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  • Writer's pictureNate Hermanson

REVIEW: Born of Bread's paper RPG vibes aren't thin, but a bit crinkled

When we highlighted Born of Bread in our "Top 8 New Indie Games We Can’t Wait to Play in 2023" video, we spotlighted it for its wish-fulfillment potential: It felt like WildArts Studio was making their Paper Mario dreams come true by simply making the game they'd wanted instead of waiting for Nintendo to make it.


The comparison is apt, as Born of Bread attempts to recreate the joyful vibes that the family-friendly RPG series embodied, with all its timing minigames and pun-based writing in tow. All the ingredients are there. They're well incorporated. In some ways, the taste of the dough is even better than the recipe promised... but a little more time in the oven might have done this project good, as a handful of major glitches left us with a soggy bottom in the end. (Great British Bake Off fans, rise up.)


Are you bready to talk about this "yeastpunk" RPG? (I'm not sorry.)


An in-game screenshot of Born of Bread's combat screen. It shows a deck of action cards over both playable fighers, a row of enemies, and a chat interface of people watching the fight.

​Just the Facts

Developer: WildArts Studio Inc.

Publisher: Dear Villagers

Platform(s): PC*, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series S and X, Nintendo Switch *platform reviewed on

Price: $24.99

Release Date: December 5, 2023

Review key provided by publisher.


The quest to recapture what even Nintendo couldn't


WildArts Studio started its journey in a vastly different field with a mailman horror game that got the initial two-person team running. After successfully launching that and learning lots about the industry, the team bulked up and got ready for a "much more ambitious project" in Born of Bread. The squad has doubled in size, the scale has ballooned, and the inspirations are bolder. They've set out to recreate the Paper Mario RPG format.


The gaming community has been clamoring for this for decades. Paper Mario is a beloved series that hasn't seen a satisfying release in almost 20 years. The closest the series has gotten to something enjoyable was Origami King in 2020, but fans have long wished for a return to the systems and storytelling of the series' agreed-upon best game: The Thousand-Year Door.


I'm happy to report that Born of Bread does its best to channel that exact game. And it mostly succeeds in capturing that charm and joy-first presentation style (at the expense of any real challenge) that Nintendo has bottled and sold us for years, but without the technical spick and span that you might be used to with the average Nintendo release.


Here's where the comparison issue rears its ugly head. By so closely aligning itself with the works of a Triple-A studio so known for its polish and proficiency, some of the sore spots of an indie development cycle are even more apparent. Still, Born of Bread has enough personality to stand on its own.


But before we fully bake that analysis, let's talk about exactly what Born of Bread is all about.


The Rise of Loaf


In Born of Bread, you inhabit the child-like soul of Loaf, a non-speaking flour golem born out of the royal baker's accidental use of an ancient recipe. Simultaneous to this doughy birth comes the return of a gaggle of vengeful teenagers who were frozen in time from years past; they are the last remaining evidence of the long-gone Ember Kingdom. With their kingdom seemingly forgotten and a new society built off the bones of what once was, they've got their eyes on a mystical plot to restore the kingdom to its former glory.


Through a series of cartoony happenstances, Loaf finds himself wrapped up in this plot — freeing his Papa Baker from prison after he's blamed for a crime he didn't commit, helping a raccoon named Lint find his family, and solving a family dispute involving ghosts and property deeds. The usual fantasy fare. It's an off-kilter world full of silly circumstances, and it makes for an enjoyable adventure. Along the way, you'll meet new people and help them solve their problems, too.


Although he doesn't speak, Loaf's very expressive and overall just a sweet, bouncy bread boy. Seeing things play out through his youthful lens — I just gained sentience and, hey, the world is pretty cool! — works well for the quirky story. He's reminiscent of old school cartoons where "Let's go on an adventure and save the day!" is sort of as deep as the protagonist's sense of selfhood goes. But he's a lad who loves to help his friends, and that's admirable. Born of Bread's narrative is wholesome and charming — and surprisingly modern and cheeky in ways I didn't expect, too. There's great depth to the interpersonal relationships that each of your eventual companions have with their respective communities. There are blatant pop culture references. And puns. So many puns.


Where Paper Mario is more sanitized, with Nintendo's charming but sometimes childish approach to storytelling, Born of Bread is decidedly more mature. In a good way. If the two were cartoons, it's like the difference between something on Nick Jr. and Avatar: The Last Airbender. Both can be youthful and silly, but the latter doesn't infantilize its audience or shy away from less sugarcoated topics or feelings. And that more than makes it a worthwhile adventure to dive into.


An in-game screenshot of Born of Bread. A moment of discussion between the party of characters. A blue-haired detective type stands with her hand on her chin, pondering the moment. A goat-like warrior stands shocked saying "Oh thank the brightest sun, you're alive." A green sweater wearing racoon also stands shocked. They all stand in the foyer of some grand mansion.

Born of Bread wears its paper heart on its sleeve


WildArts does more than borrow the pun-laden tendencies of Paper Mario — it pulls heavily from the gameplay, and applies its same irreverent charm to the mechanics.


Where Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door themes each of its turn-based battles as performances on a stage, Born of Bread reframes them as livestreams where the audience gets to request certain actions and influence the battle from afar.


Combat's got all the usual trappings for a turn-based RPG. Health to manage, willpower points to maintain for skill usage, and partners who you can swap in and out of combat, bringing a unique skill set. And of course, it has all the fun timing minigame shenanigans you could ask for. Mash buttons, hit them in a certain rhythm, or keep your aim on a specific target for maximum damage.


Your inventory of weapons, each with its own elemental alignments, manifests as a series of Tetris blocks that need to fit together just right to be usable. Each enemy has an elemental weakness and attack type weakness. For example, an enemy might be weak to fire and blade damage. Another might be weak to psychic and blunt damage. This system layers in some complexity but never makes things too complicated.


Not unlike its inspirations, Born of Bread is far from a difficult RPG. Any veteran of the genre will have a breeze of a time making it through combat, as long as you focus on your enemy's weaknesses and are even just okay at the various combat minigames. This makes it a very beginner-friendly RPG, one that could introduce gamers to a whole new genre and endear them to a series like Paper Mario that they otherwise may have never tried. So if you're looking for a more challenging variant of Nintendo's usual fare, this probably isn't for you.


But if a plucky can-do attitude and cozy character relationships do it for you, and if the small ways they innovate on the formula intrigue you, it's easy to excuse the lacking challenge.


For one, the elemental focus makes for an interesting twist. Beyond each enemy having their unique set of weaknesses, elements are associated with each companion and even with healing items. Pair the right elemental healing item with the right person and you'll get extra health or willpower. Threading that system into more than just combat is a welcome addition. It ties into the theming of each new location nicely, and the idea that certain people have certain tastes based on the region they're from? That's just fun.


The aesthetic of its cast of characters — each with their own set of exaggerated facial expressions and bouncy animation cycles — is perfectly Saturday Morning Cartoon, capturing that familiar feeling of adventure and spunk.

Like Paper Mario, each new companion comes with some brand-new ability they can use in the overworld, but Born of Bread's take is a bit more Metroidvania than what its Nintendo counterpart offers. Yagi, the psychic fighting goat, can meditate to bring translucent platforms to life. Chloe Coldstock, a detective snowperson, can throw out lanterns to burn down barriers. Chloe was probably my favorite companion, and I enjoyed embarking on her story, a mystery happening right in her own home. You get to meet her whole family and see a lot more of her character and relationships shine through.


As you progress throughout the world and these companions bring new abilities to your crew, you'll slowly realize the ways they can help you overcome some progression-stopping walls that you've been running into along the way. There's some satisfaction in finally unlocking a companion that breaks down a wall you ran into at the very start of the game... but beyond the genuine story progression, going back for these secrets mostly gets you small rewards or badges you don't truly need to get by.


Born of Bread is a series of fun ideas and execution that pays off okay, but there's a lacking layer of polish that holds it back from the heights of its inspirations — which is to be expected when comparing studios of their size, and ultimately, didn't dampen the charm.


An in-game screenshot of Born of Bread's equipment management screen. Weapons are represented as Tetris blocks aligned in a grid.

When it works, it works. When it doesn't...


When I first played this, Born of Bread felt like it was being held together by tape. The further I went, the more the cracks were revealed. It started simply: white squares replacing assets on the UI, actions taking a few seconds to register, the combat streaming interface scrolling by really quickly. But by the end, I was surprised it managed to get over the finish line.


First, an entire chunk of the map was replaced by a black void, completely impassable. Then, the end of multiple side quest arcs that spanned the entire game... just wouldn't trigger. Characters reacted as if I'd finished them but I never properly saw the endings. And as if to taunt me right at the end, the game's climactic finale just had the soundtrack completely disappear.


When the game was so busy charming me in almost every department, it was frustrating to see the game step on its own toes so often. The game has been patched a lot since my first playthrough, but many of the issues I encountered are still broken. WildArts remains working on the project and vows to fix the issues plaguing it, and they deserve credit for that, but there's a resounding feeling this game could have used a little more time to bake. If you have a low tolerance for issues like these, it might be worth it to wait for a handful of patches to push through.


Despite all that, it's a promising game. The story is charming, the gameplay is fun enough, if not a bit shallow by the end of the game, and WildArts lives up to its name, providing a visual style and soundtrack that are in a million ways so beautifully and wildly artistic.


The aesthetic of its cast of characters — each with their own set of exaggerated facial expressions and bouncy animation cycles — is perfectly Saturday Morning Cartoon, capturing that familiar feeling of adventure and spunk.


The Robert Kilpatrick soundtrack, full of its own pep and personality, might just be the best part of the experience. If there's any part of the game that matches the quality you'd expect from Nintendo, it's this tone-setting soundtrack that consistently hits the mark, leaving you constantly thinking to yourself "this is exactly what I'd think this scene would sound like."


An in-game screenshot of Born of Bread, depicting Loaf and his racoon friend Lint running through a snowy town. Behind them, various villagers in winter clothing can be seen milling about. A giant cloudy dome sits ominously in the background.

Born of Bread is a colorful, fun-first RPG that fans of the genre and newcomers alike will find a lot to love in. Across its 15-20 hour journey, it'll charm you, it'll remind you of some classics, and it'll set up a superb look and sound for an adventure. But it won't be without its issues. Add in a few progression-halting glitches and you've got a game that doesn't quite reach its greater ambitions, but is still worth tossing in the oven to watch rise.


Video Games Are Good and Born of Bread is . . . GOOD. (7/10)


+ charming, cute, cozy, and approachable; a bright soundtrack that feels like the titans it attempts to emulate; a classic Paper Mario experience for those missing it


- glitches hold it back from greatness, too easy for veterans, maybe too involved for newcomers, comparisons to Paper Mario do it few favors, not gluten-free :)


The key art for Born of Bread. It depicts a cozy kitchen where, out of the oven, an explosion of characters burst out. At the front is the red-hoodied bread boy, Loaf. Clockwise from him are the purple dragon Dub, a green sweater wearing Racoon Lint, a purple flame being named Jester, and a snow-person wearing blue clothing named Chloe.

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2 comentários


Convidado:
17 de jan.

I'll definitely wait a little longer before checking this out...

Curtir

julcooper
15 de jan.

me on youtube vibing to this soundtrack rn


Curtir
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