This is an Early Access Review and as such opinions and scores are based solely on the state of the game at the time of review and subject to change as development progresses leading up to final release.
My Beautiful Paper Smile might be one of the creepiest games you’ll play this summer. You play as an imprisoned child, one of the Joyous who has been taken by the Authorities under the order of the mad king and forced to wear a mask with a perpetual smile while undergoing daily testing to ensure your smile never fades no matter what hellish “tests” you are forced to endure.
In its current Early Access form only the first two (of four) chapters are available to play giving you roughly 3-4 hours of exploration and stealth-survival. The game is rather simplistic with its WADS movement and mouse interactions with various bits of the environment. There is even a bit of inventory and equipment management via a simple interface. I was disappointed the game didn’t offer any controller support given my non-friendly KB+M gaming situation.
I hate to use the term, “walking simulator” but that sort of sums up My Beautiful Paper Smile, although it does pack in a few scares and plenty of frantic chase sequences, as running is pretty much your only choice when encountering something hostile. The story and gameplay is rather linear although you do get a few choices that will change the course of the narrative but all paths lead to the same ending. There is plenty of standard stealth aspects like avoiding surveillance cameras, sticking to the darker shadowy areas, and knowing when to equip your own personal aura of light.
Perhaps the biggest draw to My Beautiful Paper Smile is the unique and disturbing art design. Presented in a sinister black and white, the game comes off as more of an art project than a video game. I was reminded of the early episodes of South Park and the construction paper designs. Seeing the characters lying in bed, paper flat is just freaky, and when they stand you either get a profile or front or back image. Their feet animate at the same slow speed no matter how fast you run creating an odd dissonance. The environments are just as eerie reminding me of pencil sketches or charcoal drawings. The levels are dark and suitable depressing before you add in the lighting and shadows that really make the world pop.
There is some excellent music and sound effects to help set the mood but no voice acting, which means a lot of reading in this narrative-heavy adventure. Make sure to take the time and absorb all this content rather than hastily clicking through just to get back to gameplay. My Beautiful Paper Smile is all about the overall presentation, which in this case means a bit of reading.
Even at this stage of development My Beautiful Paper Smile is proving to be a fantastic new horror game. Yes, you are only getting half the experience at this time but $15 for what is likely to be an immersive and uncomfortable eight hour ride when it’s completed is a fair asking price, and with clever integrated decisions and plot branching you can enjoy the first two chapters multiple times while we wait for the total package. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait too long.
You can check out some gameplay from our live video show.