[Pretentious Refuse is a segment advocating excellent indie games that may be overlooked and/or otherwise dismissed as “low budget garbage” by “real” gamers.]
GDC has already come and gone, and while that doesn’t mean much for the lot of you, it’s a major event for the industry, especially for independent developers. For the time being, the Independent Games Festival is the one major event where independent games studios can showcase all their games to press and fellow peers, and get the recognition they so deserve. The IGF Awards in particular are serious business, and just looking at all the finalists and winners, there are some fantastic games on there that every single person really should try.
A good amount of them have been covered on this site already, but a few slip through the cracks. PaperPlane is most certainly one of those games, and I’m ashamed to admit that, because it’s one of those games I wish I could have promoted more before the IGF Awards.
Created by students from ENJMIN, PaperPlane takes one gameplay mechanic and surrounds it with a beautiful, sweeping landscape to create an video game that lets you concentrate more on the experience than the actual endgame objective. The premise is simple; you’re a paper plane flying around farmland that’s initially barren; flying through specially marked obstacles makes the world less bland, and creates more obstacles and landmarks for you to explore and fly through.
Sounds almost too simple, to the point of blandness, but what makes the game such a great experience is the context that ties in all the elements. As the paper plane, your task is to unlock memories of a childhood long forgotten, which is done by flying through obstacles. When that’s done, the world becomes just a bit more colorful and lively, and the music crescendos appropriately to highlight that. It may sound lame, and something of a De Blob/Okami ripoff, but set in that emotional context, it’s surprising how effective it is.
Part of that will probably be due to the fact that there’s probably going to be one landmark or object that pops up in PaperPlane with which you’ll be able to relate. When I unlocked the kiddie pool towards the end, my own lost memories of good times in my cousin’s tiny, feeble kiddie pool as a wee lad suddenly resurfaced in my head, and left me with a nice smile on my face and a kind thought in my head.
PaperPlane is just a pure example of an indie game that strives to create a lasting gaming experience, even though the gameplay itself may be simple or wonky. The game is just unplayable on the keyboard, and should be strictly played with an XBox 360 controller in order to be fully immersed by all the elements that tie together. Considering this was a game made by students though, with the criteria being to strive for the most marketable platform, it’s easily understandable. The fact that it’s completely free doesn’t hurt either.
PaperPlane is just a joy, and whether or not you like artsy fartsy games should have no bearing on how much you enjoy this one. If you even have an inkling of a quaint childhood memory that may or may not have been forgotten, try this one for sure.
PaperPlane was winner of the 2011 IGF Student Showcase award and a nominee for the Best Student Game. It’s available to download for free HERE.