Paper Mario: The Origami King Review – Paper Cuts

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GAME INFO

Paper Mario: The Origami King

July 17th, 2020
Platform Nintendo Switch
Publisher Nintendo
Developer Intelligent Systems

This is not Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door. This is not an RPG, and it's certainly not the most interesting adventure we've seen Mario's wafer-thin doppelganger appear in. But despite that, I have a lot of love for Paper Mario: The Origami King. While my fellow RPG fans will undoubtedly be disappointed that this isn't a grand return to the classic style of Paper Mario, everyone else will be happy to hear that this is still the best Paper Mario game I've played in a long time.

The plot doesn't really matter, but here's a quick synopsis: Mario's flat world has been invaded by origami warriors, and they've been folding up the local inhabitants and causing chaos. If that's not bad enough, it seems that Princess Peach has been folded, and her entire castle has been stolen away, placed atop a distant mountain. It's a basic set up for any Mario game. The castle has been locked away with a series of giant streamers that stretch across the world, and to free Peach, you must go untangle each of the streams at their source, sending Mario and his new origami pal Olivia on a grand odyssey filled with folding and fun.

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The places you'll go with Olivia and your new friends are beautiful and varied - this is most certainly the best looking Paper Mario game yet, with realistic lighting giving all of the characters and items in the environment a realistic look as if you could be looking at a real diorama at points. The paper environments even look textured, and you can imagine how it would feel to run your finger over it. This game takes the paper-crafted aesthetic a step further than past titles, and there are literal holes in the paper world, where you can even see a wireframe mesh underneath which holds the world in place - as in, a literal frame made of wire, not the 3D-modeling kind. This is where confetti comes in.

Confetti is a new mechanic in Paper Mario, and you'll be collecting confetti from everywhere by hitting things with your hammer and throwing it around to fill in holes in the world to uncover coins, new paths, and important items. Confetti is fine. As a mechanic it's very boring and amounts to you just wandering around the world, arbitrarily mashing a button whenever you find a hole in the ground. The same goes for finding Toads. Finding Toads is one of the primary actions you'll do in towns, dungeons, and the overworld. Finding Toads might be required for progress, or they may give you a nice reward, but they're often very boring. The majority of Toads will be found by hitting something with your hammer, a Toad will pop out, you will not be able to skip or speed up the text, and then they run off, leaving you to continue hitting things. Toads are there for completionists, and you even get multiple alarms that you can use to better find Toads, but I am not a completionist, and I soon found myself skipping over Toads even when my alarm sounded. It's just so boring, and there are so many.

That's the story for exploring every area. You will be walking through a field, or a dungeon, and you'll be hitting plants and rocks to find confetti and Toads, throwing that confetti to find more items or Toads, unlocking new paths to find further items or Toads… In defense of The Origami King though, the areas are pretty great. This is an action adventure game because each new area will have a unique gimmick or a unique gameplay hook, such as exploring a Ninja theme park, navigating down a rapid waterfall, scouring a deserted cruise ship… The Origami King has varied and interesting areas, and some genuinely interesting gameplay hooks in each. But even during those moments you'll still be hitting things with your hammer, finding Toads, and engaging in the new battle system.

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The battle system in Paper Mario: The Origami King is the best one the franchise has had in a long time - and yet I still tire of it. Mario will select from a line up of hammers and shoes in his inventory, and use those as weapons in battle, either slamming enemies with a hammer at a short-yet-wide range, or jumping down a row of enemies with his boots on. The big change here is the unique circular battle arena that has been shown off in trailers. Mario stands at the centre, and at the start of each turn the battle arena becomes a puzzle where your rotate and slide the rows of the arena to change the locations of the enemies. You slide them all into convenient positions for you to stomp them out, and you'll get a nice attack bonus for your success.

It's a very smart way of making battles more interesting and initially I liked it, but having to undergo this potentially lengthy puzzle each time you take a turn in battle becomes, again, very tiring. You are timed, but that timer can go up to 75 seconds in boss battles, and you very well might need all the time available to you. If you don't get the puzzle right, you won't get that attack bonus, and you might not be able to take out enemies unless you take either a second turn or pull out your more powerful weapons. Weapons also degrade and break, forcing you to buy more, so lacking that attack bonus can put you at a serious disadvantage if your weapons are looking fragile. Luckily though Mario always has a default pair of boots and a standard hammer, in addition to plenty of coins to spend on new weapons over the course of his adventure.

Boss battles change things up significantly, with Mario on the outer edge of the ring, your rotations of the puzzle must make a path for Mario to move towards the boss at the centre and use an attack panel to do damage. Boss battles are much closer to puzzle challenges than actual RPG battles, and smart timing opens up opportunities to do huge damage, but ultimately bosses can still be defeated through enough brute force.

But this isn't an RPG, and Mario doesn't get experience. When battling, all Mario really does is gain coins and lose durability on the weapons he uses. That means, yes, it's actually a better idea to avoid battles than actually fight them in Paper Mario: The Origami King. All battles will do is whittle away your health and make your new weapons brittle before a big boss or tough challenge, so whenever I got encountered by a low-tier Shy Guy or Goomba, I felt frustrated that I had to waste time with a slow puzzle and waste weapon endurance. Luckily once you power up a bit - something that happens at fixed points in the story, since there's no experience - you will be able to defeat enemies instantly by jumping on them or hitting them with a hammer in the overworld. Sadly, there's no way to tell at a glance which enemies will combust on contact or engage in a battle.

It's a shame, because those are the things you'll spend most of your time doing in Paper Mario: The Origami King. Filling in holes with confetti, finding Toads, battling, and by the end you will likely be growing weary of all of it. It feels incredibly refreshing when you first start playing, but by the time you've taken down a few streamers, you'll start feeling sleepy. But this game does have so many reasons to play it. It's got loads of personality and the localisation team have done an amazing job, Luigi is here, the battle music is catchy and memorable, and it is all incredibly charming. It's just a shame playing it to get to all of this charm is such a chore.

Review code provided by the publisher.

7.5

Paper Mario: The Origami King is the best Paper Mario game I've played in over a decade, and yet I'm still feeling let down. While it's incredibly endearing and genuinely funny, it's also painfully boring and the thought of playing it again puts me straight to sleep. There will undoubtedly be massive fans of Paper Mario: The Origami King, but I can't say I'm one of them. A lovely action adventure game, but essential for no one.

Pros

  • Best looking Paper Mario yet
  • Inventive new battle system
  • Great music
  • Excellent, charming localisation

Cons

  • Battling becomes boring
  • Finding Toads becomes boring
  • Using confetti becomes boring
  • Half of the game becomes boring
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