During the early console days, side-scrolling, hack and slash beat’ em up games were all the rage. Who can forget the brilliant Streets of Rage with its 80s fashion and attitude, mixed in with the grit and determination of an all action hero. Roll on 30 years, and a new contender has put its head above the parapet. Paw Paw Paw is a classic side-scrolling beat’ em up with RPG elements. Developed by Simpleton and GrabTheGames, and published by indie champions Ratalaika Games, this title will have you playing for hours, and cursing your luck throughout.
The story revolves around the once peaceful and prosperous land of Paw Paw Paw. The king in charge was a kind and just ruler, that was until the day of the tragic accident. King Bunnylord III was no longer thinking straight. He made new rules and laws that insisted that all animals were to wear pants (trousers for all the UK readers). This was an outrage, you must act, but how do you stop such a heinous plan? You start a rebellious group that’s how! The ANTIPANTS will stop at nothing to overcome this new evil overlord, they will battle anyone in their path, and they will only rest once normality resumes, and everyone may walk around with their bits hanging free.
Paw Paw Paw is a game that can be played in a solo capacity, or you can have up to 3 friends join you to bolster up the rebellion. You begin the game with a small amount of characters to choose from, and each of them has a set class; archer, barbarian, rogue or warrior. Additional choices are unlocked at set moments, allowing you a small roster of models to choose from. Each can be levelled up, and new equipment is found on your adventure to help make things easier. Different items will increase and decrease stats, so choosing which best suits your play style is important. Whether you play this by yourself or with others, each level plays out exactly the same. The difficulty does not increase no matter the number of human players, so playing this alone is a brutal and unforgiving experience.
As you begin a stage, you start with full health, and take any purchased items in with you. It is up to you to decide how you wish to use these, and what way you wish to approach the action. If you are defeated, there are no checkpoints, and there are no additional lives, death means death, and it’s a case of returning to the main map to try again. This was the bane of my life with this game as simple mistakes, and overpowered enemies were a common occurrence. I yelped in frustration several times, when either I or the game got me killed. Yet, no matter how tough it was, I always returned for more. Its basic premise was highly addictive, and the repetitive nature of each stage meant that I could create a plan to improve, and overcome the errors I had made. Undoubtedly, this would have been much easier with additional players, but my lack of real life gaming friends and lockdown prevented me from testing this theory fully.
As you progress through the story, you note that though you get stronger and more agile, so do your opponents. You are never given a moment’s respite. You spend a lot of your time dodging attacks, and hoping for a moment to strike. This adds a small element of tactical approach, which makes for an interesting twist on the genre. Pressure on yourself can be relieved by using rideable mounts that can be hatched from eggs and using each of the characters’ special powers that build up as you strike each opponent. These can be game changers, so ensuring that you don’t waste them is a must, as they can turn a battle on its head, and you can go from losing to victory in a matter of moments.
The gameplay itself takes a very simplistic 2D approach, with a variety of colourful backgrounds that match the varying scenarios well. Each of your missions is selected from a basic world map that allows you to follow a preordained path to the finale against King Bunnylord III. NPC towns are easy to identify, as they are painted copper, and depict a haven for you to visit. Though the map wasn’t particularly interesting to look at, the basic approach made it easy to navigate, and you knew exactly where you were at all times. I noted a major visual glitch every time I played, and this was at the beginning of a stage. If you had just been defeated, and you rushed back to start again, the world would not be rendered in correctly, and you have to wait a moment for it to correct itself. This hardly breaks the game, but it takes the polish off of the final product.
The audio was an odd combination of classic sound effects for an RPG, and dance music. It’s hard to explain, as I never came to terms with how strange it was, but the battles are laced with an upbeat and inoffensive tune that inspires you to keep fighting hard. If I put the frankly bizarre music to one side, I enjoyed the sound effects. The noise associated with the weapons, the defeated enemies, and the sound of success was inspired by early console games, and filled me with that warm feeling of nostalgia.
The action can get hectic and fast-paced, so luckily the controller setup doesn’t let you down. A straightforward button mapping combined with an easy to follow tutorial makes this an easy title to pick up. Not everything is explained during the early stages, but with a small amount of trial and error you can master most of the finer points in no time. The controls weren’t perfect, and sometimes they felt that they weren’t as responsive as I would like, but they worked well mostly, and made for a pleasant gaming experience.
When I’m given a Ratalaika Games title to review, I always rub my hands together as I’m assured that it will be an easy way to boost my Gamerscore by 1000 points. That was until I played this game! The old saying that you don’t assume, as it will make an ass out of you and me sprung to mind. I’ve played for over 10 hours, died repeatedly, felt like smashing controllers, and whimpered in frustration, and I’m still 3 achievements short. Solo attempts on this game are barbaric, and almost unfair. If you fancy a tough lone experience, then you may find that this one is a step too far.
Paw Paw Paw is a game that I have loved trying. It has a witty dialogue running through its story, interesting characters to encounter, some become friends but a lot are foes, and addictive gameplay. Its lack of balancing for solo gamers will be its downside, and if it wasn’t for the fact that I really enjoyed my time with it, I would have put it down a long time ago. So with all this being said, do I recommend that you try it? I do! I’ve had lots of fun with it, and I believe that anyone who buys it, will also. Can you and your fellow rebels overcome King Bunnylord III’s terrible plans, or like me, are you destined to be stuck right near the end?