There sure are a lot of those "wholesome" games out there, so much so that any prospective cutesy adventure has its work cut out setting itself apart with all the adorable frogs (opens in new tab) and spooky witches (opens in new tab) taking gaming by storm. Luckily for Paper Animal RPG (opens in new tab), its classic Game Boy Advance charm and gameplay really help it shine.
As covered by Gaming On Linux (opens in new tab), the Wholesome Direct alum has just about reached its initial funding goal on Kickstarter with almost a month to go. In addition to the screenshots, trailer, and extensive features outlined on the Kickstarter page, developer Cuddling Raccoons has also released a free demo on itch.io (opens in new tab).
The roguelite RPG sees you selecting your preferred avatar from a cast of cute critters, each corresponding to a classic character class (here split up as brawler, caster, and supporter). You explore isometric, procedurally generated world maps arranged into floors for each tileset, with the ultimate goal of finding your village's lost king.
The combat really calls to mind the sort of experimental tactical RPGs you used to see on Nintendo hardware, and its "grid-based but real time" system almost feels like a rhythm game. Enemies have clearly marked AoE attacks that leave you a second or two to scoot out of the way, while player attacks are limited by a recharging meter sort of like the ATB system from Final Fantasy. The result is something engaging, not too taxing, and a bit reminiscent of Crypt of the Necrodancer (opens in new tab). I could see later levels ramping up the difficulty, but as it stands Paper Animal RPG already feels like a great fit for the Steam Deck (opens in new tab) or Nintendo Switch, good for traveling or winding down at night.
I'm a huge sucker for the game's look as well. Paper Animal RPG has 3D maps that resemble papercraft, and you can see a sort of "skybox" of a wood tabletop behind the play area, further calling to mind a board game. Other than that, the whole thing screams Game Boy Advance to me. The bright colors and chibi sprites of Legend of Zelda: the Minish Cap or the Mario and Luigi RPGs form an especially distinct aesthetic in hindsight, and Cuddling Raccoons have really nailed that 2002 magic here. The interface and persistent crowd of critters in the foreground watching your gameplay also subtly tickle that pleasure center of my brain I've specially reserved for Paper Mario.
At the time of writing, Paper Animal RPG's Kickstarter has raised €37,000 of its €40,000 goal with 27 days to go, so it's looking pretty safely funded. The game's stretch goals include an optional orthographic (more classic 2D-style) camera mode at €45k, challenge runs at €50k, an "enhanced world map" at €60k, and the current maximum projection is a "content expansion pack" at €70,000. If you'd like to financially support Paper Animal RPG (opens in new tab), you have until October 6 to do so, and you can check out the demo yourself on itch.io (opens in new tab).