The Paper Mario franchise has seen a new release on pretty much every Nintendo system and it’s not surprising given how popular the games are. Now the time has come for the wildly popular Nintendo Switch to get its own Paper Mario game in the form of Paper Mario: The Origami King.
In Mario’s latest adventure, the Mushroom Kingdom is under threat from the origami king Olly and his folded minions. Seems that the origami king is on a quest for revenge on the flat people and his aim is to turn the kingdom into one giant folded wonderland. Fortunately, Mario has a new trusty sidekick by his side in the form of Olly’s very own sister, Olivia, who has folding powers of her own that will come in very handy.
The biggest change in this new entry is in terms of how combat has been handled and how it caused quite the fuss in the weeks leading up to its release. The very nature of Paper Mario’s admittedly already simple RPG elements has seen some drastic changes. There is no experience to gain from defeating enemies, since there isn’t a level up system for any of the characters. Instead Mario can get stronger whenever he earns certain health upgrades and there are useful items to find and make use of with progression.
Now the combat itself at least still mostly consists of a turn based system. However, the combat is focused on an arena, where players need to move panels vertically or/and horizontally. It’s necessary to line up enemies (within a time limit) by moving the panels in one of two formations to power-up Mario and make it easier to defeat them by using less attacks, since he can only attack up to three times per turn. Whilst Mario can still make use of his trusty jump and hammer abilities, the biggest issue stems from the idea that there isn’t much to gain from fighting so many enemies, outside of the coins earned at the end. It doesn’t take long for it to turn into a chore and it makes matters worse that attempting to flee ordinary fights can take up to three attempts and managing to survive being attacked by a whole swarm of enemies. The game also has a tendency to occasionally make Mario face waves of enemies in the same battle.
Where this new combat system truly has an opportunity to shine is during the boss battles that take place during key moments in the story. These make better use of the new battle stage to create an intricate battlefield that requires some thinking to come up with the right strategies. Basically, all kinds of items from navigation arrows to origami abilities Mario can use courtesy of Olivia are placed on the field. It is then necessary for players to move the panels, in order to create a path for Mario to make use of the appropriate items that will lead to victory. These gets harder to figure out with each new boss and beating some of them will result in Olivia gaining new abilities that can then also be used in fights. Not that the game is necessary difficult, since it’s not particularly challenging to figure out the weak spots for enemies.
Outside of fighting, there is the return of the typical puzzles that fans are used to by now that make use of whatever latest abilities Mario has access to. Olivia is one of the least annoying companions found in Nintendo games and her often blunt and occasionally naive approach to situations leaves little space for any nonsense in the dialogue. In fact, this entry contains some of the best dialogue in the series and although it doesn’t have a huge amount of puns, it’s quality that matters and it’s certainly the case with Paper Mario: The Origami King.
Perhaps one of the best aspects of the game is seeing a different side to many characters that are usually portrayed as one dimensional. Mario gets to team up with many of these characters and it results in some often surprising outcomes, such as getting attached to a shockingly polite Bomb-omb that tags along for some of the adventure.
On the downside, it’s disappointing to see Mario go up against such bosses as a hole puncher and a stapler. These don’t even have anything special about them, besides the obnoxious personalities that they are burdened with. It’s not unusual to see ordinary objects being used in a Paper Mario game, but it can feel like a disservice to be facing them after spending hours solving puzzles. At least Nintendo did manage to make a tin of colouring pencils look menacing. Even the elemental (Vellumental) creatures that were turned into origami and Mario must face in order to gain their powers are far more impressive foes in comparison. In fact, the dungeons where the elemental creatures are found have a certain Zelda like quality to them.
The same can be said of some of the locations that our heroes must explore, in order to gain access to the key places where each of the large streamers that must be destroyed in order to gain access to Princess Peach’s castle can be found, which are not always particularly exciting. In fact, some of the sections in the game could have been taken out and it would have not made that much of a difference. In contrast, it manages to impress when it gets creative with what players can do, from taking part in theater performances to spending a re-energizing day at a rather special spa towards the end. It’s not that some of these locations are bad, it’s just that parts of them just feel really uninspiring and lacking in comparison. It’s a matter of doing the work to get to the more interesting parts.
It wouldn’t be a Nintendo game without a world full of colour and optimisim and Paper Mario: The Origami King delivers. There are singing trees and Mario dancing along with Toads and so much more. The dialogue is amusing as ever and as already mentioned the few puns that made it in are top shelf quality. As usual, the development team has also filled the world with plenty of collectibles and other bits for players to find. It’s certainly a case where curiosity is rewarded, since there are plenty of little details and even sly mentions to previous Mario games and other Nintendo games. Trapped in each of the locations are also Toads who will reward Mario for helping them by opening up shops and assisting in battles in exchange for coins – this Paper Mario game is very insistent on teaching the ways of capitalism.
Whilst it’s commendable to see Nintendo being more daring with its key franchises, it’s clear that it didn’t quite work out on this occasion with this new Paper Mario entry. Paper Mario: The Origami King makes for a mostly fun adventure that is bogged down by some ideas that didn’t quite work as expected.