Bookbound Brigade is a 2D side-scrolling platformer that has some unique elements, which will be covered later on. The premise of the game is to embark on a quest to retrieve B.o.B, the Book of Books, by traveling through time. Players will encounter a variety of historical figures who teach new abilities that help to progress through the game.
In short, Bookbound Brigade is a cute and witty game whose concept is refreshing, if not a little rough around the edges. Though, as a person that isn’t good at platformers, I simultaneously love and hate this game.
The first thing I noticed about Bookbound Brigade is that players control multiple characters at one time. I’m not talking about switching between characters to perform special abilities, I mean all of the characters move together and in the same way. It’s almost as though the group is attached to each other at the hip. When players jump, the whole group jumps. When players attack, each individual character attacks one after another.
Anyways, part of the strategy in Bookbound Brigade is being able to transition through the different formations to get past obstacles. Sometimes players need to be in horizontal formation to walk through small areas. Other times, players need to switch to a vertical formation to leap onto skinny platforms. Adopting this sort of mechanic makes for interesting gameplay, but it also causes a lot of frustrations, which I’ll cover later.
The historical figures used in the game are amusing because they fit the qualities of the people. However, each one has something different about them from what we know. For example, Dracula is a character that is in your party (he allows you to jump higher by using his cape – something that is unlocked early in the game). He is known for being a vampire who feasts off of human blood. In the description of each character, there is a brief introduction of who the historical figure is, followed by the ‘Unbound’ version which is different. In Bookbound Brigade, Dracula no longer kills humans by drinking their blood, he drinks tomato juice because it tastes better!
The characters found throughout the game are hilariously witty but sometimes annoying. As an example, Queen Victoria is too feisty. When in the high seas players run into a bunch of pirates (that eventually leads to the discovery of Blackbeard), one large pirate is talked down from a fight by King Arthur. Most of your band agrees except for Queen Victoria. She calls him a coward and players are pulled into the boss fight anyways. Darn Queen Victoria…
While traversing the different areas through time, players can bust open crates that sometimes grant blue pages. These pages are used to unlock abilities like extra damage by individual party members or increasing the total party’s health. Tier one cost 1000 pages. Tier two cost 3000 pages. And the cost goes up the further down the list you go for each character. For reference, in the screenshot below, underneath each character are icons with locks. Those are the extra damage abilities or health perks that players can purchase with pages. It’s a neat feature of the game that I like because frankly I do like customization in games.
Anyways, a unique feature of Bookbound Brigade is the formation system. When in the standard formation, the characters can jump, move, and attack as a unit. In vertical formation, players can execute a combination of buttons to lift up small monsters and hurl them a short distance. If in a circle formation, players can speed up movement which can damage enemies and bust through certain walls. And each formation is used regularly to access different areas or hit buttons to open doors.
Bookbound Brigade operates on a checkpoint system. These are strategically placed before important game events. They not only serve as a way to save the game, but also will restore all health and energy used by your party. Each time players go back to a previous or new checkpoint, the game will save at that location and not at the furthest point reached like some games would. I found this to be particularly useful because at each level there are multiple unreachable areas or alternate paths that players can take – assuming they’ve unlocked the respective abilities to go through those alternate paths. Sometimes the checkpoint saving would make it harder for me to get back to certain locations that I wanted to explore. However, once players have entered the world, players can’t go back until they’ve defeated the boss.
On that note, it pains me to say that Bookbound Brigade is extremely linear. While the game gives players the illusion of going other ways, often there is only one path to the boss. There is no alternative until players unlock other abilities allowing them access to chests or characters, forcing players to go through obstacles they may be stuck on until they can pass it.
I like the idea behind the combat system, but at the same time, I’m infuriated by it. Players use up to 8 historical figures at the same time. And it should be noted that the historical figures which make up your party are not chosen by players. It would have been much more interesting to me if players could choose which historical figures would embark on the quest to save B.o.B, but that isn’t the case here. Part of that is likely due to its linear method of level design… Anyways, these historical figures have two abilities that can be unlocked though gameplay. Each ability allows players to get past different obstacles like Dracula’s second jump gets the group into areas they couldn’t reach before. Other character abilities relate to the combat system, which is what makes this game unique.
The multi-character combat system is a nice refreshing take on the genre, but it’s also poorly designed. In order to fling small combatants towards a larger enemy, players either need to have the ability unlocked to do this in vertical or horizontal formation. While it’s a cool idea, the characters attack individually to make that action happen. So, the closest character has to attack the creature and lift it up (using a certain combination of key presses) and it has to reach either end for it to be thrown. At the same time that players are executing this attack, other small creatures are attacking the group, causing them to take damage. It’s almost like it’s a turn based system without actually being a turn based game. It’s also not a complicated system and is an intriguing idea, but any purchased attack boost is applied to the individual characters, not the group. It means that while players know that their characters are doing more damage, there isn’t a lot of visual representation of that fact. And honestly, having the characters all attack at the same time would work better because it just isn’t polished enough, in my opinion.
Bookish Pros and Cons
On the plus side, it’s really interesting to switch formations to do different things or access new locations. Each of the abilities are unlocked by historical figures that you save throughout the thematic tomes (or: different points in history, like Egypt for example). It allows for players to use a couple of different strategies to win boss battles and traverse obstacles, making it fun. I do like the formation mechanic, just not in combat.
Players can unlock some different perks by using book pages instead of a coin currency. I love the concept that players traverse through time by entering Thematic Tomes that are found in the library. Each wing is dedicated to a different world where these tomes can be found, and I felt it was a nice touch.
Even turning the idea of what we know about the various historical figures on their heads made me smile. The book reader in me had great fun with the references and visual representations of the characters. And overall, the above elements made me love this game.
On the negative side, trying to execute abilities didn’t always work. I don’t know if it was input lag, a dying joycon, connection strength, or the sheer fact that the game couldn’t always keep up with the number of buttons being press. While I know that the Switch I was using to review this game has a joycon that is starting to fail, I don’t actually know where the fault lies. This might not be the fault of the developer, so bear that in mind if you get a code for the Switch. I would recommend playing this on PC or with a pro controller with only one signal being sent to the console.
Another negative point to the game is that some of the levels were a bit more frustrating than others. I felt like the difficulty of the challenges were sometimes steeper than they needed to be. Granted, I am absolutely terrible at platformers, and it took far longer for me to get through certain sections of the game, but the difficulty of each area ramped up immediately. For example, I just acquired the cirle formation. In a room a little later on has a puzzle with spikes that come out of the ground at a set interval. The difficult part of this is not avoiding the spikes, it’s that players have to roll past the spikes up a hill to immediately change formations to jump close onto other spikes on a platform which leads out of the room. In another area, players use the vertical formation to pass a bunch of fire obstacles. Again, the issue isn’t that section, it’s the one immediately afterwards players have to switch formations quickly at a precise point in order to avoid the fire that will shoot out of the wall… In other words, Bookbound Brigade requires players to have fast reaction times, the ability to read situations properly, and execute a combination of buttons in rapid succession. While that isn’t necessarily a tough concept for people who are good at platformers, having a set of joycons that often defy button combinations didn’t help to ease my terribly gameplay. I’m already handicapped in this genre, no need to make things worse!
Final Literary Thoughts
Bookbound Brigade is a neat 2D platforming game that delivers a refreshing take on the genre with its combat system, no matter how flawed and shallow it may be. The game takes well-known historical figures that players are familiar with and turns them upside down while giving players a hilarious plotline. The way the game is presented is quite entertaining to me as an author and I appreciated the wit.
Personally, Bookbound Brigade gets brownie points for having a character named B.o.B because I happen to be a fan of the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher. (For those of you that are unfamiliar with this book series, Bob is the name of a sentient skull that holds a lot of knowledge. As a second aside, B.o.B.B was also a guild name from Guild Wars 1 that my brother and a few friends were apart of…)
Its platforming is simplistic enough, even if I took longer to complete levels where others who excel in this genre would find easy. I enjoyed playing Bookbound Brigade even though it is not a genre I play.