to play a stage of their choosing can go to Medal and Practice modes. But let’s keep it at that for now and move on to the actual gameplay itself.
What is one of the most important aspects of a game such as this are the physics. The stages can get incredibly tough, so the ball rolling physics must feel good as a compromise. Have no fear, Nepiki is here! To tell you that these physics are spot-on! I will try my best to explain them, though excuse me if I am not 100% accurate with my description of how the ball rolling works. I am unfortunately not an expert but if you know how Super Monkey Ball plays, then you will understand since it is pretty much a 1-on-1 conversion.
Instead of rolling the ball around, you control… everything but the ball, even though it looks like you are controlling the ball. Instead, tilting the platforms will have the ball roll around with the freely controllable camera helping you to accomplish this task. The ball has just enough weight to make this very doable, even when the platforms are smaller than Konami’s chance of ever being a good game company again. The ball can also very easily spin out of control due to being hit with a fast-moving object, adding to the difficulty. But with enough trial and error, any stage can be overcome.
There are a total of 150 stages not counting the DLC, split-up into multiple difficulties. I was surprisingly pleased by the overall quality and uniqueness of the stages. I am of course not going to talk about all of them, so let’s instead talk about the first world and how well it works as a tutorial before I move on to some of my favourites and least favourites.
I was surprisingly pleased by the overall quality and uniqueness of the stages.
All major gameplay elements are tackled early on, such as the first level dealing with acceleration and rotation at the end, with the second one going to a tubular design where you can roll around and gain speed. The third level ups the challenge a bit by introducing bumps over bottomless pits, followed by the fourth where moving platforms are introduced. What is especially interesting about the second and fifth level in particular, is that the watchful eye can notice that both of them have massive shortcuts, of which the latter even leads to a warp portal that skips multiple stages. This could probably have been enforced by making the gold medal almost impossible to obtain by normal means, but that’s a nitpick.
With all major gameplay elements taught to the player, the variety in levels jumps up quickly. What Paperball’s level design especially defines are the usage of stage-unique gimmicks. Some of my favourites include a reference to the good ol’ game Pong, where you balance across platforms that are being shot between two paddles. Another is a game console where you roll around on the D-Pad to play the game so you can finish the level. I definitely feel that at the very least 90% of all the stages are ones that I’ve enjoyed a lot. The only one I probably downright hate would be Serial Jumps that definitely took some years off my life due to it being multiple separate downward platforms over a bottomless pit.
And remember when I talked about accessibility? Because this is probably one of the more overlooked aspects of the game. These stages can be very hard because that’s the name of the game; that’s what we want from games like these. But instead of putting safety rails on the sides, Paperball decides to get rid of the life system and the time limit. I’m perfectly fine with this decision, as the game does not become easier because of it–you just don’t have to start all over again when you’re out of lives. And if the stage still remains too difficult, you can decide to skip it after a specific amount of fallouts. No difficulty is sacrificed here since you are still completely reliant on your own skill to beat a stage. And finally, if you’re just a bit tired, you can just pause any playthrough and continue later no problem.
And of course, people who aim for the best will be rewarded with the best. Doing a set of levels while dying less than a specific amount of times unlocks the encore stages, which are by far the most difficult stages in the game. People who love the challenge will definitely enjoy these stages as well because I did them and well… let’s just say that some of them took me a very long amount of time. I totally didn’t skip them by the way. Shut up, I am not lying I swear. There’s also a nice reward waiting at the end that I won’t spoil, but it’s very fun to mess around with given its game-breaking nature. And hey, if you beat the encore stages you definitely deserve it.
It’s fascinating to not just see indie developers having an inspiration for their game, but also perfectly understanding what makes the inspiration so good and adapting it into their own game. Paperball is a very good example of this, taking elements from multiple Super Monkey Ball games to create an experience the fans can indulge into. And not just the fans either, because this is arguably one of the more accessible ball-rolling games that does not sacrifice its difficult nature to appeal to newcomers. There are a lot of different modes, and all of them apply to the same- or different gamers. Rush mode makes you race against a time limit for example, while Rush mode gives the ability to jump without a life system to worry about. The gameplay is spot-on with weight and physics, introducing the player slowly to what they can expect with the first levels before all of the unique stages with fun gimmicks show up. If the worst I can say about the game is that the inspiration being almost too obvious (which I don’t personally see as a problem), then you know we have a good game on our hands.
- A ton of unique modes to choose from right from the beginning.
- Great physics that compliment the good level design.
- Very accessible even for players unfamiliar to this genre.
- The inspiration is a bit too obvious which results in the game always being compared to Super Monkey Ball.
Thank you for reading! This was definitely a fun game to play and one that I’ll most likely be revisiting multiple times in the future. It was also a tough review to write since this is not a game that is the easiest to describe–at least, for me. I hope I still managed to provide you with a good review though! I honestly thought my negatives were also a bunch of nitpicks but oh well, I have to mention them regardless. As always, I don’t think having a game as inspiration is bad as long as the creators understand their inspiration and create their own product out of it, and Paperball certainly did.
More reviews are coming up as I’ve been quite busy writing these past few days, so join me next time as we look at a Pinball… Metroidvania?
What is a franchise that hasn’t seen a game in ages that you would like to see an indie game of?
I don’t think this exists yet, but if there is one franchise that I would like to see get revived or ”indiefied”, it would be the Quintet Trilogy; SoulBlazer, Illusion of Gaia and Terranigma. This delicious set of games on the SNES had a good action RPG combat system, but what I enjoyed the most is how they appealed to my completionist tastes.