Review | Paper Mario: The Origami King – A Return To Form?

The ‘Paper Mario’ series has been in a bit of a funk for almost a decade, longer depending on your opinion of the somewhat divisive Wii entry, Super Paper Mario. Needless to say, fans of the series were simultaneously biting at the bit to get their grubby mits on Paper Mario: The Origami King, and nervous that the latest entry would continue the series’ downward trend into oblivion. The series peaked with ‘Thousand Year Door’, so does Origami King manage to equal, or even surpass, it’s monolithic precursor? 

Nope, not even close, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing as Origami King certainly holds its own, and manages to at least deliver on some of its laudy promises. The game opens with the Mushroom Kingdom once again under siege by an malevolent entity (not Bowser this time…), the titular Origami King, or Olly. This folded mandman has assimilated the paper residents of the kingdom, created a slave army known as the folded, turned Peach into a genocidal endorsing figurehead and ensnared the castle in magical ribbons. Things look pretty darn dire for our paper-craft hero, but all is not lost as his faithful companion Princess Olivia, sister of the maniacal Olly, joins Mario on his quest to save the kingdom and give that dastardly monarch a proper good talking to.

Paper Mario is almost as well known for its characters, companions or otherwise, as it is for its charming aesthetics. There is always a risk that having a perpetual companion chiming in every thirteen seconds could get tiring, heck Nintendo have flubbed this aspect many, many times in the past. Luckily Olivia is one of the good ones. Whilst she does spurt off some tediously slow tutorial nonsense and can sometimes state the obvious when it comes to relatively simple puzzles, she is overall an incredibly endearing piece of paper who is way more likely to make you smile, than induce seething rage and hatred. This is entirely down to her fantastic dialogue that is almost always comical. You won’t get far without Olivia chirping some dad-level joke or making some sort of pun. Her personality shines throughout the adventure and she rarely gets in the way. 

The same can be said for practically every character in the game. Whether it is the early whining of the Koopa King, the hilariously useless Bob-omb, Bob-omb, or the veritable horde of Toads you will encounter, everyone has something to say, and what they have to say is well written and genuinely funny. I struggle to remember any joke or quip that didn’t land perfectly. It is a wonderful mix of puns, slapstick, dancing and dadishness that had me grinning from start to finish…almost. The game also manages to tug at the heartstrings from time to time and like I alluded to earlier, touch on some pretty grim topics, which is a mighty fine feat indeed.

Speaking of Toads however, they make up one of the side activities Mario can partake in. The world has literally hundreds of trapped Toads scattered across its papery landscape. These little buggers have been folded into Origami flowers, insects and animals, as well as posters and other mundane items. Finding them all is certainly a challenge and it encourages a fair amount of exploration as many of them are very well hidden. Prepare to bap everything you see as a result. In addition to this, you also have ‘Not-So-Bottomless-Holes’ to fill in using the recycled flesh of your enemies (not a joke), collectable trophies to hunt and hidden ‘?’ blocks to smack. There is certainly a lot to do, if you take the time to indulge.

Origami King has been somewhat advertised as having an open world of sorts, and this is unfortunately not the case. Whilst some areas, specifically the desert, are quite sprawling, for the most part the game is made up of a number of very small, densely packed zones that you need to traverse through. This is not a bad thing, but also not what was implied. The benefits of this design is that each area feels incredibly distinctive, even when they inhabit the same general theme. You can steamroll through each area fairly quickly if you follow the story without looking for goodies and whatnot, but the game heavily encourages you to take your time via forcing a little bit of backtracking and giving a number of tools to help you find the optional stuff. Regardless of whether or not you decide to listen to the games not-so-subtle-hints, it doesn’t stop it from sneaking in some minigames from time to time, which again, help make each area/chapter feel unique and certainly breaks up the monotony of walking around stomping goombas.

And goomba stomping you will be doing – a lot. Origami King has a large focus on combat, although not in the traditional sense. It is also its weakest aspect, which is a crying shame because it does have some potential. The biggest setback is also its most unique feature – the Ring Puzzle system. Each, and every combat forces you to complete a short puzzle whereby you rotate or nudge various rings in order to line up enemies in 1×4, or 2×2 formations. Do it correctly, and you get a significant damage bonus, and can use your jumps and hammer swings (your primary form of attacking) to greater effect. In fact, you will almost certainly win every combat in the first turn, with no retaliation.

Issues arise in the difficulty of the Ring Puzzles, and the frequency in which you will be completing them. There is simply no middle ground when it comes to challenge – the puzzle is either painfully easy, or so difficult to unravel in the limited time you have available that it is simply frustrating. Combat goes from whacky, stompy fun to damage control incredibly quickly. Mario is far from tanky, and enemies can do staggering amounts of damage, so the punishment is quite high.

Things get worse when you throw in the complete lack of reward for completing them. Sure you get coins, but coins are so plentiful, and their use so limited, that they become meaningless very quickly. You don’t receive items, you don’t receive any stat-based progression. You are fighting for fighting’s sake. The final nail however, is the infuriating weapon degradation system. As you progress, you will be able to purchase new boots, hammers and various other goodies. These items will break, leaving you with only your infinite use base boots and hammer. When your weapon breaks, you will be forced to find replacements or travel all the way back to town (quite the journey, even with fast travel) to buy new ones. Things take a turn for the artificial when you realise the price of these weapons – they are incredibly cheap. You will recoup the cost of most weapons in a single round of combat, and each one can last five, or even ten fights. As a result this comes across as serious padding and does nothing but waste your time. Permanent upgrades would have been significantly better, and would have at least given the game some semblance of progression.

This ultimately leads to a combat system that feels poorly implemented. Throw in extra gribbles like an incredibly limited cast of enemies and an immovable camera and the whole thing becomes exhausting. Thankfully the game throws you a bone in the form of an assist feature. This little gem makes solving puzzles easier by placing red circles on the ground, showing you where enemies should end up. It doesn’t solve the puzzle of course, but it certainly goes a long way to alleviating the tedium. You aren’t punished for using it either, so it comes with a big ol’ recommendation from me. 

Thankfully the boss fights are a breath of fresh air. They continue the Ring Puzzle formula found in regular fights, but does a fair bit of rejigging that makes it significantly more appealing. Instead of Mario being in the centre of the arena, the boss is. Instead of rotating rings to line up enemies, you are trying to make a path to the boss in order to smack it around a bit. Each boss comes with a variety of attacks and arena hazards that help flesh the system out even more, and just wailing on these guys won’t do much. It really boils down to being an intricate puzzle, rather than an actual fight, but it works in the games favour. It also helps that these guys are brutally unforgiving, which is a nice change of pace. They do massive damage, and some can even one-shot you if you fail to find a way to defend yourself. For the love of all that is good in the world, avoid regular battles, but embrace the well designed nature of the bosses. They are great.

The package thankfully ends on a final high note, which is its presentation. Origami King is a staggeringly beautiful experience that sells the paper world in a way other entries in the series haven’t been able to do quite as well. This is thanks to incredibly expressive character designs, sometimes stunning, oftentimes gorgeous, environments and the inclusion of the Origami characters who manage to add a somewhat surreal, creepy vibe to the world. This is all tied together thanks to a fantastic collection of songs that comprise the soundtrack. It’s full of jazz, rock, traditional japanese strings and even some genuinely unsettling horror tracks. Every song manages to capture the essence of the area, or scene you are in, and is one of the better soundtracks Nintendo has produced in recent times.

Despite my gripes with Paper Mario, most of which are focused on the combat, it is a game that is bursting with charm. It is clear a lot of time went into crafting a memorable, funny adventure, and in that aspect, Origami King absolutely succeeds. This is one of the funniest games to come to the Switch, and is easily one of the best entries in the series in that regard. That being said, if you wanted a return to the series’ RPG roots, then you will likely walk away disappointed as this is an adventure game first, a puzzle game second and it dropped the rest on the way to shops. I personally enjoyed Paper Mario: The Origami King quite a bit, and therefore it gets my coveted ‘Seal of Approval’.

Toast Seal Of Approval

Origami King is a great title, however if you want more of an RPG that nails a 2D art style, then you should check out Darkest Dungeon. It doesn’t have the same feel, but has difficulty and turnbased combat in droves.

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