What do you get when you have revolutionary Winnie the Poohs who are also very well-versed in combat? You get Paw Paw Paw, the 2D side-scrolling hack-and-slash adventure developed by Simpleton from Indonesia and published by Grab The Games.
Side-scroller beat ‘em ups were a darling of a video game era long past, and today they are experiencing a breath of fresh air with the current wave of indie developers eager to make the next big hit. Simpleton tried their hand at this beloved formula and adapted it to a medieval mascot death battle. How did they fare? Read on to find out.
Campaign and Story
Right off the bat, you’re given four characters to use, each bearing its own weapon specialties. As you progress, you unlock more characters and classes – but the difference isn’t markedly different. I did like switching it up between the archetypes and exploring how each character’s move set and their specials feel.
While the hack-and-slash gameplay would turn a bit stale after a while, the game addresses the monotony with missions and bosses that require to think outside of the box. Early on in the campaign, you attempt to deliver a payload back to the enemy base, all while it continues to spew bombs at you (and the enemy!) and bosses that have unique attack patterns you have to study. I even encountered a hidden boss because of actions I took early in the game, too!
The campaign has many levels for you to progress through as you unfold the story and gain victory over the pants-obsessed king. Each stage provides its own challenge and it was fun to find out what further acts of resistance you have to do in order to advance. I found the dialogue points between the characters quite funny and endearing, livening up your romp through the land of Paw Paw Paw every once in a while.
Combat and Skill Tree
Don’t let the cutesy mascot animals fool you – these furry friends are out for blood! Plus, your only enemies aren’t just the king’s loyal army – nature’s out to get you, too. Watch out for gassy flowers and prickly vines. These background details add challenge as you navigate through the levels. Those prickly vines and noxious-looking flowers? Try to find out what they do, go on.
The combat is straightforward and easy to pick up. However, when it comes to attacking, the light attack and strong attack both felt slow and clunky to me, and I think that can be attributed to the animation. The slowness of the Barbarian character, Aku, was expected because of the two-handed heavy-duty axe. However, for me, using Aku didn’t feel any different from the Warrior character, Kamu, that used a sword and shield. I find the animation takes quite a bit of time, so make sure you are standing in the proper line in front of your opponent before striking, or you will be bogged down by your uncancellable action and miss. Landing precise hits because of this can be frustrating at first, but you’ll eventually get the hang of it.
You are provided with a skill tree to level up the abilities on the battlefield. It’s a simple and short tree that you’ll probably find yourself maximizing on a complete play-through with only one character.
You also get a variety of cool mounts and can hire some bait-er, I mean, allies for your missions. Aside from weapons, different bombs can also be utilized in play. Environmental hazards also affect enemies. Strategizing with your surroundings and items is important – adding another layer to your play style.
I’ll be honest, I needed some help with this game – I had to hire some allies to get through some stages. There is a trial-and-error process for figuring out what you have to do, which could be part of the fun but gets frustrating after a while. I found that the weapons dealt very little damage plus the enemies had a ton of health at the beginning which made the battles drag on. As a solution, I tried grinding through the available levels just to upgrade my skills, afford more potions and allies – and that dragged on too! The pacing could have been adjusted to accommodate a better learning curve.
Update: Thankfully, Simpleton received the difficulty feedback from other players as well and released an update that evened out the experience, and now it’s less painful for beginners to play.
Audio and Visuals
Paw Paw Paw’s attention to the art and style of the game is great. From the introductory animations to the special attacks in the gameplay proper, there is a certain degree of polish that elevates it as an indie game. The cool characters, enemies, mounts, and backgrounds make the game stand out in this regard. Seeing the characters dish out their unique specials in the middle of a battle is cool to see as you plow through waves of enemies. The gripe with the designs of the playable characters and the enemies is that they could differ more in body type and color palette.
The levels also have a good design – simple enough to know what’s on the screen, but subtle enough that you need to have your wits about you as you explore and make sure you have enough health before attempting a risky move.
The soundtrack consists of techno-battle tunes that bring funky beats to beat up angry kingdom soldiers too. While a fun novelty, in the beginning, it starts to get repetitive as you drive through drones of enemies. I wish the music had some hints of medieval-inspired motifs because that might have fit better to the hacking and slashing theme of the game.
Other Play Modes
Local co-op for a game format like this almost harkens back to the age of arcade games, giving a fun spin on the long-lost art. It’s a game fit to share with friends as you decimate waves of soldiers and forest enemies together. Unfortunately, there’s no online play.
Other than the versus mode, there is also a single-player survival mode where you can vent your frustrations on some nasty rats and other beasties.
A surprising mix of cuteness and violence wrapped up in one package, Paw Paw Paw is a stylish entry into the side-scrolling beat ‘em up genre. The high-quality graphics and animations, and an interesting progression of enemies, challenges, and level designs will keep you busy – especially if you want to play through the entire campaign and want to collect all the characters, weapons, and skills in the entire game.
Unfortunately, Paw Paw Paw’s style is cramped by a clunky combat system that, while easy to pick up and decent to play, is uninspired and doesn’t really try to set itself apart from other games in the genre.
Paw Paw Paw is an ideal game if you’re in the market for a funny story and a decent side-scrolling brawler, and if you love the idea of cute cartoon animals fighting to the death over their right to freedom… from pants!
Get Paw Paw Paw for PC and Mac on Steam. Ratalaika Games announced to bring the game to consoles (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch) in the first week of December 2020. This review is based on a free review copy of the Mac version provided by publisher Grab The Games.