There’s no denying the importance of books, whether they’re telling spooky stories, tales of adventure, or even detailing the real-life escapades of figures across history who played a significant role in the shaping of the world. Well, imagine if the heroes of some of those books got together in order to save the Literary World from the threat of annihilation – that’s the concept of Bookbound Brigade, the Metroidvania-style release from developer Digital Tales that sees heroes from the realm of books work together to make sure that their world of literature is saved.
It’s a very neat concept and one that brings together an unlikely group of heroes such as Dracula, Robin Hood, King Arthur, and even Queen Victoria in order to save the day. It sounds unusual, and honestly, it is – especially with how the game changes up their personalities in quirky ways – but it really makes for a charming little tale.
Bookbound Brigade’s standout feature is the fact that you’re controlling a big group of heroes in one cluster – it sounds daunting, but the fact that they’re all controlled at the same time makes it a fairly simple process in-game. You can switch around their formation too, which is often imperative to gameplay. It could be a case of making the party taller so they can reach a switch or simply making them smaller to get through a tight corridor – either way, it’s easy to pull off and makes for a pretty neat mechanic in-game.
There are plenty of hazards to encounter throughout Bookbound Brigade’s world though and quick formation-swapping is necessary if you’re going to survive. Whilst this isn’t too tricky to actually pull off in-game, the fact that getting hit by a hazard just once sends you back to a checkpoint means there’s little room for error. This felt a little bit too unforgiving at times, especially since formation-swapping can take getting used to and you’ve often got to react very quickly in order to survive. It can get even more complicated when you’ve got to tie in each character’s different abilities as you progress through the game too.
Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate a challenge and I’m a fan of tough platforming, but some of Bookbound Brigade more hazardous areas just felt a little bit too frustrating in places and left me more relieved than satisfied when I managed to overcome them.
Whilst you’re dealing with a bunch of different heroes in-game, the combat mechanics of Bookbound Brigade are pretty straight-forward with button-bashing the most effective way of dishing damage to your enemies. Most foes go down fuss-free too, with their most effective way of offering a challenge coming through quantity as opposed to the quality of their attacks – some areas of the game are pretty confined too, so it can be possible to find yourself overwhelmed by foes. With multiple formations available for attacking that offer a variety of little tricks to the player though, there’s some satisfaction to be found within its simplicity.
Whilst the concept of the formations of heroes is neat though, there are moments where it feels impractical for combat. For one, each character actually attacks individually, so you’ve got to make sure they’re the ones making contact with the enemy in order to deal damage – it’s weird in-game and just leaves the player open to incoming attacks. Incoming attacks are something that you’ll have to deal with a lot anyway mind, especially since most formations leave you as an easy target for enemies to attack given your size. Admittedly, it’s something you get used to the more you play the game, but some elements of Bookbound Brigade’s combat just felt a bit awkward.
I should point out that it becomes more enjoyable as you improve your stats and unlock more abilities, whilst clever use of the formation system can help you unleash some great attacks on your foes if you’re clever. It’s just a shame that a lot of the earlier encounters made combat feel a bit impractical and in turn took away some of the fun.
Bookbound Brigade is a Metroidvania-style adventure, so you’re going to need access to some new abilities during your journey in order to traverse the game world. These come through natural progress thanks to the meetings you’ll make with the other characters in the world (who are fantastic representations of more historical and literary figures might I add), and having these extra tricks up your sleeve does add some satisfying new mechanics to the gameplay. You can also upgrade the individual stats of your party by spending your ‘Memory’ points, so there’s a fair bit of depth on offer when it comes to improving your own capabilities in the game.
Being a Metrodivania-style adventure works against Bookbound Brigade too though, with the map a little sparse on detail to remind you of where you need to travel to, whilst the backtracking can be a little annoying when you have to re-visit some of those aforementioned hazards all over again. The sense of exploration and finally being able to reach those previously inaccessible areas is typically a treat in this genre, but I actually felt a sense of dread in knowing that I’d have to go through some areas again in Bookbound Brigade. It’s a shame.
I do have to give props to the visuals though, with the colourful cartoon appearance looking delightful throughout. Bookbound Brigade’s world isn’t full to the brim with detail, but there are plenty of vibrant sights to be seen, whilst the enemies (particularly the boss encounters) manage to look impressive too – it definitely manages to live up to the literature that inspired it in this regard.
Bookbound Brigade has some neat ideas on show within its Metroidvania-style adventure, but the awkward combat and overly tricky exploration see the experience fall a little flat.
It’s a shame too, because the concept of leading iconic characters from fiction and history on a journey is certainly a neat one. The formation system works really well at times too, and there are moments where everything comes together and Bookbound Bridgade feels a bit special.
Unfortunately, they’re few and far between, and it’s the sour moments of the game that have stuck with me the most. Bookbound Bridgade certainly isn’t a bad game, but there are better Metroidvania-style titles out there for players to sink their teeth into.
Developer: Digital Tales
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, PC