In a world already filled with wonderful absurdity, of mighty mushrooms and warping pipes, of princesses and plumbers, we once again travel to a familiar Kingdom this time created in paper. Origami enemies and fabulously folded lands form the backdrop of Mario’s new adventure and while those hoping for a return to the series’ original RPG roots may once again be disappointed, those unaware of, or less devoted to those traditions, can look forward to witty humour, some surprisingly touching moments and exploring well-crafted paper worlds of Paper Mario: The Origami King. Ultimately, there’s a lot to love and while some expectations are best left at the door – this is a game I really enjoyed playing. And once all is said and done, that’s really the point, right?
A fiendish folded foe and a funny friend
As a big fan of Mario Kart – Starting off the game with a Pixar-worthy animated cinematic of Mario riding along with Luigi in the younger brother’s kart made me rather happy. The pair are on the way to Princess Peach’s castle to celebrate an Origami Festival. It turns out that the festival has been hijacked by the rather nefarious Olly, the self-proclaimed Origami King. Olly is the main antagonist in the game and while his role is mostly relegated to the beginning and very end of the game, his evil plan to take over the Mushroom Kingdom is a little darker than you may expect. Olly is a sort of cult-leader bent on the idea of forcefully indoctrinating all Paper creations into becoming his followers (a rather sinister folded army) and a particular hatred for Toads. This slightly more ominous tone is exemplified in your first interaction with (a now origami-folded) Princess Peach.
Parts of the story weaving this all together were even a little weightier than I was expecting, and there are some really unexpectedly poignant moments.
She talks about the need for Toads to be ‘silenced for all eternity’ (and as much as many of us may agree on this particular point on a purely auditory-level) she then moves on with words like ‘refolding unto glory’. And as we all know, anyone using the words ‘unto’ these days – is definitely worth worrying about. Peach’s castle is also bathed in shadow at this point and this along with the eerie music really adds to the threatening atmosphere. However, what the Origami King does particularly well (here at the start and, really, throughout the game) is using witty humour and great lively writing to balance the dark and the light.
Where Olly is origami-evil, his sister, Olivia, is origami-good and Mario’s main companion in the game. It’s up to this folded and flat duo to travel to various parts of the world and undo the damage that Olly’s troops have wreaked (filling holes with confetti) and of course, progressively defeat these origami soldiers (and various bosses) in battle. Parts of the story weaving this all together were a little weightier than I was expecting, and there are some really unexpectedly poignant moments. But, of course, this is still a Mario game, and so the slightly oddball world and characters we all love still shine through and I really enjoyed the balance that was struck.
A collection of colourful confetti
After playing through the game I’m really struck by how much fun it was travelling within it. While the gameplay is relatively linear, each world leads effortlessly into the next. It all feels big and connected. While there are hundreds of common collectables, each area is stunningly and singularly depicted. Each has its own unique characters, specific area action-based puzzles and even particular musical accompaniment (that ranges from classical music, impromptu jazzy vocal renditions from melodious paper trees and even a few riffs on the electric guitar). I simply loved exploring. Everything from driving around dry paper deserts in a boot-car, to jumping into lush paper jungles and even diving into blue paper seas; gorgeous visuals and so many great musical numbers make each area feel different and special. I played some of it in handheld mode, but mostly on the TV and there were no technical issues I noticed at all.
I simply loved exploring… gorgeous visuals and so many great musical numbers make each area feel different and special.
Now based on the description above – you may be thinking that it doesn’t sound like I’m describing a traditional RPG. And yes, you’re right. While the series has its roots in more traditional role-playing mechanics, the truth is it has since distanced itself from this genre. Noticeably, Nintendo has gone out of their way to avoid describing this game as an RPG anywhere (at least not anywhere I can find). Their own classification of the game is an “Action, Adventure”. And in my opinion, playing the game with that in mind makes a world of difference.
This story is well written. It’s beautiful to look at. Worlds are fun to explore. Puzzle elements exist both in battles and in the world itself. While most puzzles are easy to decipher and goals comfortable to obtain, others are more obtuse. And don’t tell anyone, but I even found myself using the super useful ‘hint’ button (err… Ask-Olivia button) once or twice because I was a little stumped. And I loved it. Then, throw in some action-based battles, a little fishing from Animal Crossing, some platforming and even some optional motion-control control stuff (that I actually thought worked well)… and it’s got a bit of everything. Sure, this game may not fit nicely into the RPG genre; But it works as a melting pot of a few others mostly because I think they got the balance right. In the simplest terms: It’s fun to play.
Role-play relative and big boss battles
There are actually several rather enjoyable RPG-‘lite’ features. Yes, there is no visible XP counter, but your progression stats are tied to your HP: increasing health also increases damage. Your weapons (shoes for stomping and hammers for… um, hammering) can also be upgraded. The original weapons are weaker but never break, while the newer weapons you unlock or buy – degrade after several uses. Plus, there are even a few special power-ups – fire flowers and the like – which do similar damage but look a lot cooler. Other items like those used for finding collectables can also be enhanced. And of course, as you’re exploring the world (as before) touching an enemy will send you into a turn-based battle. This time with a literal ‘twist’. Nintendo has actually already shown off quite a bit about this new mechanic and having tried to hopelessly describe it in my preview using an analogy of pizza slices and the toppings that hop between them – I realise that the best way to see how it works, is to actually see how it works. So here’s a video worth checking out before proceeding.
However, where the new system really shines is during the boss battles.
I really like that turn-based battles (which were never my favourite part of these games) have been morphed into something a little different, it works. Of course, it’s not perfect. While there may at least two solutions to at least some of the puzzles (“perfect” & “great”) because of a 3-move limit, patterns in enemy arrangements reoccur. So, some battles get repetitive – either because you solve it too easily or because you just can’t figure out a specific recurring pattern. Perhaps because Nintendo realised this, you actually (oddly) get the ability to simplify the puzzle element about half-way through. But again, I never felt overwhelmed by repetition and even though I could’ve avoided several battles, their short length meant I very rarely did.
However, where the new system really shines is during the boss battles. I loved virtually all of these. I perhaps wasn’t the biggest fan of the look of real-world items (the coloured pencils, tape etc) under Olly’s control, however, the writing around these characters and the battle system itself more than made up for that. I particularly liked facing the Vellumentals – powerful paper beings, that once beaten, empower Olivia to use various elemental abilities (earth, water, etc) later in the game – both within battles and outside. While this is already a fun concept, the ring system with the enemy now in the centre brings a layer of strategy missing in the regular battles. Arrows, powerups, hints and more must now be rearranged before an attack and each boss also has a unique puzzle feature to further spice things up. Sure, some attack methods probably could’ve been explained better – but even that wasn’t enough to dampen my enjoyment of these encounters.
I loved that I never felt like I had to do endless backtracking to find an obscure needed item to progress. Even when some fetch-quests were needed, this made sense in-game, and punchy dialogue kept it all quite light and engaging. The way the battle system is set up, I always felt like had more than enough coins to purchase several upgrades. I didn’t miss not having to search endlessly for enemies to defeat just for the experience boost. Standard battles are probably less strategic than they could be and a larger array of attacks would’ve been more interesting. And I really wish they had done more with the partners in battle (these are mostly just an extra random attack and with no user input). However, because they were sufficiently ‘optional’ and because it was interspersed between funny writing, additional puzzles, action sequences, amazing boss encounters and all the rest of it – I still really enjoyed the package as a whole.
Paper Mario: The Origami King is a great adventure. Sure, those hoping for a return to its traditional RPG roots may be disappointed. But those willing to think of it as a bit of a melting pot of other genres, other mechanics and just looking for a fun experience, are likely to really enjoy what they get. I spent over 30-hours completing the main story and as you read these last words, odds are I’m probably right back exploring the paper lands, collecting everything I missed, unlocking trophies and even checking out some amazing concept art in the museum feature. That alone should say a lot. So, if you’re looking for an interesting story with entertaining writing combined with a jumble of fun puzzles, action-sequences and hopefully ‘just-enough’ RPG elements, this is one piece of origami worth unfolding.