Paws of Coal Review
As much as I love the spring AAA season, it’s exhausting to play through big budget quasi-open world action games every few weeks. Don’t get me wrong, Star Wars Jedi: Survivor is great, The Last of Us Part I is phenomenal and Redfall is… Redfall. But there’s only so many of these overproduced titles that you or I can burn through before booting up Steam feels a lot like entering purgatory. The indie market is a bit better, but even artsy fartsy games designed to get awards from Geoff Keighley aren’t especially enjoyable after playing them almost non-stop during the annual winter release draught. Thankfully, for better or worse, games like Paws of Coal exist to cleanse the industry’s palate, because even if those games (and that specific game) aren’t the best on the market, they’re different enough from everything else on virtual shelves and don’t require a week’s vacation to get through.
Paws of Coal, May’s one-off indie game that isn’t trying to win a BAFTA award, puts you in control of an adorable furry friend that’s tasked with investigating why a bunch of anamorphic animals are getting sick in a stylised mining town. That premise, and the game’s narrative overall, are refreshingly simple. There’s just enough lore established early on to get you invested, and as the plot progresses, there’s the perfect amount of action to keep the game engaging without it ever becoming overbearing or a chore to play.
The same sentiment applies to Paws of Coal’s gameplay. To complete your task and beat the game, you need to talk to the town’s dozen-odd residents, skim through a handful of short books, examine some random objects and then make an educated guess about what’s happening in a capitalistic version of a Minecraft furry convention. There simply isn’t anything more to the game than that; outside of moving around the town, progressing through dialogue trees and occasionally intuiting the solution of a logic puzzle, Paws of Coal just doesn’t have a lot in the way of actual gameplay.
There aren’t any bombastic set pieces to sit through, nor are there any intricate mechanics to play with or any characters you need to woo. Paws of Coal takes about three hours to beat, and once you’ve solved the mystery of why animals are getting sick, all you need to do is close the game, write a Steam review for it and enjoy the fact that the game was generally enjoyable for something that costs less than a McDonald’s meal.
To be clear, the review you’ll write will hopefully be positive, because aside from the fact that developers should be encouraged to create enjoyable and short titles like this, Paws of Coal is more or less a good time. Although it won’t be winning any awards for its text-heavy dialogue, and the fact that it (sigh) has a handful of annoying bugs, the mystery you solve is surprisingly interesting and in-depth. There are some of red herrings to deduce, in addition to grey rabbits and black bunnies you chat with, and the story has just enough social commentary to warrant a grin without it turning into the mess that is Not Tonight 2.
Really, Paws of Coal’s only noteworthy fault is that it lacks almost anything in the way of actual gameplay. When you aren’t talking with the aforementioned fuzzy friends, the only other thing you do is move around the game’s small map. While that movement is fun enough, if for no other reason than the running animation is absolutely adorable, it would’ve been nice to have something to do that isn’t based around an undersized text-based interface.
But, truth be told, the lack of proper gameplay in Paws of Coal is fine, which coincidentally is the word best used to describe the game overall. While it doesn’t do anything worth writing home about, its lack of noteworthy-ness is what makes it a game worth picking up. In a medium that’s filled to the brim with overengineered crap designed to get you addicted to loot boxes or DLC, Paws of Coal is so simple and so straightforward that it’s hard not to recommend it. If you’re looking for something with an in-depth narrative or something that will let you waste a week of your life, there are far better games on the market that will allow you to do just that. But if you have a few quid to spare and want to enjoy an afternoon, there’s no good reason why Paws of Coal shouldn’t be in your Steam library.
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