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When it comes to video games, I am first and foremost a Nintendo fan. And by extension, I am a huge Mario fan. Weirdly though, I have managed to avoid most of his RPG outings, including the Paper Mario series. I never owned a Nintendo 64, I somehow managed to miss out on The Thousand-Year Door, and I rented Super Paper Mario from Blockbuster for about a week and made very little progress. My lengthiest experience with the franchise was actually with the much-maligned Paper Mario: Sticker Star. But while seemingly everybody was busy hating that game with every fibre of their being, 15-year-old me was having a lovely time. I enjoyed the arts and crafts aesthetic, light platforming elements and light puzzling moments. And at the time, I was someone who’s only real experience with turn-based games was through the Pokémon series, so I enjoyed the light RPG elements as well. But, as you might be able to tell by my overuse of the word “light,” I came to realize what everybody else knew from day one of Sticker Star releasing: the game had little depth or substance to it. Combat had no purpose, there was virtually no challenge in any of the platforming or puzzle-solving, and the sticker mechanic was tedious at best. I wasn’t about to be fooled again by the next entry, Paper Mario: Colour Splash, no matter how gorgeous it looked. The gameplay was too similar to Sticker Star for me to want to give it a chance.
But yesterday, when I woke up to see the reveal trailer for Paper Mario: The Origami King, I was ecstatic! Maybe that could be attributed finally knowing about a new Nintendo release past June, or the fact that at first glance, Mario’s name in the title can get me excited for just about anything. And after actually watching the trailer, I can say that my excitement was not unwarranted. Origami King looks amazing. I don’t know what it is with Nintendo and games with arts and crafts aesthetic, but they have once again knocked it out of the park visually. Environments are incredibly detailed and varied and the colours pop off the screen. The origami characters are very unsettling in their looks and their writing, and I am intrigued to see more of the threat that they pose to Mario and his enemies-turned-allies. Mario teaming up with Bowser and his minions is something I have yet to experience firsthand, so I’m excited to see how that dynamic plays out. Especially when Bowser is folded up into card and can’t threaten you physically.
Speculation has been running rampant about whether or not partner characters in combat are returning (most of the evidence in the trailer points to yes), but some are disappointed that those characters appear to be generic enemies and not the uniquely designed ones from the earlier days of the Paper Mario series. But I see it as a chance for Nintendo to nail the writing for Origami King to make these characters stand out and characterize them in new ways. Based on what I’ve heard about Colour Splash, the writing (along with the visuals) was the best part of that game. So, I trust the localization team to show me why that particular Bob-Bomb is different from all the other ones.
But the main draw for any game is, of course, the actual gameplay. And in that regard, Origami King is looking like a lot of fun. It’s difficult to tell for sure, but the game might be moving away from the world-map-level-selection from the past two games; several scenes show Mario traversing wide open areas on foot and in vehicles. For a series that considers classifies itself as an RPG, level selection never made a whole lot of sense to me. I understand that it was probably done in an effort to adhere to the pick-up and play style of the 3DS, but seeing as most other Mario games are level-based, why not give Paper Mario a different structure? By all appearances, Origami King is heading in the right direction. The same can be said about the combat. No longer does it revolve around single-use attack stickers/cards. Instead, it just revolves! Battles take place on a circular stage with Mario in the middle and enemies in different layers of rings on all sides of him. During the player’s turn, they have a limited amount of time to rotate each ring to line up enemies and attack multiple of them in one go. This system is a fresh take on turn-based combat that looks simple at first glance but has the potential to become something with a lot more depth than what we have seen in the past two games.
My hope is that the incentive to engage in combat this time around. Battling in Sticker Star was pointless; there was no level up or experience point system, and fighting enemies in the overworld would waste attack stickers that would be better saved for mandatory bosses. All you would get would be some coins (which didn’t have much use) and more stickers. Origami King has already shown us that coins will have some use, letting you literally buy more time for your attacks. But if there’s no level-up system or no worthwhile rewards, why bother with combat?
There are still a lot of unknowns surrounding Paper Mario: The Origami King, but the same gorgeous art-style and clever writing paired with a fresh take on the gameplay makes this game worth keeping an eye on. And the best part of all of this is that we don’t have to wait long play the game, as it will be releasing just two months away on July 17th.