ElePaper Action (エレペーパーアクション) - Windows (2005)
Read or Die was a strange little anime series. Based around a series of heroic, relatively mild-mannered bookworms, the heroines could manipulate paper to fend off evil doers. This might sound patently ridiculous, but there were a lot of cool applications for this unusual power - say, creating gigantic origami cranes to fly in, or sending gigantic barrages to cut up foes. A single paper cut might be little more than an annoyance, but thousands of them can certainly do quite a bit of damage. In 2005, doujin developer EasyGameStation created an unusual beat-em-up based on the license, ElePaper Action. Despite the name, it has little to do with the classic arcade title, over than a mini-game in the end credits. Rather, it's a 2.5D action game with some mechanics comfortably outside the norm.
There are two sets of playable characters. The default bunch is The Paper Sisters, the heroines of the TV series - the enthusiastic pink haired girl Anita, the shy, dark haired Maggie, and ditzy blonde leader Michelle. (The selection screen refers to them as "Trio the Paper", a reference to the bizarre Data East arcade game Trio the Punch.) In the game, the player only has direct control over Anita, while the other two sisters merely tag along. Anita can wallop on enemies simply by pushing into them, which begins her combo. By herself, she's obviously not that powerful, but each of the three action buttons is assigned to each of the sisters. Maggie can set up a barricade to stop enemy attacks or use as platforms, while Michelle fires out paper like an arrow. Anita has her own button too, which allows to temporarily break away from the group. In this state, she is slightly more powerful, but more important is how is effects the other two sisters. Maggie can now create three different types of animals out of paper, guarding them temporarily, while Michelle fires a whole volley of arrows, substantially increasing her attack power. However, the group can only remain separated for a few moments before Anita must return, and must wait a few more seconds for this attack to recharge.
The second character is Yomiko Readman, also known under the pseudonym "The Paper" (which sounds dramatically absurd when said out loud in a Japanese accent - something like "ZA PEY-PA"). She fights alone, and her method of attack is a little more straightforward. Unlike The Paper Sisters, Yomiko has her own attack button. She also has six different types of secondary attacks, which are toggled between with the second button and activated by the third button. She can toss paper normally, create shields like Maggie, sends out a barrage which home in on enemies, set spike traps on the ground, summon a gigantic fan to whap foes with, or craft a gigantic paper airplane to barrel through the opponents.
It's all pretty fun - and when playing as The Paper Sisters, a nice change from the beat-em-up norms - except for the fact that it's all pretty brainless. Given that most attacks require close quarters combat, it's usually difficult to avoid damage, which is mitigated by the numerous amounts of healing items. All movement takes place across a single horizontal plane, so there's no way to move up or down like many arcade beat-em-ups. There are some platforming elements, but not many. This was probably for the best, because you need to hit Up to jump, which can get awkward. Enemies also take far too many hits if they're approached directly, so most of the time you need to use your paper skills. However, you have limited amounts of paper, small quantities of which are replenished whenever you kill a foe. The overall goal of each stage is to make sure you don't consume more paper than you use, otherwise you'll be underpowered against the final stage boss. It's not a very well thought-out approach, because it creates tedious situations where you need to concentrate on hand-to-hand combat, slowly whittling down your foes hit points until you stock enough paper. The levels, too, tend towards the long and repetitive side, especially as it nears the end. There's a shooter level, but is so basic that is' almost pointless. As such, it's an enjoyable yet disposable experience - worth playing through once, then easily forgotten.
The 2D artwork look quite nice, but the camera has a tendency to zoom in and out a lot, especially when activating Anita's powers, distorting the sprites rather obnoxiously. There are some references to other video games and manga strewn throughout - one of the enemies is Mechazawa, the punk student robot from Cromartie High School, while the colored, hooded foes are ripped almost directly from Rolling Thunder. The finale even manages to toss in a bizarre reference to Nausicaä.