Bookbound Brigade Review: Hit the Books

Bookbound Brigade is a Metroidvania that simply misses the point. It builds on all of the worst aspects of the genre while enjoying none of its strengths.

Bookbound Brigade is set in the literary world, one where words are everything and the characters they bring to life interact with one another. It seems the likes of Dracula and Joan of Arc know each other despite the temporal hurdles standing in their way. 

The story, though, revolves around the most important book of all, B.O.B (Book Of Books) being stolen, and it is your job to get it back, restore the pages that have been torn from it, and defeat and villains you find as you go. This journey takes you through scenery that is vaguely related to mythology, history, or fairy tales, and it does so in a Metroidvania style.

It's an odd mix, but then so is your cast of heroes. 

Bookbound Brigade Review: Hit the Books

You don't play as a single hero in Bookbound Brigade. Instead, you play as a group of them who move as one unit. Kind of like an amorphous blob, but made up of Queen Elizabeth, Nikolai Tesla, and Sun Wukong. Further, you can change the formation of your little Bookbound Brigade. You can be a general blob, a tall tower, a single line on the ground, or a wheel. Truly, these are the classics. 

As a Metroidvania of sorts, you gain new abilities in Bookbound Brigade, while also backtracking a lot. You also occasionally fall to your death and get annoyed. Remember that last one because we'll come back to it. 

The abilities you gain are pretty interesting, though, and while they start off with things like the double jump, you eventually gain the ability to swing around your group like a rope and even teleport. The different formations you unlock also help traversal, but they also factor into the combat too. 

They Did The Mash, They Did The Button Mash

For the most part, combat is a simple matter of just hitting the attack button a lot. There's very little nuance when it comes to the game's smaller enemies. Things change a bit when the enemies are bigger than you, though, as they won't flinch a bit. Instead, you have to stun them. 

To stun a larger enemy, you have to throw a smaller enemy at them. You can do this by using either the vertical or horizontal formations and hitting a smaller enemy multiple times, throwing that enemy forward to stun and damage the big enemy. Simple enough. 

The problem is that it's essentially the only tactic that works against the larger enemies. Consequently, it gets dull. In the rare event that it isn't the case, you have to jump around annoying poison clouds, or just button mash your way to victory. There's no nuance, no feeling of skill.

The platforming does slightly better at least. There are a fair few sections that will have you shouting for joy once you've mastered them. Pixel-perfect jumping becomes the norm very early on, and each section presents a new challenge, whether that be crumbling platforms or jets of flame. 

Did I Do That?

The only issue here — and it's a doozy  is that a lot of the obstacles you face when platforming aren't signaled well. Instead, they often feel like "gotcha" moments, where the game punishes you for not predicting the sudden appearance of spikes or something similar. At those moments, you don't blame yourself for not seeing the issue; you get annoyed at the game for trying to trick you. 

It's not the only time that Bookbound Brigade can be frustrating either (I feel like that's probably coming across by this point). 

There's one section set in an amalgam of different ancient cultures that has you pulling levers to drop down through some platforms. Initially, you go down and realize you need to find the level on the other side of the wall as there is a solid block stopping you from going any further. So, you jump back up, find the lever, make your way back to the drop, go down some more, and find a similar issue a little further on. 

I was annoyed at this point; I hate feeling like a game is wasting my time, and this one definitely was. Nevertheless, I found that second lever, went back, dropped down, and guess what kids? Yup, a third lever. 

Rage. 

I wouldn't mind this stuff if you could see it ahead of time. I like levers for the most part. Pulling them is satisfying. However, not signaling that this needed to be done, then having to backtrack three times in one room, just to get to an exit, is indicative of the worst possible interpretation of the Metroidvania genre. Progress is slow and frustrating, and the game itself never seems that bothered about it. 

Pros 

  • Interesting concept
  • Good narrator

Cons

  • Poorly signaled puzzles
  • Cheap gotcha moments and traps
  • Frustrating disrespect for your time

Bookbound Brigade is a game that feels like it hates you. That's fine, to a degree, as long as you can still get that rush of success from it. unfortunately, you can't.

When a Metroidvania lacks satisfying combat, insists on having you needlessly backtrack, and doesn't reward exploration, then it fails as a Metroidvania. That's the case here. Throw Bookbound Brigade to the back of your library and forget it. 

[Note: A copy of Bookbound Brigade was provided by Intragames for the purpose of this review.]

 

Our Rating
4
Bookbound Brigade is a Metroidvania that simply misses the point. It builds on all of the worst aspects of the genre while enjoying none of its strengths.
Reviewed On: Nintendo Switch

Contributor

Jason likes the gym, roguelikes, and FromSoftware. There is a pattern there for sure, but try not to read too much into it. He's also a freelance games journalist who is slowly trying to take over the world. Not in a menacing way though, he'd probably just make everyone get pets or something.

Published Jan. 28th 2020

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