By now, games that borrow mechanics from Metroid and the later Castlevania are a dime a dozen, forming a genre that I hate to bring the name of in any of my reviews. It’s easy to see why so many developers choose to base their creations around that gameplay loop, it feels really good when done right. And that’s what Intragames and Digital Tales’ Bookbound Brigade manages to do, while at the same time bringing something unique into the mix.
Picking up from the premise that a big ol’ book which contains all of the literary works in the world suddenly lost all its pages, it’s up to a brigade formed by some of history and fantasy greatest characters to retrieve them and get everything back to normal. Things aren’t that straightforward though, since some of its members are lost and the literary world is just too dang big and full of twists and turns.
Starting out with a group formed by such luminaries as Count Dracula, King Arthur, Dorothy, Robin Hood, and the Monkey King, your starting lineup isn’t really that powerful. Bookbound Brigade takes things slow easing you in to its deceptively simple combat before dunking you in head-first and introducing a whole bunch of different moves and tricks. For as contrived as the notion that the group had yet to learn a bunch of powers that they seemingly are already very proficient at is, I’ll cut this game a break: after all, we play as what could be summed up as a blob of very cute chibi characters who are not shy about taking a verbal stab at each other, riding on each other’s shoulders.
You’ll learn different formations that not only change up the shape of your group, but also serve different purposes, each featuring their own skills, like the horizontal line that can fire off smaller enemies into bigger ones, stunning them and creating an opening to attack, or the round formation, which can roll around and bulldoze obstacles. It’s all done as ridiculously as it sounds, and it’s just darn hilarious to see the cartoony carnage going down as every single one of them screams in joy (or agony, it depends, really!) as you move along the screen.
The writing is one of the best parts of Bookbound Brigade, and the way that the devs found to make every one of these characters interact with each other, as well as sport distinct personalities that at the same time fit in with their expected persona, but also manage to have their individual set of funny perks. Be it King Arthur’s reluctance to accept anyone other than him as royalty, or the Monkey King’s wise quips that most times don’t make a whole lot of sense as pointed out by his own mates, it’s all just so cleverly done that I couldn’t help but laugh most of the way through the game.
Given that this takes place in a fairy tale-ish setting, don’t be surprised when the fully voiced narration kicks in, who also has their own personality and loves to chime in and interact with the protagonists. Everyone that you run into along the way is equally charming, and boy, you’ll get to meet a whole bunch of them. They’re not just there to be the butt of jokes, either, and it’s with them that you’ll pick up most of the side quests that you’ll complete as you explore a host of different sections of the literary realm, such as a pirate cove and the mythical lands where all classical ancient civilizations decided to band together. It’s all done in a silly tone not meant to be taken seriously, if you haven’t noticed by now.
As with other games in the genre-that-shall-not-be-named, there’s plenty of backtracking in Bookbound Brigade since you’ll constantly get new abilities that allow you to reach otherwise inaccessible areas of the map. The game does a decent job at letting you get back to previously visited locations, but I could’ve done with a more detailed map. The one in the game only lets you know what box in the grid map you’re at, the things you can do in it, and that’s it. It would’ve been much better if they’ve borrowed more of its inspiration and gotten in a more in-depth map. It makes for slightly confusing exploration, forcing you do make a note of an area that you can’t yet reach but might come back to later.
It’s also a little annoying how a whole lot of the locations feature similarly-looking edges and corners, which makes it easy to get lost during exploration, especially when you’re unknowingly going down a path you’re likely not equipped to handle due to not having a specific ability yet. It’s not that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things, considering the easygoing nature of the game as a whole, but it’s a nit-pick worth making a note of. Platforming can get quite tricky too, even more so due to how the game loves to throw you back right to the very beginning of long jumping sections with lots of precise jumping. Even parts of Bookbound Brigade that have you maneuver through damaging obstacles 1-hit you back to the start. Ugh.
Slight issues aside, I found Bookbound Brigade to be really funny and enjoyable to play. I certainly want to go back to it at some point and try to find all of its secrets and complete all side quests — don’t worry Joan d’Arc, I’ll get you your fire-resistant armor eventually! — since there’s quite a bit to tackle besides the main story, and I really want to read all the jokes that were set aside for them. It’s rare that a game gets humor so well, and even more so when one of them can take a tired formula and do something a little off the curve with it, making it worth for anyone looking for a fun cartoony one of those to bookmark Bookground Brigade for a gander.