The modern AAA development system has plenty of interesting side effects. Companies are not making games as they used to, with many popular franchises from yesteryear either laying dormant or wholly transformed from how they once were. So, as people that grew up in the late nineties and early aughts reach adulthood and join the burgeoning indie game development scene, they now get to make the games they wish the big publishers would.
Enter French team WildArts Studio, who saw a massive hole in all of our hearts where a third RPG-style Paper Mario title was meant to go and decided to fill it with their own wacky universe. Born of Bread is the story of Loaf, a sentient golem who quite literally popped out of a baker’s oven in his home kingdom’s royal kitchen. Unfortunately, shortly after his unexpected birth, the castle is attacked by a nefarious group (who have accidentally framed the baker for this act of terrorism), and Loaf and his “father” are knocked through the wall and plummet into the nearby forest in an opening very reminiscent of the first Paper Mario.
I want to clarify early that Born of Bread definitely has its own identity and is not a gluten-based copy of our favorite wood-fibrous plumber. The game takes clear and heartfelt inspiration from many elements of Paper Mario, most notably in art style, tone, and combat, but all three of these do still manage to be meaningfully distinct. As a result, it creates an experience that, at the same time, feels nostalgic and original and left me with a big, dumb grin on my face for my entire brief preview session.
In the forest, we’re better introduced to the game’s exploration. Loaf is given a ladle he can use to whack objects in the environment, which the player is encouraged to do with reckless abandon to find secrets and goodies. You can also use it to get the first strike on the enemies that roam the maps.
Combat looks just familiar enough to get the hang of quickly but also adds brand-new twists on the formulas of games past. For example, Loaf can equip weapons he finds in the environment in a grid-based inventory system, and each weapon has a different effect in combat – most of them cost energy points. However, these can also be regenerated by playing it smart.
Shortly after plunging into the woods, Loaf and the baker meet Lint, a small raccoon boy who lives alone in a hut as he tries to become a writer (big mood there, buddy). Lint decides to accompany the two back to civilization and guide them through the woods and becomes the first companion of the game. Companions have separate health bars and energy gauges, and all of Lint’s attacks do consume energy, forcing the player to strategize on when best to use them.
Maneuvering through the woods, I was struck by the music, mainly because it was totally different than the peppy soundtrack of Born of Bread‘s inspiration. While the battle theme seems evidently inspired by the combat tracks from Mario, the overworld music was a much more serene and ambient tune that I quickly fell equally in love with. While I didn’t get to meet the composer in person, we’ll publish an interview with the team on our website.
After a trek through the forest full of secrets, mazes, and other things to hit with his ladle, Loaf, and company arrive back in the capital city, where they try to return to the bakery, only to find a crudely-drawn wanted poster calling for the capture of the baker. The city guards surround the group, take the baker, and Loaf and Lint are left to plan their next move to save their friend and possibly the whole kingdom, and the demo ends.
Born of Bread was one of the first games I saw at PAX that made me go, “Oh, I’ve gotta play that.” The games that inspired it both rank among my favorite of all time, and I found every single element of this title could satisfy a longing in me that I had no idea was so intense. I only got a brief taste of Bread, and now, I’m ready for the whole loaf.
Born of Bread is coming this summer to Steam.
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