We’re just over a week from the launch of Paper Mario: The Origami King, in what many are hoping to be a return to form for the Paper Mario series. So, how does the latest game square off against the older, better-reviewed brethren of the series? Well, so far so good as I’m working my way through the opening hours of Paper Mario: The Origami King.
By now, these games usually feature a similar opening with Princess Peach hosting an event at her castle. In this case, Mario and Luigi are invited to the Origami Festival at the Mushroom Castle and as they arrive, they are eerily suspicious that no one is there to greet them. As they set foot within the castle, a familiar but different Princess Peach welcomes them, menacingly asking Mario if he wants to “crease himself and be reborn, like me?” It turns out resistance is futile, and Mario is locked away in the dungeon, awaiting his conversion to an origami slave.
Peach, the Goombas, and the Toads are now slaves to King Olly, a new antagonist and ruler of the Origami Kingdom. As King Olly summons paper streamers that wrap the Mushroom Kingdom tightly and raise it into the sky, Mario escapes with the help of Olivia, a new ally and origami specialist. Together, they must work together to stop the evil king from turning into origami.
With each iteration of the Paper Mario series, the development team enjoys shaking things up, The last two games, Paper Mario Sticker Star and Paper Mario: Colour Splash, respectively were not as cherished as The Thousand-Year Door due to their simplistic gameplay. It took a lot of the fun out of the battle system because of how inconsequential your choices were in battle. As we celebrate the 20th anniversary for the Paper Mario series, I’m happy to say I like the new direction.
While the battle system continues using a turn-based mechanic, the idea behind The Origami King uses a layered ring. We see Goombas spread out in each section of the ring, and Mario needs to lineup as many enemies in the best position to take them all out. Mario uses his familiar tools like his hammer to deal extra damage. An example is a single row of Goombas, position your enemies just right before attacking with Action commands, and you’ll maximize your damage, but your movements are timed! Then you select Mario’s jump attack and perfect the timing for extra damage with Actions commands. Alternatively, Mario can spend coins to add more time to the clock and your Toad companions offer hints for coins if you run out of time before the fight ends.
And if you look at a boss encounter, the system is reversed. Instead, Mario spins around the ring grid, while you create the optimal path to damage the boss. It’s an excellent deviation on the established formula The Origami King introduces and offers a way for the player to keep invested in the ongoing battles ahead. Bosses are spaced out wonderfully across the world, and each one guards the streamers encircling Peach’s castle. My favourite change to the Paper Mario formula is the switch to an open-world that Mario can travel around seamlessly.
After escaping the clutches of King Olly, losing Luigi, and ending up in the Whispering Woods, Mario is left to explore his surroundings. As I pluck him from being lodged in a tree, Mario is introduced to the confetti mechanic found throughout the game, which is used to overcome obstacles in front of Mario or solve puzzles. By using the hammer, you use that to smack trees and flowers to produce confetti, defeating enemies also produces confetti and is the best way to replenish your satchel.
As I explore the Whispering Woods, I push deeper into the unknown. As I make my way through the trees, I hear whispers around me. The forest is curious to my presence, laughing and giggling, judging Mario’s actions (to be fair I was hammering trees and throwing confetti everywhere) and speaking amongst themselves. I venture further in and immediately notice a lost wood scenario, with Olivia even commenting, “When the folding gets tough, I like to take a break and clear my head.”
I meet Grandsappy, an old tree stump who isn’t the same anymore since he was cut down. Turns out, Mario isn’t leaving the forest unless ol’ Grandsappy agrees to it, leaving Mario trapped. Luckily, Grandsappy asks you to restore his energy levels and it’s up to Mario and Olivia to figure it out! A few hints later and we’re off to find the Soul Seed, the only item capable of restoring Grandsappy’s energy levels.
Mario also comes with some new tricks, including the 1000-Fold Arms, allowing him to navigate the landscape by stretching and pulling it apart. Also, it’s a perfect tool to solve the puzzles you’ll find in the game as well as a few other surprises. Mario may hear a voice calling out for help, so upon discovering the sigil on the floor and pressing A, the 1000-Fold Arms activate. His arms are controlled by the gyroscope on the Switch (when playing in handheld) and you use ZL + ZR to pull the correct direction.
As it stands, Paper Mario: The Origami King is shaping up to be a must-have for Nintendo fans. Everything you come to expect from a new Super Mario game is here: the humour, the colour, the characters, and the persistent charm we’ve all come to love over the last three decades. I’ve still got tons left to do before I finish but Nintendo is onto something with the Origami King and I’m having a hard time putting the game down. There is also a ton of things I’m not willing to talk about yet so stay tuned for more thoughts next week.
Paper Mario: The Origami King launches July 15 on Nintendo Switch.