Paper Trail is immediately striking. With a painterly, minimalist visual style and a devotion to pastel detail, entering its world feels transformative – and then its primary exploration mechanic literally unfolds, and Paper Trail begins to feel like pure magic.
In the game, you are Paige, a young girl with big dreams – determined to leave her home, and pursue academic study in a far away world. Her journey is filled with beautiful sights: flowers, idyllic ponds, snow mountains, and autumn landscapes – but equally, there is danger along the way. Broken footpaths, mind-bending bridges, seemingly collapsed tunnels.
As a guide, you must push Paige along her journey by solving intricate environmental puzzles, each of which play out in folding origami style.
When bridges are out, you must literally ‘fold’ the game’s world to advance, pulling at each corner and experimenting with new folds to find the best path forward, and ensure Paige gets to her destination safely. There are shades of Gorogoa in these challenges, with players asked to manipulate the game’s world in clever ways – bending corners, spinning worlds, or searching beneath folds for clues. As you click and drag across the game’s screen, the world changes, revealing mysteries, and more.
In my time with Paper Trail at SXSW Sydney 2023, I was consistently baffled by the mechanics at work in this game, from a technical standpoint. Being able to fold the game’s world and play with it like paper is incredibly novel, and consistently surprising. It forced a whole new way of thinking and experimenting, with each potential solution offering up fresh visual details and head-scratching complications.
Each puzzle works in a way that feels like genuine magic.
One particular puzzle, which sees Paige entering a frog-filled swamp, had me particularly challenged, with an array of options for crossing bridges and streams, and multiple pathways to unlock. Eventually, Paper Trail revealed its hidden secrets – that its paper world can be folded and unfolded in a multitude of ways, with solutions typically requiring a string of folds, moves, and unfolds, to ensure Paige reaches her goals. One fold may reveal a new pathway. Another may reveal an obstacle – or yet another tiny, adorable frog.
As challenging as this river stage was for me, it was also equally rewarding. Paper Trail emanates a real joy in every puzzle, as paths clear to reveal tiny, cute moments between characters, quirky new friends, and an ever-more-dangerous world. The game encourages resilience, and with a beautifully illustrated world backed by calming music tracks, it also inspires wide exploration – and trying, trying again.
While the larger ideas of Paper Trail have been seen before, the way Newfangled Games adapts a living papercraft style, and makes its world feel malleable and exciting, is wonderful.
Beyond its many folds, what shines brightest about the game is its colourful illustrative style, and a minimalist devotion to design. Each character appears as a tiny paper doll, evoking the nostalgic simplicity of childhood, and playing around with toys.
In each level, you’ll also find deliberate, measured choices of colour palette, with each puzzle typically hued with soft blues, greens, autumn oranges, or gloomy shades of turquoise. In brighter areas, you feel the joy and open mysteries of Paige’s world, and in dark caverns, the odd, atmospheric darkness that looms. It gives personality to each step of the journey, and a real sense of strangeness and curiosity that drives you on onward.
You want to know more, and to keep folding, and folding, until you find your feet.
At SXSW Sydney 2023, the showfloor was dominated by unique, quirky, head-scratching games, all with their own unique approaches to storytelling and puzzling. In Paper Trail, I discovered a fresh, warm adventure armed with approachable yet intricate ideas – one that proved to be one of the most memorable games of the entire week.
Paper Trail is currently set to launch in 2024. You can now wishlist the game on Steam.