Bringing books to other forms of entertainment is a concept that will never grow old. Remember when that kid in Last Action Hero had a dream about Schwarzenegger playing Hamlet and mowing down everyone with submachine guns? Ok, they might have taken a whole lot of creative freedom with that, but it was a kick-ass scene. Or a unique reimagining of Peter Pan’s story in Steven Spielberg’s Hook? We also had some great video games taken from the past of most acclaimed books (and some bad and mediocre ones, but oh well). But what happens if the idea of famous books and their characters is taken literally and send you on a literal adventure?
Well, that’s what Bookbound Brigade is trying to achieve. What if the protagonists of all books lost their memory? And not only that, but their worlds are now scrambled, all over the place and they are left with no way of knowing how to return home. Or so it seems. It becomes pretty evident that some evildoer is behind all this, so it’s up to you to untangle this mystery, fix the story for all the book heroes and perhaps get back home in one piece. There’s also more story to be found in little sidequests you do for the various book characters you save throughout the world, which only expands on the story in Bookbound Brigade.
Now, with a choice of colorful book characters such as King Arthur, Dracula, Robin Hood, Queen Victoria, Nikola Tesla and so on, one question remains – what would be the best characters to play as? Oh, it’s easy. All of them! You control the meaty construction of a couple of characters stacked on top of each other and that’s pretty much how you roll. While it sounds like something I just made up on the spot, I do have a couple of screenshots in the review to back me up on this. At the core of it, Bookbound Brigade is a simple Metroidvania game with lots of hidden areas to discover, collectibles to find, characters to upgrade and bosses to slay. What makes it unique are these sprinkles on top with meticulously crafted details in terms of level design, background design, and atmosphere that makes Bookbound Brigade stand out in the sea of other Metroidvanias. Evidence #1: level design. As you roll through the gigantic level(s), you might find a specific switch o a door that needs to be unlocked in order to proceed further. However, straying away from a direct path might reward you with a shortcut or a hidden upgrade chest for your characters. Speaking of characters, since you play as all of them, there is a shared HP bar for all but you’re rarely in danger of having it destroyed. That’s because even after some hours of play, I found the game surprisingly easy. Most enemies (with bosses being an exception) have one attack and your only task is to mash the attack button furiously and call it a day. Wooden crates (that you can stumble on every few seconds) are full of hearts and book pages anyway, so you can replenish that little health you might have lost in an instant.
In our way to solving the mystery of book thieving, we will venture through the five thematic worlds, each with their unique level design. The library world acts as a hub, while the ancient, medieval, sea and victorian world is where you’ll spend most of your time. One notable mention goes to the impressive design for boss arenas and bosses. They’re often humongous, meticulously detailed and it often feels like a game in itself trying to figure out their attack pattern and weak spots. And this is something that I don’t usually notice but in the case of Bookbound Brigade, I absolutely must. The pause menu and the map menu are thematically designed so it feels like you’re listing the pages of a book. There are some tutorial guides, character bios and various lore about the world stuck in there. Cute.
One thing that took me by surprise in the game is audio design. Upon starting Bookbound Brigade, I was greeted with a fully voiced narration from some posh British dude that sounded like he was having too much fun playing that role. Not gonna lie, the first thing that reminded me of was that other narrator from Battleblock Theather. Unfortunately, he doesn’t appear to talk often, but it’s always a blast when he’s around. As for anything else in this section, it is as decent as it gets. The only time music gets more engaging is during boss fights and for the rest of the time, you won’t even notice it’s there.
As with any Metroidvania game, Bookbound Brigade comes with some dark and bright spots as well. Expect a lot of backtracking and dead ends. I feel like the more enemy variety would help the game immensely but luckily other areas of the game such as level design and visuals certainly elevate it above the rest. Bookbound Brigade is a game that you can’t play in short bursts. It sucks you in from start to finish and all the other games cease to exist until you’re finished with it. Just like a good book.
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