The Paper Mario series has always been my favourite sub-series of Mario games because of the excellent writing and humorous characters. That said, fans have been clamouring for a proper sequel to Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door and have been asking for years. Is Paper Mario: The Origami King the answer? Well, no it isn’t, but it’s still worth checking out because it’s a good Mario game with fantastic writing and excellent characters. And although I’d like to see Paper Mario return to its traditional roots, I don’t think Nintendo as any intention of that, and I’d love to know the reasoning behind it.
It’s surprising to me that we’re celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Paper Mario series, which was born after Super Mario RPG on the SNES. Sure, it didn’t look the same as the game developed by Squaresoft but Nintendo had created something that was as good, only not nearly as dark as the first game. When The Thousand-Year Door launched on GameCube, it was quickly praised by all, becoming a tentpole of what fans wanted from future games in the series.
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?” Regardless of your choice, Mario is quickly sent to the dungeons to be converted, but if the game ended there, I wouldn’t be reviewing it.
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 everything into origami.
Paper Mario Lite
As it were, Paper Mario: The Origami King isn’t an RPG by any means. Gone is any semblance of levelling up, there is no more customization, and good luck if you think other elements like summons, make an appearance, I hate to say it but…no. I’ve spent a few weeks playing Paper Mario: The Origami King and initially I enjoyed battles, but the more I played, I found myself skipping them. It’s hard to get excited for battles when there is no payoff or growth for the player.
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.
Battles also come in Waves occasionally, so your first fight might be against four of one kind of an enemy, with the next wave featuring another enemy. In battle, some sequences offer more than one Ring Move. Others may offer additional Ring Moves to line enemies up. So, if you have two Ring Moves, you have 20 seconds to figure out the optimal enemy pattern.
If an enemy attacks you, Mario can guard and take less damage by timing the enemy attack and pressing A. When dealing with a group of 8 or more enemies, the Actions menu in battle tells you how many moves Mario has before the enemy strikes. You use your turns to either attack enemies or recover HP, you can also swap between weapons and items with L/R.
Saving Toads boost battle abilities so its best to find them all throughout the Mushroom Kingdom. They also come with some of the best lines in the game, packing a hilarious joke or even breaking the fourth wall, some of it even feels way more adult in nature and seeing them in a Nintendo game is surprising but delightful. They also pack the bleachers in battle, so be sure to fill the stands in case of an emergency.
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.
Stock Paper Presentation
I had posted my preview and spoke about the new direction that is good for Nintendo, and I agree with that sentiment. However, this is admittedly the wrong direction for players who want more Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door and I feel their pain.
I don’t want to detract from the rest of the experience because the world, the characters and the art direction is stunning. Finding Folded Toads throughout the world is a joy in itself and hearing corny jokes and humour when speaking to someone is worth the eye rolls, I found myself giving the screen at each turn. My favourite change to the Paper Mario formula is the switch to an open-world that Mario can travel around seamlessly. The landscape changes all the time and there’s enough variety that nothing overstays its welcome, and it offers a sense of adventure that isn’t too big or too small.
Intelligent Systems deliver on the exploration front, too and simply moving around and looking for secrets is a joy. Environments are highly-detailed, making exploration fun for the sheer feeling of discovery. There are a lot of hidden collectibles so often you’ll be hitting your hammer on everything in the area to see if a hidden Toad is there or confetti to fill in gaps around the world.
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 and you use ZL + ZR to pull the correct direction or even smash obstacles that are in Mario’s way.
Paper Mario: The Origami King is a fine video game but it lacks a lot of elements that made the game’s fun to play. However, the world, the characters, and the aesthetic shine on the Nintendo Switch. Considering many aspects of this game are considerably larger in scope, the open world is a treat. It’s hard not like this game, because it’s so charming and whimsical by nature. The world and the story are fun but the battle system quickly wears out its welcome, and the ring battle system is far less appealing than a standard turn-based RPG. Hopefully, the next Paper Mario goes back to basics.
[A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.]