Paperbark Is Wonderfully Serene

It wasn’t until I sat at my desk, popped on some Bluetooth headphones and blocked out the office, that I began to truly appreciate Paperbark.

Paperbark has been kicking around the Australian indie scene for a while. It started out as a project between some students at RMIT, with those students eventually spinning up their own studio called Paper House. Last year, Film Victoria gave them funding through the Assigned Production Investment program, and the game recently became available for all through iOS for $5.99.

It’s a short story about a wombat surviving in the Australian summer. You can tell it’s a uniquely Australian game from the off: the landscape is full of the slightly desaturated greens and browns that you get from the outback. The sound of crickets play in the background; you can hear the sound of running water from nearby streams.

Every now and again you’ll get a short cut scene, with a voice over describing the wombat’s journey for food. It’s the perfect kind of meditative, relaxing game that works perfectly on the grind of the daily commute. I’d absolutely recommend playing with sound, although the game’s core mechanic can be enjoyed without headphones.

As you move the little wombat around by tapping, you reveal the rest of the area by swiping with your finger. The game screen is largely white, but when you swipe it reveals the surroundings with a slight delay. It looks like blotches of watercolour just before the textures fully form, and then over the next few seconds the colour and detail slowly fades out.

It’s really, really pretty.

Of course, that chilled aesthetic comes at a cost. Even on the iPhone X, which is bloody powerful as far as phones go, Paperbark tends to chug from time to time. It’s especially egregious when you’re clearing more than half of the screen at once, although in later chapters more area tends to remain on the screen.

Part of the problem seems to be that the frame rate isn’t hard capped; the dips are most noticeable when the foreground reloads quickly after the brief cut scenes. It’s not a dealbreaker, mind you, but is worth noting if you’re playing on an iPhone 6 or 7.

It’s better to consider Paperbark as an interactive storybook, rather than a game per se. You’re largely just wandering around looking for collectibles, watching the fog of war as it clears, listening to the sound of the bush as the wombat searches for food.

In a word, it’s serene. It’s not mechanically challenging. It’s not something you’ll play for weeks on end. It’s also not that kind of game. This is pure escapism, an opportunity to pop on some headphones and be transported into the outback for a short while.

I don’t listen to the sound in mobile games often. Mobile games tend to be a distraction, something I play to occupy my hands while doing or thinking about something else. In Paperbark, the sound – especially the ambient sounds and the gentle music – makes the experience.

Plus, seeing that fat little wombat wriggle its way through fences and trees is just adorable. You’ll only get an hour’s tops out of Paperbark, but you’ll feel a lot calmer once that hour’s done.

To check out more about the game, head to the App Store.

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