Bookbound brigade: Librarians, file this one under "Fun"

I have explored this side of the cave for the past 30 minutes. The challenge of the moving spikes and flying fireballs had me sweating, grim...

I have explored this side of the cave for the past 30 minutes. The challenge of the moving spikes and flying fireballs had me sweating, grimacing and muttering frustrated under my breath. But here I am, finally passed that dreaded trap filled nightmare. It is time to reap the rewards of a nice treasure box or find another ally in my quest to restore peace among the literary heroes that have gone a bit off kilter. I move further down the hallway and am greeted by a looming purple wall. It is something that must be removed, but nothing I do currently seems to break through. *Sigh* It is time to head back and try another path. Let's hope that fiery spike trap is easier to conquer when approaching it from the other side.


Bookbound Brigade asks the player what would happen if all the protagonists of the world's books lost their memory and were scattered across the world. Imagine your favorite heroes and villains both historical or fictional on the loose while trying to find their way back home or not remember what they were up to in the first place. Julius Ceasar opening a vegetarian restaurant? Joan of Arc frozen in fear because she lost her flame proof armor? In the game a magical book named the Book of Books (B.O.B) goes missing from the Hall of Libraries causing all sorts of famous fictional and historical characters to become unbound from their universe and be scattered across multiple worlds. It is time for a bunch of brave heroes to bond together and restore order, beating up many enemies along the way, solving puzzles and avoiding traps.
The Library, Well... part of it.

As a 2-D action platform puzzle game, Bookbound Brigade falls in the metroid-vania genre. This means multiple areas to explore and return to as you gain new skills over time, allowing you to move further each time. You will visit four unique worlds, each with a variety of areas with in. From forests to castles, to desert landscapes there is a lot to see and explore. These four worlds are massive and all are connected together via a hub world called, what else, the Library. This is where you find any rescued NPC's, turn in quests and eventually unlock the gateway to the Book of Books.

The unique hook of the game is that instead controlling one character, you control a brigade of 6 and eventually 8 unlikely heroes at a time. Dracula, King Arthur, Queen Victoria, Nikola Tesla, Cassandra, Dorothy from Oz, The Monkey King and Robin Hood each bring their unique skills and colorful commentary to assist the player in fending off hordes of enemies. You will not only need good hand eye coordination, but also use your cerebral skills to solve puzzles throughout the game.
Swing and a miss

Taking control of multiple characters at the same time offers some unique gameplay. Initially bundled together in a standard formation, eventually you can form four different formations that are needed to survive the various challenges that you will encounter throughout the game. For instance a wheel formation can help you break certain barriers, where a column formation can help you squeeze in tight spaces. Each formation is selected with a quick flick of a button combination on the controller. At times, it was even needed to change formations while mid jump or right after a landing in order to pass through challenging areas. Here is a closer look at each of these formations.

Standard formation
The default and most balanced formation. It has a powerful double jump and a strong attack.

Column formation
This is really the best way to avoid closely spaced vertical obstacles or to reach higher platforms. With this formation the Brigade gains increased defense, but its speed and attack are decreased. There is also a matter of physics, if you move too fast the Brigade will wobble, which can cause you to hit a dangerous spike or flame trap etc. If you really push it the formation might even collapse. So tread careful.

Line formation
Staying low to the ground is the perfect way to pass through narrow passages, and avoid projectiles. Again statistics are altered. The Brigade gains increased speed and attack, but its defense decreases.

Wheel formation
Good to move very fast through a stage and eventually roll over enemies, although normal moves cannot be used while in this formation.

These formations, though useful will not be enough to beat the entire game. The game will also offer a few ways to grow your stats with new skills, both unlocked through adventuring and rescuing key NPC's in the game as well as through purchasing skills from a skill tree using in game currency. Each character will have some unique capabilities to bring to the team. For instance Dracula can turn into a bat and fly the team across small distances, while Robin Hood can sing an enthralling song, stunning all the enemies on screen. It is the players choice which skills and formations are used to traverse a level and solve the puzzle. Though some areas are specifically conquered with a particular skill, others may have multiple ways of passing through them.
You can unlock skills in any order you like, as long as you have the cash!

This is where the game sometimes can be more than just a challenge and feel like a chore. As you move through 4 non-linear worlds and its large hub world to find and unlock all of its secrets, you will end up doing a lot of backtracking and work through trial and error. Maybe you hit a specific boss fight you just cannot cross so you have to go collect more skill currency to increase your health or you need to find an NPC, somewhere to get that swinging skill to cross that large gap. Backtracking has always been a big part of metroid -vania style games, but with the large levels and only one or two ways out of the world, getting back into the hub world can at times be frustrating. Especially so if between you and the portal back are a bunch of very challenging traps. Maybe I am just too old and slow for these and it is just me. Spoiled by the many features of video games this day and age, I found myself often longing for a quick portal out once I realized I hit another dead end I could not pass yet. 

Luckily Bookbound Brigade is loaded with save points. Once you pass them you regain all
health and energy back that you might have lost. If you happen to lose all life in the area you will zoom back to the most recent save point that you passed. You can however only regain your health and energy back on time. If you want to do that again you have to first pass another save point. This resets the previous save point to use again on your way back.

Besides roaming enemies and many traps and puzzles, you will every so often pass through an arena type area that closes you in and forces you to fight a few waves of enemies. Some of those are level bosses, others are just waves of common fodder. Win the battles and you are rewarded with a big loot chest full of health and currency. Once cleared you can pass through as many times as you like without being jumped again. If you ever leave the world, or the game itself and come back, the enemies will be back in wait again for you take on and get more loot...or to meet your doom.

Bookbound Brigade is very colorful, drawing inspiration from classic book illustrations and bringing them to life on the screen with a distinct style. Each world feels unique and even within each level there can be multiple areas are unique. From the blue ocean shores of the Litra-Sea to the purple stain glass window look of an imposing castle to the Greek columns found in the dominion of empires the game offers a new visual around every corner. With over 41 enemy types across 5 worlds, the game is not lacking in variation. The music at times feels pulled straight from a blockbuster fantasy movie and provided a unique feel for each area that you travel across. These unique sights and sound help to keep everything distinct and different throughout the game.

There is no spoken audio outside of the introduction, but there is plenty of written banter throughout the game. From your brigade bickering with each other and joyfully jabbing at NPC's you find throughout the game, to the narrator providing feedback to inform you it is time to go somewhere else or acquire a new skill the chatter does not stop. The fire puns addressed to Joan of Arc  particularly was just the warm up (HA!) of things to come. Eventually they are really cooking with gas (HA again!) All dialog was written by industry veteran Dean Wilkinson (Little Big Planet, South park, Buzz, etc.) providing this game with an abundance of tongue in cheek dialog. The only thing that felt a little off were the text balloons. Something about the formatting felt like it could have used a bit more design as it was a little flat compared to the rest of the game design. But with as much as the game offers it is hardly a deal breaker.

You will find over 50 hilarious NPC characters populate the game’s 4 thematic worlds as well as in the library HUB. There is a lot of exploring to do, giving you plenty of hours with the game. Exploring is the key to success.

Bookbound Brigade is a surprisingly massive game that brings a lot to the table in a crowded genre. It is fun to see the many literary heroes make an appearance and get a chuckle out of each of their little quirks. The gameplay offers a unique mechanic that sets it apart from the rest. Combined with its art style and presentation, it feels refreshing. The game is clearly a product of love. A love for classic gameplay, a love for video games, books and legendary stories. The game is loaded with content and can offer a real challenge at times. Rated E for everyone, it is family friendly but for the lesser skilled players it can be hard at times. It is a good game to learn that trial and error and timing will allow you to eventually prevail, just don't try to be in a hurry. The game is never unfair and remember, you can stop at any save point and try again later. Or perhaps you need an upgrade to get past a certain point. To me Bookbound Brigade lived up to its promise that I saw last August when I played it at Gamescom and it deserves to have a place on your favorite console. 

Game information:
Title: Bookbound Brigade
Developer: Intragames
Publisher: Digital Tales
Release date: January 30, 2020
Platforms: PC, Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4
Version Reviewed:  PC (Steam)
ESRB: E  for Everyone/PEGI-7


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