MANY WAYS TO PLAY WITH PAPERBALLS
Paperball Deluxe doesn’t skimp on content and provides a variety of ways to play. Sure, they all consist of the same level packs, but they all provide a unique experience:
Let’s not beat around the bush here, Paperball Deluxe is not an homage to Super Monkey Ball. It is not inspired by it either. This game is essentially a sequel to the Gamecube classics in pretty much all but name. After Amusement Vision stopped developing these games, the series has declined to a point where many fans – myself included – have more or less lost hope in the series. Paperball Deluxe is a fan attempt at doing what Sega seems unable to do – create another good entry in the series.
SUPER PAPER BALL
Right off the bat, the game throws you into an unexpected cutscene which sets the scene for the game. Told within a comic strip, our protagonist – a rather unsettling looking feline – is struggling to come up with an idea for the school art project on the subject of recycling. Suddenly, she gets an idea after a group of raccoon bullies throw a paper ball at her – thus Paperball is born. Really this story is only here to explain why the world looks like it is made of card and why you are controlling a ball of paper; Coco the cat needs you to test her creations out, and you naturally oblige. It’s a charming setup and allows for some beautiful looking stages. I’m a huge fan of the hand-crafted aesthetic, and it looks equally as nice here. The only gripe I have is that they don’t go 100% in with the art style, as the occasional level gimmick doesn’t share the style and thus seems a little out of place with the rest of the world.
After reeling from the unexpected storyline, you are hit with another surprise: as the game menu loads up, you are greeted with an overwhelming number of game modes (see right for more info). Arcade Mode is the obvious first choice, with levels grouped into various packages. There’s the usual novice and intermediate difficulties available from the offset, with expert and champion both being unlockable; but there are also smaller level packs with a set theme – these were originally DLC packs for the PC version, although there are Switch exclusive levels too. It’s all presented in the same way as the Monkey Ball games and it works just as well here, although it would have been nice if the level packs were also arranged in order of difficulty.
The Novice difficulty is an obvious place to start, and it offers a whopping twenty levels for beginners to tackle. As the game loads, you will be met with a very similar sight: the level rotates into view and the announcer prepares you with a “ready…. GO!” If this sounds a little similar to a certain simian series, you don’t know the half of it. Despite the hand-crafted look, the terrain has the same colourful gridlike appearance. On top of that, the map looks practically identical to the Monkey Ball games and levels even have their own titles – much like the second game in the series! At least this game adds in a death counter, as well as the time needed to obtain the medals. The death counter is particularly useful; while you have an unlimited number of lives to get through the game, doing so without losing too many of them will earn you additional encore levels to play through. These levels are not only more challenging, but are also some of the best designed in the game – a fitting reward for performing well!
MAGICAL SPELL IS PEI-PER-BAL!
Of course, mimicking the Super Monkey Ball games is all very well and good, but it means nothing unless the game plays well. I am happy to report that in this regard the game is a complete success. Levels are superbly designed with some great gimmicks scattered throughout; there may be many that are reminiscent of ones designed by Sega’s development team, but a lot of the 250 or so levels feel completely unique to anything encountered before. I have encountered extremely few unenjoyable stages in my playtime, even including stages that caused me to die countless times. Everything seems fair, and levels are never so long that they cause needless frustration.
Which brings me nicely onto the games physics and how everything controls. One of my biggest gripes with the recent Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD was that the controls were very loose. Early game wasn’t so bad and had plenty of safety barriers to stop you from falling; however, as the game progressed, you eventually got to a point where the controls just couldn’t cut it – I had to plug in a Gamecube controller at one point because it was impossible to do using the normal Switch controller. This made me believe that the reason the series went downhill was because no other subsequent controller had the thumbstick indents that the Gamecube controller had, making it impossible to control your ball with any degree of accuracy. Paperball Deluxe shatters this false belief with level design that complements modern controllers well, allowing you the level of accuracy you would want in a game like this. You won’t get any long stretches of ultra narrow platforms (at least, not from what I’ve experienced thus far), but instead you will be offered different challenges. I purposely used my drift-riddled Joycons to see how far I could get, and I’ve not had any issues so far nor have I felt any desire to plug in any alternative controllers. The controls are ultra tight and the physics are spot on; I played a little of Banana Blitz HD after in order to compare the two and this game is so much better to control – the team did a fantastic job!
One thing that is synonymous with the Super Monkey Ball series is its difficulty. Typically, the game starts out easy and then partway through Advanced things start to get much trickier – with all things Expert and above being mercilessly difficult. Paperball Deluxe does not disappoint in that regard. Whilst I’m no master, I do consider myself adept at handling my balls well. I can typically beat most of what the games are able to throw at me. However, Paperball Deluxe proved quite challenging: Novice mode has a nice difficulty curve that allows newcomers to get used to the game, but stepping up to Intermediate will definitely be a shock to the system for people who are not used to it. Unlocking those encore stages too will be no easy feat for most, and some of the levels in the additional level packs can be absolutely brutal! You can tell that the game is made by fans and for fans, but that also means that first-time rollers may end up having a pretty tough time (much like us veterans did when we first experienced the original Super Monkey Ball!)
That being said, there is an absolute ton of content available here and the game not only offers infinite lives, but it also saves your current progress too. For those who are willing to stick with it and improve their skills, the game won’t punish you too much for failure.
You may have noticed a lack of anything negative in this review, and that is because there is little to fault. The game looks and feels like the classic Super Monkey Ball games, and is far better than any attempt Sega has made in almost twenty years. Even the music is very reminiscent of the series, with upbeat jazz tunes to keep you going through the many, many, many inevitable deaths. If I had to fault anything, its the announcer’s voice. Coco’s voice lacks the enthusiasm of Sega titles, making it a tad annoying after a while. Thankfully you can turn her voice off, if you so desire, or even switch to the original Monkey Ball VA!
It wouldn’t be a good Monkey Ball clone if it wasn’t possible to skip huge chunks of the level by thinking outside of the box. Here are a couple of example ‘alternate routes’ you can take:
IN 15: STAIRCASE GAPS
EX 18: FERRIS WHEEL
There are many more to find, and with infinite lives there’s no reason not to try and cheat the level a little!
Paperball Deluxe is a love letter to the fans of Super Monkey Ball. Whilst its high difficulty may be off-putting to novice ball-rollers, veterans of the series will fall in love with this title. There are a huge number of levels and game modes on offer, making the game an absolute steal for the price and an early contender for one of my GOTY awards for 2021. Here’s hoping that Paperball Adventure is next!
* There are a large number of level packs, of which I have beaten some but not quite all. Nor have I obtained all of the obtainable encore stages!