With apologies to Romeo and Juliet, there is no greater tale of romance than the one between a boy and his moon. This gentle love story is chronicled in Paper Moon, a black and white adventure/platform game with a first-class pedigree. It's the result of a collaboration between Flashbang Studios (Blush), Infinite Ammo and Adam Saltsman (Gravity Hook).
Our hero, a nameless spiky-haired little boy, moves and jumps with the [arrow] keys, but the real stroke of genius here is the use of the [space] bar. Hit it and the scenery will change: objects in the background will "pop" to the foreground and vice versa. With this ability, rocks come shooting out to kill enemies, platforms appear for you to jump onto, and new paths open up to be explored.
Get hit by an enemy or a piece of scenery yourself, and you simply respawn at the last checkpoint activated. The real enemy here is the timer — run out and the quest is over. On your travels, though, you can pick up time bonuses in the form of a handy little clock. Score points for smacking the bad guys with the pop ability and by collecting assorted fruits, racking up combos by grabbing more than one apple or cherry in a row.
Analysis: The gameplay may sound simple, but Paper Moon is much more than the sum of its parts. Originally designed to be stereoscopic, this monochromatic 2D world is exquisitely rendered down to the smallest detail — even the simple lines on the waves in the ocean and the teensy tiniest star in the sky carry the same design aesthetic. Alec Holowka's original score is pitch perfect, and the whole experience is infused with a dreamy retro modern feel.
Every time you play, you'll find something new. There are all sorts of alternate routes to take to your destination and plenty of precious point-giving fruits tucked away in remote corners. Blurst's achievements add to the replay value, and the game is just challenging enough that you'll keep coming back to it.
Put Paper Mario and Tim Burton in a blender and you get Paper Moon, a smooth, sophisticated example of how to integrate design and mechanics into a masterful casual game. Sure, you could cut out your own hand-drawn moon, tape it to your refrigerator and leap about beneath it, but that wouldn't even come close to this experience.