[Review] Bookbound Brigade – Nintendo Switch

Written by Anna Karasik
  • Developer: DIGITAL TALES
  • Publisher: Intragames
  • Release Date: 30/01/19
  • Price:  £17.99 / $19.99
  • Review code provided by Intragames

Prologue

While platformers aren’t normally my cup of tea, I was actually excited to try out Bookbound Brigade, since it’s chock-full of literary and historical references. As a self-proclaimed dork about those subjects, I’ll go ahead and say I ended up with mixed feelings about how this was executed – because while prevalent and accurate, the references end up being very in-your-face. You’ll see how shortly.

On the bright side, this game makes excellent use of its main mechanic, which is deeply integrated into both the level design and combat. More than once, while playing on my commute, I almost missed my subway station because the non-stop pacing had drawn me in.

One B.O.B to rule them all

Legends both real and fictional are immortalized in the Book of Books – or B.O.B., for short. When this all-powerful tome is stolen from the Library, the Literary World is torn asunder! Now, a group of heroes from across the ages quite literally bands together to gather B.O.B.’s scattered pages

An odd assortment of characters forms your Brigade: King Arthur, Dorothy, Count Dracula, Robin Hood, and Sun Wukong. They travel through portals contained in Thematic Books to find lost characters, eventually enlisting Queen Victoria, Cassandra, and Nikola Tesla to join them. The group moves around and fights in a homogenous clump, which you can manipulate to overcome obstacles and solve puzzles.

While the concept of historical, fictional, and mythological characters interacting sounds like an exciting premise, in reality, it feels like a bad crossover fanfiction. Dialogue is riddled with “LOLs,” immature disses, and heavy-handed references that are more cringey than charming. 

Take a look, it’s in a book

The central hub of the game is the Library, where Thematic Books transport you to far-off lands. As you meet new characters on your adventures, they’ll end up here, taking refuge and seeking your help in finding their lost artifacts. After all, how is Julius Caesar supposed to open his new salad restaurant without kitchen knives?

Now, what does come across as charming are those imaginative new roles that these characters take on. Julius Caesar is just one of dozens of characters you must help. The Red Baron, for example, is now afraid of heights and needs his teddy, and Don Quixote needs his trusty lance to pick up litter. It’s a dream for book and history nerds, who will love flipping through every character’s description in the Journal. It’s also a dream for completionists, because in order to beat many of these quests, you must revisit levels when members of your troupe gain new powers. 

Among those powers are Dracula’s double-jump, and Arthur’s impenetrable shield. Meanwhile, the abilities of Dorothy and Tesla can open up new areas. The characters’ special abilities are all accessible through different button combinations. Meanwhile, their stats can be boosted by spending the Memory Pages you accumulate while slashing at enemies, chests, and crates.

Get in formation

Navigating these fantastical worlds requires dexterity and creativity. This game’s unique mechanic is the ability to change the formation of your Brigade. By stacking or linking your group together, you’ll be able to find out-of-the-box solutions for platforming, puzzle solving, and combat. Changing arrangements quickly takes some getting used to, but becomes second nature with practice: you have to hold down L while pressing one of the four buttons. 

It’s easiest to get around when the Brigade is in the tight Standard formation. However, when they’re stacked on top of each other in Column formation, their defense is higher, and they can fling smaller enemies into the air for massive damage and a stun effect. Not to mention, it’s indispensable for jumping on narrow platforms, slipping between obstacles, and hitting high switches. Meanwhile, putting the group in a horizontal Line formation makes tight tunnels accessible, and allows the group to attack many enemies at once – or launch them across a room. Finally, my personal favorite: Wheel form, where your group links into a big “O” and rolls around! It’s the best way to move quickly in open areas. 

You have to be mindful of your form’s drawbacks, though, as well as the benefits. In wheel form, you are completely defenseless, only able to roll forward or use Queen Victoria’s speical attack. Escaping danger is a snap in the Standard form, but becomes much harder in a Column or Line, where you cannot move quickly or jump high. 

Parsing through puzzles

Bookbound Brigade puts a twist on conventional platforming by making innovative use of these form changes. One fun – and often frustrating – factor is the physics. You have to account for its downsides, and play to its strengths. For example, since some members of the group can hang off of ledges – especially in Line formation – you can use this to your advantage when trying to hit switches or avoid traps. It presents a problem if you get “hooked” on a corner because a character is hanging over the side. When it comes to vertical Column puzzles, you have to account for the fact that the stack of characters leans back as you run, and wobbles forward a bit when you stop.

A lot of the puzzles are repetitive in nature – making you do the same precarious task a few times over, starting from the beginning if you are fatally hit. These can get a bit mind-numbing and tedious. You’ll find eerily similar puzzles in other areas, sometimes with minor improvements to make them harder. Others – the really fun ones – force you to master switching between different formations with perfect timing. 

The stack is mightier than the sword

Every time you are slashed at, zapped, burned, or otherwise injured, your health will deplete. If it goes to zero, you’ll restart at the last Totem Book you passed. These checkpoints are fairly frequent, and usually conveniently placed near difficult puzzles or bosses.

The Brigade will face enemies small and large. You’ll need to learn the move sets for bigger foes in order to figure out the best ways to bring them down. A common example is figuring out when monsters emit, throw, or even decompose into poisonous gas. Many large “bosses” will spawn with smaller enemies nearby, which can be used as projectiles in Line or Column form. Not only does this do lots of damage, but it leaves the enemy stunned for a long window of time!

Judging a book by its cover

The enemies are fun to fight – and also pleasing to look at – as are the heroes. All of the animations are clean, and the characters, while tiny, were each made with attention to detail.

While the minuscule sprites can make maps feel a bit empty at times, the game makes up for it with beautiful scenery choices. There are eye-catching animations, like falling sand and floating text, plus layering in the foreground to give this 2D world a sense of depth. All the while, your journey will be accompanied by a rousing soundtrack that will remind you that this story is an epic in the making. Overall, I’d say what Bookbound Brigade lacks in dialogue, it makes up for in visual and audio design.

Epilogue

Platformers are a dime a dozen nowadays, especially with game design tools being more accessible than they’ve ever been, and the simple nature of jump puzzles. That’s why I love how this game went all-in on its unique token mechanic. Changing Brigade formations is a completely essential tool for avoiding difficult hazards and baddies. It’s well-executed, powerful when mastered, and forces you to think harder. At the end of the day, you feel accomplished. Not to mention, it’s just kind of cute to see Nikola Tesla, Dorothy, and Dracula standing on each others’ heads, wielding axes, and fighting steampunk fish people. 

Pros:

  • Creative use of unique mechanic
  • Adequate challenge
  • Quality visual & audio design

Cons:

  • Repetitive puzzles
  • Poor dialogue quality (English)

Verdict
Bookbound Brigade stands out in the crowd with a unique and well-executed main mechanic, detailed design, and a charming story concept. 
4/5

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