Paper Trail review – An astounding feat of magic

Paper Trail is a novel and wonderful adventure, buoyed by magical game mechanics.
paper trail review

Paper Trail is marvellous, in the most literal sense. It’s a dynamic, ever-changing puzzle adventure brimming with charm and brilliance in every facet, buoyed by a simple, touching story, and primary game mechanics that feel like real magic in action. I’ve never played a game like Paper Trail, and I’ve never felt so encouraged to test myself against such complex, challenge puzzles.

The setup here is relatively simple: you are a young girl named Paige who really, really wants to go to university, despite her parents being overly protective for mysterious reasons. They can’t really stop her quest though, as she’s discovered something unique: the power to bend and fold space-time to her whims. What follows is an adventure of self-discovery as our hero traverse a variety of strange lands, on her quest to reach “university” – standing in for freedom, self-belief, and independence.

The simplicity of plot allows Paper Trail‘s gameplay to shine outright, with the narrative serving as lovely set dressing for the main event: paper-folding puzzles that frustrate and reward with a wonderful balance. Paper Trail forces you to think deeply, and then think harder, as you fold paper, flip levers, jump on platforms, cross rivers, and manipulate your world with required concentration.

It’s easy to make a wrong step in Paper Trail, and to find yourself fruitlessly flipping back and forth between realms, searching for a way forward – but by design, the game rewards experimentation, patience, and dedication (in that order).

paper trail review
Screenshot: GamesHub / Newfangled Games

My path through Paper Trail was often curtailed by a challenge I couldn’t quite wrap my head around. New elements are introduced often, so once you get the hang of folding paper edges to form a traversable map, you’ll find statues that can’t be folded, rocks that can only exist on one fold, and platforms that must be moved to complete puzzles.

With deep thought, the solution slowly unravels, in a way that genuinely rewards a slower playthrough. You must take time to smell the roses, and let yourself sit back to understand Paige’s journey, and how her abilities work. Of course, if you get stuck, you can also consult a very handy hint page that gives you the breakdown of how folds must be initiated (although, not where you need to go within them).

This slower pace, and the journey to an eventual solution, lends a real sense of gravitas to Paige’s journey. By the time you make it through swamps, forests, and strange villages, you feel like you’ve genuinely thrown yourself through the wringer – and that you’ve accomplished much in your trek.

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Putting the final touches on each folding puzzle, and making your way through the game’s many paths, is a reward unto itself. It inspires a feeling that is unmatched. You’ll want to pump your fists, shout into the air, and claim reward for your next big triumph. Paige deserves to get to university, and with your gritty determination, she’ll get there.

paper trail gameplay
Screenshot: GamesHub

Even in the later stages, when statue blocks pop up and your paper folding is mirrored so you have to think about all of your moves in sideways and reverse form, Paper Trail remains encouraging by design. It wants you to take time, to appreciate the scenery and its storybook art style, and play around with the game’s many edges until you find a viable solution.

It’s also forgiving of those who get stuck, with its hint system serving as a judgement-free helping hand when the road gets long, and the path ahead seems to fold and twist in intimidating new ways. This hint system is particularly helpful, as while Paper Trail is imbued with a real novelty and magic that should be experienced naturally, I suspect there are many who’ll have trouble wrapping their head around its folds.

When you’re in the flow state and you can see through the fabric of the universe, to discover the perfect solution, Paper Trail is incredible. But when you’re halfway through a sequence of fold/walk/move/grab/, and then you lose your grip on what you were trying to do, there’s a fair frustration that comes along with that. Sometimes, you just want to experience the magic of gameplay standalone, and let the game’s world move you – and to that end, Paper Trail also has you covered.

paper trail gameplay puzzles
Screenshot: GamesHub

It’s just nice. You can take on its many challenges and twist yourself in knots trying to get Paige to university – but the game is also very forgiving, and provides an approachable solution for those who may trip on its many cobblestone paths.

Every system works harmoniously to deliver this journey with aplomb, and to make players active, useful participants with every step.

It’s rare to have a modern puzzle game feel so unique and novel in its approach, but Paper Trail manages well, with a plethora of incredibly cool, well-designed ideas combining to elevate its storybook tale.

Love and care shine through with every fold, making Paper Trail feel like a living work of art. Its greatest puzzles take time to solve, but at every turn, there’s reason to forge ahead, and to devote yourself further to its beautiful, pastel world.

Five stars: ★★★★★

Paper Trail
Developer: Newfangled Games
Publisher: Newfangled Games
Release Date: 21 May 2024

A PC copy of Paper Trail was provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review, and was played on an Asus ROG Ally. GamesHub reviews are rated on a five-point scale.

Leah J. Williams is a gaming and entertainment journalist who's spent years writing about the games industry, her love for The Sims 2 on Nintendo DS and every piece of weird history she knows. You can find her tweeting @legenette most days.