Title: Paper Mario: The Origami King
Release Date: July 17, 2020
Reviewed On: Switch
Genre: Action, Adventure, Puzzle
The Paper Mario series is incredibly special to me. As a child, it changed video gaming from a passing interest into my main hobby, so one could say that I owe my whole career to the series. While not every Paper Mario entry has been amazing, I still find myself overwhelmed with joy and excitement whenever a new one is announced, and this was certainly true with The Origami King.
Any fan of Paper Mario could tell you that the series has lost its way in recent years. Thousands of people became wholly engrossed in the world-building and RPG systems of the original Paper Mario and The Thousand Year Door only to have them stripped away in all subsequent titles. While Super and Color Splash have their fans, most agree that they weren’t the step forward the series needed.
With the announcement of The Origami King, I had hopes that it would bring the series back to its roots. However, I am slightly disappointed to report that Paper Mario’s latest adventure is completely lacking the RPG systems. Still, it ends up excelling without them, becoming one of my favorite experiences in the series yet.
Paper Mario: The Origami King begins as many Mario games do; with a letter from Princess Peach. The Origami festival has arrived in the Mushroom Kingdom, and all its paper citizens are excited to celebrate the craft, including the Mario brothers.
Upon their arrival at Peach’s castle, however, the duo finds it has been taken over by the Origami King and his legion of folded origami soldiers. The King vows to take over the entire Mushroom Kingdom by kidnapping Peach and her castle in the process. With the help of the King’s magical sister Oliva, Mario must unravel the Origami King’s newfound hold over the kingdom before it’s too late.
The Origami King is a gorgeous game. Nintendo has a way of making games on the Switch that look better than most of their more powerful competitors, and The Origami King is no exception. The Mushroom Kingdom looks excellent, even with the reliance on a craft aesthetic. I was always excited to see what new area would come next, thanks to the clever environment designs.
Paper Mario: The Origami King’s biggest strength lies in its writing. While it may not have a plethora of new characters, it ultimately makes up for this through charm alone. Almost every character players encounter is funny and likable, delivering clever one-liners or witty insight. Characters such as Olivia and Bobby the Bob-omb have quickly become some of my favorites in the entire Mario franchise.
Likable characters aren’t the only thing that The Origami King has going for it; its also one of the funniest games I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing. It’s rare to go more than five minutes without bursting into laughter. The story delivery consistently went above and beyond my expectations, leading to some truly outrageous moments that are almost worth the price of admission themselves.
Surprisingly, the narrative is also full of emotion and heart. There are many moments in The Origami King’s plot that struck me with overwhelming emotion that I was not expecting; one in particular almost brought me to tears. I never thought that a Mario game would ever make me cry, but, hey, here we are.
What holds The Origami King back from being truly amazing is its combat, which is more of a puzzle minigame than anything else. Upon engaging an enemy in the overworld, players enter a circular arena. Mario stands in the middle and is tasked with lining up his enemies to take them out with jump and hammer attacks.
While many were concerned about this mechanic before The Origami King’s release, I ended up enjoying it more than I thought I would. Successfully figuring out how to line up enemies can be extremely satisfying, as is swiftly taking them out using powerful gear and well-timed button prompts.
Though the combat puzzles start out simple, they progressively get more complex in the later areas of the game. There were many times that the puzzles had me completely stumped, and I was forced to try and get out of an encounter through brute force alone.
Seeing as how most battles only reward players with coins instead of experience or any kind of real progression, they can become tedious over time, causing me to occasionally avoid encounters.
Powerful boots and hammers help Mario dish out more damage to enemies, but they will break over time, so saving up some coinage to buy new ones is a good idea. Accessories can be purchased from NPCs that give Mario perks in battles, such as bonus health or reduced damage from enemies. There are also added effects that alert Mario when hidden Toads or collectibles are nearby. It’s possible to progress through the game without the help of any of these accessories, but they do make encounters more manageable.
Even though regular enemy encounters may become dull and tedious over time, I was consistently impressed by the boss fights. These more significant fights take place in circular arenas where Mario must traverse through the circle to get a hit in on the boss. These fights also each have their own gimmick that makes them unique.
The Origami King is full of things to do outside of combat. The overworld is littered with hidden collectibles, items, and hidden Toads to rescue. Exploration is almost always rewarded and is a ton of fun to boot.
Mario is tasked with collecting confetti and filling up holes in the overworld that have been created by the origami menace. While this might appear to be a gimmick (and, honestly, it kind of is), I found throwing confetti all over the place and filling up holes to be somewhat cathartic.
Paper Mario: The Origami King might not be the RPG that I was hoping for, but the new systems and clever features made me forget all about that. The attention to developing a compelling plot within this fantasy world makes it a must-play experience for all Mario fans. Battles do inevitably become redundant, but that doesn’t overshadow this beautiful origami world begging to be explored.
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