Paper Trail Review: Stunning Yet Frustrating

Paper Trail Review: Beautiful Puzzler, Frustrating Experience

Paper Trail Review

A gorgeous paper-folding puzzle game that, unfortunately, crushed my self-esteem and left me feeling defeated.

Developer: Newfangled Games
Publisher: Newfangled Games
Release: May 21st, 2024
Platform: Windows
Available On: Steam
Price: TBC
Reviewed On: Intel Core i5-8600K, 16GB RAM, Nvidia RTX 2070, Windows 10


Paige folding the screen to solve a puzzle in Paper Trail, showcasing the game's unique mechanics and beautiful art style.
Image Credit: Shacknews

Lo-fi Beats to Get Extremely Stressed To

What separates a challenge that makes you think “I did it!” from one that leaves you sighing “It’s over!”? This distinction came to mind repeatedly while playing *Paper Trail*, a puzzle game that involves folding the screen like a piece of paper to create new paths.

Story and Setting

*Paper Trail* follows Paige, a lo-fi girl protagonist who’s so studious she’s acquired space-time continuum-bending powers. Having been accepted to university to study astrophysics, Paige defies her parents’ wishes to stay home and sets off from her seaside town, inspired by a dream featuring a deer. This charming setup quickly turns into a journey where Paige must use her powers to navigate various obstacles.

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The protagonist, Paige, is reminiscent of the ‘lo-fi girl’—calm, studious, and perpetually relaxed. These characteristics are pivotal to her unique abilities. The game’s storyline sets the tone with Paige being accepted to university, but her parents prefer her to stay close to home. This conflict drives her to escape her sleepy seaside town, guided by the image of a deer from her dreams. The narrative’s whimsical nature sets an enchanting backdrop, though its charm begins to wane as the game progresses.

Paige’s adventure is further enriched by a cast of quirky characters, including Winslow, a lighthouse keeper. This name choice evokes thoughts of lobsters and maritime dread, a nod to cultural references that might pull you out of the game’s atmosphere briefly. However, it provides a memorable touch to an otherwise straightforward setup. The characters in her village add depth to the world, creating an engaging environment that makes you want to explore more.

Gameplay Mechanics

The game’s core mechanic involves folding parts of the screen to create paths for Paige. For instance, an early puzzle might require folding the screen to position a bridge over a river. As you progress, additional elements like movable blocks and sliding platforms complicate the puzzles. You can’t move sections of the screen Paige is standing on, adding another layer of complexity. Initially, this promises a chill experience, but it soon morphs into a series of increasingly difficult and oppressive “puzzle dungeons.”

Each puzzle requires a strategic approach, as the screen can only be folded in specific ways to solve problems. The folding mechanic is innovative, offering a fresh take on the puzzle genre. Early on, you might find yourself needing to cross a river by spotting a bridge on the reverse side of the paper and folding it into position. This twist on traditional puzzle-solving feels refreshing initially, but it quickly becomes overwhelming as the game introduces more elements.

The game begins with simple challenges that ease you into the mechanics, but the difficulty ramps up significantly. You’ll encounter puzzles where you must move blocks or statues, adding layers of complexity. The constraint that you can’t move the section of the screen Paige is standing on introduces additional planning and foresight. This aspect forces you to think several steps ahead, ensuring you don’t block your own progress.

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Challenges and Frustrations

Despite its beautiful art and unique mechanics, *Paper Trail* often left me feeling frustrated rather than accomplished. A hint button provides step-by-step instructions for solving puzzles, but relying on it too much diminishes any sense of achievement. Even when I resisted using hints, solving puzzles felt more like a chore than a triumph. The game’s constant stream of more complex puzzles left me feeling drained and incapable.

One of the major issues is the game’s reliance on increasingly complicated puzzles that build on previous ones without offering a sense of progression. Each puzzle seems designed to be slightly more obtuse than the last, adding complications that don’t necessarily enhance the gameplay experience. The result is a series of puzzles that feel more like chores than engaging challenges.

The hint system, which provides step-by-step instructions, is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it ensures you’re never completely stuck, but on the other, it diminishes the sense of accomplishment when you do solve a puzzle. The temptation to use the hint system is ever-present, and it’s hard to resist when you’re stuck on a particularly frustrating puzzle. This reliance on hints can make the game feel more like a guided tour than a series of challenging puzzles.

Even when I managed to solve puzzles without hints, I found myself feeling flat and unfulfilled. The joy of solving a difficult puzzle was often overshadowed by the relief that it was finally over. Instead of feeling a sense of achievement, I felt a sense of dread as I moved on to the next, even more complex puzzle. This cycle of frustration and relief created a negative feedback loop that made the game increasingly difficult to enjoy.

Visuals and Characters

*Paper Trail* excels in its visual presentation. The art is stunning, with detailed environments and a cozy, inviting atmosphere. Characters are charming and spout funny lines in a bloopy simlish language. However, the game’s narrative segments, primarily Paige’s monologues, felt forced and overly twee, failing to engage me.

The game’s art style is undoubtedly one of its strongest aspects. The environments are beautifully detailed, creating a world that feels both cozy and ancient. The use of color and lighting adds depth to the scenes, making even the most monochrome areas feel vibrant and alive. The attention to detail is evident in every aspect of the game’s design, from the crumbling tiles and carved reliefs to the swaying trees and static inanimate objects.

Characters in the game are likable and add a touch of humor with their funny lines and bloopy simlish language. This lighthearted dialogue helps to break up the monotony of the puzzles and adds a layer of charm to the game. However, the narrative segments featuring Paige’s monologues often felt out of place. The writing takes on an overly twee tone, trying too hard to evoke emotions that didn’t quite resonate with me.

The plot, while initially engaging, lacks depth and cohesion. The game is more about the journey and the puzzles than the story, which feels like a missed opportunity. The narrative segments between puzzle dungeons often felt disconnected and failed to tie the journey together in a meaningful way. This lack of a cohesive plot made it difficult to stay invested in Paige’s story, despite the game’s beautiful presentation.

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Tedious Cutscenes

Cutscenes require paper folding to progress, which quickly becomes tedious. After solving numerous puzzles, the last thing I wanted was more folding to advance the story. By the third or fourth cutscene, I longed for a break from the constant puzzle-solving.

The idea of integrating the folding mechanic into the cutscenes is creative, but in practice, it becomes tiresome. After spending considerable time solving complex puzzles, the added requirement of folding during cutscenes felt like an unnecessary extension of the gameplay. Instead of providing a break, these sequences added to the overall feeling of exhaustion.

By the time I reached the third or fourth cutscene, the novelty of the folding mechanic had worn off. I found myself longing for a traditional cutscene where I could simply sit back and enjoy the story without having to interact. The constant need to fold the screen during cutscenes disrupted the narrative flow and made it difficult to stay engaged with the story.


The difference between a game that makes you feel “I did it!” and one that leaves you thinking “It’s over!” lies in how it challenges you. *Paper Trail* made me feel excluded and incapable, rather than capable and up against the odds. Its beautiful art and innovative mechanics couldn’t overcome the frustration and stress I felt while playing.

Ultimately, I didn’t finish *Paper Trail*. I reached a puzzle that annoyed me so much I decided any further time spent would only increase my frustration. While others may find joy and satisfaction in its puzzles, I found myself left with a pile of origami boulders instead of a beautiful swan.

In conclusion, *Paper Trail* is a game that promises a beautiful and engaging experience with its stunning art and innovative mechanics. However, the constant stream of increasingly difficult puzzles, the reliance on hints, and the tedious cutscenes ultimately made it a frustrating experience for me. The game’s charm and visual appeal couldn’t outweigh the stress and frustration I felt while playing. While others might find joy in its challenges, I was left feeling defeated and unfulfilled.

Art nice. Game not nice.

Paper Trail Review FAQs

1. What is Paper Trail?

*Paper Trail* is a puzzle game developed and published by Newfangled Games. It involves solving puzzles by folding the screen like a piece of paper to create new paths. The game features a unique art style and a narrative centered around the protagonist, Paige, who has space-time continuum-bending powers.

2. What platforms is Paper Trail available on?

As of its release on May 21st, 2024, *Paper Trail* is available on Windows. It can be purchased through Steam.

3. What is the core mechanic of Paper Trail?

The core mechanic of *Paper Trail* involves folding the game screen to create new paths and solve puzzles. Players can preview the reverse side of the screen and fold it in various ways to navigate obstacles and progress through the game.

4. Who is the protagonist of Paper Trail?

The protagonist of *Paper Trail* is Paige, a studious and relaxed character who has developed powers to manipulate space and time. She embarks on a journey from her seaside town to follow a deer she saw in a dream after being accepted to university to study astrophysics.

5. What kind of puzzles can I expect in Paper Trail?

*Paper Trail* features a variety of puzzles that require players to fold the screen to create new paths. Puzzles start relatively simple but become increasingly complex, incorporating elements like movable blocks, statues, and sliding platforms. Players must strategically plan their moves, considering where Paige stands during each step to avoid blocking their own progress.

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6. Is there a hint system in Paper Trail?

Yes, *Paper Trail* includes a hint system that provides step-by-step instructions for solving puzzles. However, relying too much on this system can diminish the sense of accomplishment from solving the puzzles independently.

7. How does the art style contribute to the game experience?

The art style of *Paper Trail* is one of its strongest aspects, featuring detailed environments and a cozy, inviting atmosphere. The use of color and lighting adds depth to the scenes, making even monochrome areas feel vibrant and alive. The characters and environments are beautifully designed, adding to the overall charm of the game.

8. What are the narrative elements of Paper Trail?

*Paper Trail* includes narrative segments featuring Paige’s monologues and interactions with other characters. These segments help set up the story but sometimes feel disconnected from the gameplay. The narrative is charming but can occasionally come across as overly twee.

9. Are there any drawbacks to the gameplay?

While the folding mechanic is innovative, the game’s reliance on increasingly complex puzzles can become overwhelming and frustrating. The hint system can also detract from the sense of accomplishment. Additionally, the need to fold the screen during cutscenes can feel tedious, disrupting the narrative flow.

10. Did the reviewer enjoy Paper Trail?

The reviewer found *Paper Trail* to be visually stunning and appreciated the innovative mechanics. However, the increasing difficulty of the puzzles and the reliance on the hint system led to frustration and a lack of enjoyment. The reviewer ultimately did not finish the game, finding it more stressful than satisfying.

11. What is the final verdict on Paper Trail?

*Paper Trail* is a beautiful and inventive puzzle game that may appeal to those who enjoy challenging puzzles and unique mechanics. However, its increasing difficulty, reliance on hints, and tedious cutscenes can make it a frustrating experience. The game’s art and charm couldn’t outweigh the stress and frustration for the reviewer, making it difficult to recommend to everyone.

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