Paper Valley is as pretty unique experience. Although it’s decidedly a more zen-like game without any real pressure to succeed, there’s something to it that’s just engaging enough to keep you moving forward, hopefully getting you into the quiet, focused flowstate.
Paper Valley Details:
Developer: Vitei Backroom
Available On: Oculus Home (Rift)
Release Date: April 19th, 2018
Paper Valley takes place in a desolate, grey world filled with crumbling statues and monuments. But there’s a way to bring life and color back to the bleak landscape and make the waters of life flow once again. Given a number of paper airplanes styles to throw—normal, fast, loop-de-loop, and heavy—you unlock a magic that returns to world to the living by hitting talismans that spring up along your way through the half-dozen levels.
Getting the hang of throwing the airplanes takes practice. It is however pretty intuitive – simply snatch one of the airplanes lazily floating around you and let go of the trigger while executing a throwing motion. Because you can change its in-flight path with the movement of your Touch controller, you’ll have to get fairly good at correcting for obstacles such as cave walls, stalactites, and strong winds. You can also take the optional route of stretching your paper plane throwing abilities to the limit to hit those bonus orbs, which give you more ammo to throw. If you miss the golden talisman, what results is a beautiful, but equally useless plant springing up where it landed.
Talismans range from small golden targets that simply bring the lush plant life back to small sections of the world, to larger targets that give you a teleportation node so you can move forward through the level, usually accounting for about a third of every target you aim presented to you. In addition to your stock of yellow paper airplanes that float around you, you’re also given a immortal purple plane that lets you teleport to these specific nodes.
You really don’t even have to be all that good at throwing—there’s no ‘Game Over’ screen, no lives, not even a penalty for running out of planes. If you finish your yellow planes, instead you’re given an infinite supply of red-colored airplanes so you can keep trying for that next talisman; it’s a more psychological penalty than anything. You can also always choose to ignore bonus obstacles and just play the game for what it’s meant to be: a calm, relaxing exercise in quiet concentration. Getting that far off target, or challenging yourself to hit that out-of-the-way bonus orb and swooping back around for a direct hit on a talisman is all the excitement you’ll get.
At the end of each level, you return to a hub with a giant tree, where your airplane buddies can swirl around in a beautiful display of sentient magic. There is no obvious point system, so I assume that moving forward is its own reward, as I would do miserably in one level and still move on without a problem.
After having beat Paper Valley in about two hours, I felt the game was missing some variability in level design, and also didn’t deliver enough of those big ‘wow’ moments it periodically feeds you.
Because the world is grey and mostly just caves, gorges and dry riverbeds, the scenery becomes one big amorphous blob, which I thought could have used some world-building elements to better flesh out the reason for my existence there. Levels are typically straight shots from beginning to end, leading you from one teleportation node to the next, which after a while can get a bit tedious. As for wow moments, I loved seeing the colorful plants grow and take back the world, but I was still curious about what happened there, who lives there and what they were like—questions that still go unanswered.
In the end, I divided my time with the game into 30-minute sessions, using it as a relaxation tool more than anything. I still can’t shake the feeling that there’s a really engaging game underneath the quiet serenity of it all, one that I would want to explore for hours on end if the obstacles were more varied, the levels more difficult, and in more interesting locales.
The world, although drab at the beginning, really becomes a rich and expressive place once you’ve done your duty as an airplane-throwing deity. The art style is fun and colorful to offset this drabness, and the cartoony style is ultimately really charming.
Teleportation can be disorienting at points though, especially when you’re given a few different paths to traverse near the end stages.
Airplane flight behavior is pretty darn consistent, although sometimes I was left scratching my head as to why my standard yellow plane, which always worked outside of windy conditions, just wouldn’t make some higher, far-off targets when it easy did similarly placed ones. Although this wasn’t usual behavior, it quickly depleted my store of planes as I futilely toss everything I had at it.
Gathering a mass of paper airplanes, all floating around you can also be annoying at moments, and they aren’t something you can simply brush out of your field of view so you can line up that next shot. Air planes would also get into a big clump and start drifting away from me, making it difficult (and sometimes nearly impossible) to get one from my arsenal, putting a complete halt to the game until I could trick them into coming back to me by teleporting to another node. This last bit seems more like a bug than a feature though.
Because Paper Valley is a teleportation-only experience, it is ultimately very comfortable. The game makes special allowance for two-sensor setups as well, offering a novel repositioning system that spins your field of view towards your chosen destination while applying a heavy black filter, leaving only a pinhole view of the world for the brief moment during the transition.
Both systems ensure a nausea-free experience, although I would gladly exchange the turning mechanic for a simple snap-turn, as fine corrections are sometimes difficult to achieve with the current system.