Paperbark Review (ios)

by Dylan Blight

Paperbark is a charming game that tells a beautiful short story of a wombat, the bush and a very hot Australian Summer.
Follow a sleepy wombat who spends its day exploring and foraging, while in search for a new home. 

When you’re alone in the Australian bush, there is a sense and sound that is uniquely Australian. Whether that’s the smell of eucalyptus, the cries of cockatiels or kookaburras or the distant ruffles of Australian unique wildlife. It’s special, and Paperbark embodies those elements into a short interactive story. 

Small Melbourne based team Paper House is heavily influenced by classic Australian literature like Snugglepot and Cuddlepie & Possum Magic with Paperbark, (which I assume all Aussies have read these, no?)  they note artists like Albert Namatjira as an influence on the game’s website. You can see these influences all over Paperbark. Visually, the game is beautiful with its watercolour painting aesthetic, featuring bright and beautiful colours.

The style of Paperbark reminded me of Snugglepot the first time I played it at PAX Australian last year. But more than its art style, the story moments will white-out all but a small section of the image of the game as text appears on-screen with narration from Camp Copes’ Georgia Maq, seemingly reading ‘the book’s’ text. At its heart Paperbark is another book in the tradition of those Australian classics its clearly inspired by and its simple storytelling and visuals will be sure to pull at some level of nostalgia for anyone who read those books as a kid.

In the bush, a sleepy wombat awakens and tumbles from within its paperbark tree to the ground below. It has one mission: find food.

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The story of Paperbark is written by Australian author, Renee Treml, who has wombat credit with the children’s books One Very Tired Wombat & Once I Heard a Little Wombat. Paperbark‘s story is simple, much like the stories that inspired it, but one section mid-game did get my emotions going for a moment (no spoilers). It is a short-experience but it would still take you longer to finish than read some of the books that inspired it. But much like those, the fun is in appreciating the page, sharing the story and going back again at a later date.

I would preferred to have played Paperbark on a bigger screen, an iPad if I had one (I played on an iPhone X) simply for a better appreciation for the art. I played Paperbark on a tablet at PAX and having the game on a book-sized object made its visuals and inspired style much more enjoyable. So I would suggest an iPad if you have one over a phone. Though, the game played perfectly fine on my iPhone, I don’t think it’s the preferred place to play. 

Remember when i mentioned sound at the start? Well, that Australian sound is delivered almost ridiculously well in Paperbark. Playing without headphones on is doing the top-notch sound design and score a disservice. It’s easy to say Paperbark is one of the most Australian looking games I’ve played — you are playing as a wombat after all — but it is the definition of Australian sound as well. The crumble of the bark under the wombat’s paws as you hear a kookaburra off in the distance combined with the soft sounds of other wildlife is relaxing and beautiful. Sound is also used wonderfully to guide you through the levels as you’ll be drawn to the hums of a voice in the distance, a mechanic we unfortunately do not have in real-life to stop people getting lost bushwalking.