Reviewed by Nicholas “SmugeeBear” McDonald.
I’ve written before about my experiences of trying to get Paprium and how that turned into a
saga all by itself and the unboxing of the physical version I own. PAPRIUM is a game that has gone down in infamy due to the dubious character and practices of its creator and the fallout which leads to the perfect example in customer service or lack there of. However, instead of letting that colour the review I will give the game a fair shake of how I felt during playing it.
When you first boot up the game it boots up to PAAAAA, a troll game which seems to be an unbeatable de-make of the main game featuring a horrifically bad 8bit rendition of Rick Astley’s “Never gonna give you up” with Atari style graphics. There is a way to access the game after the first boot up by hitting the reset button as you power the game on a couple of times. This forces the cart to load the actual game. There also seems to be compatibility issues depending on what revision console you have. In my case the power adapter was causing issues with the game where it would lock up on the copyright screen unless it managed to boot into the troll game.
PAPRIUM is a scrolling beat em up game in the style of Streets of Rage and Final Fight. It is set in an apocalyptic cyberpunk nightmare. The story is set in the future where World War 3 has decimated the world and the Council of Bishops rebuild civilization at the point between Shanghai, Pyongyang and Tokyo and call the city PAPRIUM. But underneath the facade lies a nightmare of brutal police enforcers who carry out the will of the rich and powerful Bishop’s and the general downtrodden population are referred to as “scum” who are just trying to survive.
But in the end do you really need expansive story what is essentially a side scrolling beat em up? Not really, The game has Several modes from Arcade, Original Mode, multiplayer modes and options. The arcade is basically standard fare, you play through a series of levels defeat enemies and mini bosses to reach an end of level boss and then finally the final boss.
The Original mode is a different kettle of fish as the levels open up with branching paths to different areas which can vastly change the course of the route and bosses. Also, its in this mode where you can unlock defeated characters and it includes the Throne system where the player character can take over the area the boss controlled but it means that you lose the option to play as that character unless you choose to dethrone them.
If you went up in the same route where your previous character has been ‘throned’ they will give you a variety of missions to complete which goes towards to getting the ‘good ending’. I say ending, but all they are are different static images with The words ‘The End?’ which feels like a cheap and lazy cop out, but that’s seems to be a common thing with the game when you dig beneath the surface.
Mega-CD owners can connect their unit and use the CPU to control a Partner character, an AI coop character that plays with you. Owners of a Japanese Mega Drive get a little bonuses as well, during the start of levels it actually displays the track name for that level at the start which is a nice touch.
“AAA Brawler Gameplay..?”
The game is compatible with the 3 or 6 button but the combat is easier with the 6 button controller. The A button acts as a special attack which uses the BLU pill drugs and powers up your character for a short amount of time. However, if you abuse it too much a blue bar starts to cover your health bar as your character gets addicted. When you health dips into the blue your character is effected. Their animations are different and effectiveness is lowered by moving slower and attacks are considerably weaker.
Pressing Y uses a downward attack button called the bully attack that punches down at enemies on the floor. There are issues with the combat where some enemies, and some bosses, feel like complete damage sponges which turns what would be something enjoyable and entertaining into something that’s just a long slog which gets bothersome after a while.
But also there’s instances where you can be attacking a boss and its doing the animation of being hit but literally it registers no damage. So, you can be pointlessly attacking with nothing happening due to the janky hit boxes. The game also has issues with multiple enemies on the screen where you end up getting hit by a load of cheap shots because your surrounded by enemies. And when you attack, you automatically go into a grab and when you move away you end up grabbing the enemy that’s on the opposite side of you. This causes a loop of grabbing enemies instead of punching them to pieces while they absolutely batter you. The combat really could have done with some last minute polishing and some tweaking as there is the potential of something great but it isn’t quite there just yet.
“Epic SFX and BGM Soundtrack…”
Paprium is a bit of a spectacle, with some really incredible music tracks by Groovemaster303 and
Jredd that push the sound channels on the cartridge hardware to its limits. The tracks touch on a variety of styles from action packed tracks to some absolutely chill ones, throw that in with sound effects from enemies, and shout outs from the recurring character Showtime, does make it feel bonkers. But there are a few duds, the first stage ends up getting repetitive and drones on and is a track you will here a lot. But apart from that there are some bangers on there that I did go back to listen to.
“State of The Art 16 Bit Graphics..”
The graphics of the game are another standout of the game, they drip with style from the get go with large, detailed sprites. You could mistake it for a Neo-Geo game at times. The backgrounds are highly detailed due to the extra hardware on the cart that also provides grunt to have more enemies on screen. But you can tell by some of the designs they weren’t constrained to by rules of an official release, you end up with swears and dodgy graffiti in places and later in the game, an enemy shoots lasers out of certain appendages like it was an Austin powers film.
There are issues with the animation as some of the characters and enemies feel like they weren’t finished, they have fewer animations so look off. Some others, which came under some scrutiny and derision during development, looked like there were traces from character sprites of other games. This only adds to the controversy of the game, but also seems to suffer the same issues that plagues other areas where its just the lack of final polish which could have tipped the game onto being something better.
The reason why Paprium can push the limits is because it uses a specially made cartridge called DatenMeister. This is a series of microchips allowing the Mega Drive to exceed its sound channel and graphical palette limitations. It does make Paprium a game you would never see or hear anything like on the system before. It also includes a save system for character unlocks and original mode progress.
But in true Water Melon games fashion you end up locking the saves when you play the final routes in the original mode which also ties any unlocks you made with that save, so if you erase it say goodbye to your unlocked characters. Which I feel is the biggest detraction to the list of things that is holding Paprium back. They also touted the Megawire 4.0 functionality as some way to update the game or to play online but nothing really ever came of it since its release.
“Rule, Be Ruled, Or Die!!
Well this is one of the hardest ones to recommend as there’s just too many things that hold it back. Also, with the price of the actual carts, it’s an expensive purchase that may not run on your machine. If the modern releases are more reasonably priced then that could be a way to try the game. But the thing that hurts it the most is that there’s a decent game underneath that was hurt by issues in development.