Paper Mario is the Radiohead of video games. Hear me out. Paper Mario is an IP backed by Nintendo that has a huge amount of talent and resources behind it. They put out Paper Mario games regularly, but by no means on a scheduled track. Paper Mario keeps some central ideas and themes alive in each of their games, making them tangentially relatable even if the storyline has nothing to do with the others. In addition, each Paper Mario game seeks to wildly swing for the fences in terms of trying something brand new from the previous game. Many people say Sticker Star is the worst of the games, but I would disagree: while the sticker system was flawed and made for difficulty in combat coordination, it was innovative and fun, and it fit in well with the 3DS motif in that regard. I personally didn’t like Super Paper Mario because, well, it didn’t feel much like a Paper Mario game, but I know plenty of people who would fight me on that, and I also still own the game. Love it or hate it, Paper Mario is true to itself in each iteration, and that continues to hold true in the newest instalment, Paper Mario: The Origami King.
This is yet another time where Mario and Luigi should have seen the party invitation from Princess Peach, tossed it in the trash and then gone on with their lives. I have yet to see a single invitation that the brothers (either singular or plural) receive that doesn’t lead to some grand event or adventure, and you’d think they would have learned by now. Instead, they both head to the palace and find things…different. So much of the surrounding Toad Town is now decorated with origami foldings, and there’s not a Toad to be seen. The Princess herself, in the kingdom, is now folded up in one of the creepiest representations of Princess Peach I’ve ever seen. She wants Mario to become one of the Folded Warriors, which, as we find out, is the result of a sinister invader named King Olly, an origami creation himself. Mario rescues Bowser (who has been folded up into a neat little square) and flees the castle just in time for massive streamers to appear out of nowhere and seize the whole building, depositing it on a mountain far away. Now, aided by the origami Olivia (Olly’s kind-hearted but slightly empty headed sister) and a slew of new friends and allies, Mario must cut the kingdom free, unfold the mystery of the Origami King, and save everyone and everything, including hundreds of displaced Toads, uncountable damaged landscapes and, naturally, the princess herself.
With Paper Mario: The Origami King, your quest is to ultimately release all the streamers holding the castle, which is done in conjunction with unlocking the different Vellumentals, which are elemental power gods within the kingdom. As you find the different Vellumentals, Olivia develops the ability to change into the aforementioned gods, allowing her to do certain tasks on certain spots. The Earth Vellumental, for example, let’s Olivia cause some serious disruption in the form of earthquake inducing dances. There are also magic spots where Mario finds himself suddenly in touch with his inner origami. The 10,000 Fold Arms gives Mario giant, crinkly arms that let him grab, hit and pull at different spots on the scenery, which will unlock more secrets. The game plays out in an adventure RPG sort of way, though it’s certainly more adventure than an RPG. There’s so much to explore and find, but most of it is, ultimately, linear: there are some small side quests here and there, but they’re mostly inconsequential and silly.
Let’s address the elephant in the room from the very beginning: this isn’t The Thousand Year Door. Every time there’s a new Paper Mario, a vocal minority hope that it’s a second JRPG-inspired Paper Mario game, and then everyone gets upset when it isn’t. Some are praising Bug Fables as “the new Thousand Year Door” and then proceed to crap on The Origami King in the same breath. Can’t we just like games without tearing down others? Like I said up top, Paper Mario seems to take different and more inventive steps with each incarnation, even if they aren’t to everyone’s liking. The new combat system, for example, relies on a series of concentric rings that you have a few moves to adjust to set up for combat. This turns every encounter into a timed puzzle event, where you’re trying to line up enemies as best you can so that you can maximize your damage when it’s time to hit. The system is further complicated when you get into a boss battle and you have different conditions, like needing to hit an enemy from a certain spot by lining up directional arrows and walking over different toggles in order to achieve action from the precise right spot.
The combat of The Origami King fluctuates wildly between silly easy, immensely satisfying and hair-pulling frustration. When the puzzle comes together in the first take, you feel amazing. You walk up, smash or stomp the foes (hammer and shoes for LIFE) and maybe your NPC party member might throw in a hit or two if anything is left. When I hit a giant box of coloured pencils (a rather nefarious boss) from behind with my hammer, slamming the lid shut and causing a bunch of misfires to damage it, I smirked with self-congratulating joy. The good times are good. However, when you can’t figure out where to put the Bloopers in regard to the Spinies and only manage to hit a couple before they all bum rush you for half your HP, it sucks. You can buy more time to figure it out (very cool) or just keep tossing coins to the Toads in the audience to do some dinky damage (extremely fun), but you ultimately need to line up the shot yourself, and it sucks to not be able to figure it out.
Paper Mario: The Origami King also is chock full-to-the-brim of extra tasks that aren’t totally considered sidequests, but they will keep you busy. As I mentioned, Toad Town is empty, so you need to find seemingly hundreds of Toads scattered about the Kingdom, all folded up, tucked away or trapped somewhere and in need of your rescue. Each Toad you find is added to the bleachers watching your fight, which is a nifty effect (and a good barometer for how you’re doing as the seats fill up). There’s also massive holes everywhere from where giant, papier mâché machinations have eaten the scenery, and you get to throw confetti to repair the damage. You get more confetti from beating up enemies and hitting various objects in view, and repairing the holes unlocks coins, new places to go and, sometimes, Toad hiding spots. These two little side missions run the length of the game and create a whole new level of frustration, not with the game, but with Nintendo.
See, every time you get everything in a certain area, you get an achievement. I know that I repaired all the holes on Picnic Road because I got a big notification that said “100% complete!” to signify I could stop hunting. Awesome! Only…that’s only within The Origami King. It doesn’t show up on my Switch profile or anything like that. We’re now 3 ½ years on and about eighteen “stability” updates on the Nintendo Switch, but there’s still no achievement system that universally applies. It’s bothersome, and The Origami King reminds me of it because this is definitely a game that I’d like to show my friends and say “I’m freaking thorough!” but there’s no easy way to do that other than to go over to their homes and show them. Oh, and I really should not be doing that right now.
The soundtrack of Paper Mario: The Origami King is also pretty decent, but I do have one point of umbrage. So many of the tracks have this great vibe to them, and there are a lot of purposely silent lengths where you can only hear ambient noise and various natural effects. The whole soundtrack has been done with great success, especially the parts where the music blends and morphs based on certain aspects. Autumn Mountain, for example, has a wonderful traditional feel to it, and the music tonality carries into the combat, giving individual tracks for everything. However, Toad Town never loses this sinister, creeping feeling in the music, even as the town becomes more repopulated. It’s such a weird point to get stuck on, but I traditionally love the music of these games, and I just never got to a point of Toad Town where I enjoyed the way it sounded.
However, most players will be here for the story and the writing, and Paper Mario: The Origami King delivers in SPADES. The characters are all well balanced in dialogue and story, including the lovable, extremely polite Bob-Omb (whom Olivia has a barrage of nicknames for that are not his name). Olivia herself is cute and funny, with periods of extreme foolishness that can either be attributed to naivety or pure absent-minded moments, your call. Each Toad has some quirky quip to expound when you find them, and so many of the Toad have utilitarian purposes as well. I loved moving into the different areas and meeting new characters, from the Toad, who is determined to work his core as a flag to a sombrero wearing Shy Guy waiting to do a canned food par-tay with his friends. It’s delightful front to back, as the paper effects that work so well in the game come to brighter and deeper focus within the Nintendo Switch’s powerful graphics compared to previous incarnations. Even when I had other things to do and wanted to focus on other work, I would still pick up the Switch and at least give a few minutes to move the story ahead, to finish a certain area, to see what I could get for additional items.
Lastly, the coin system. In lieu of EXP, everything is money focused in The Origami King, which makes sense given that I had over ten THOUSAND coins by the time I opened the first shop. Not everything is expensive, but the name of the game is disposable. You can buy accessories that have both in combat and outside combat effects, but you can only wear so many at a time. You can get stronger weapons to use in battle, but they break after a period of time, making players choose between constant combat to keep up their gold reserves (and thus needing to buy more weapons), or avoiding combat as much as possible and praying you’re strong enough when you come to a boss battle to just use your starter boots and hammer (which never break). While I would have liked to see Mario pick up something permanent, that wasn’t an accessory, or to gain levels, the coin system isn’t bad by any means. Coins are so plentiful that I was never in a spot of needing to bring out cash, and there wasn’t a thing I needed that I couldn’t afford. Hell, before going after the Earth Vellumental, I stocked up on enough fire flowers that I didn’t need to jump for a majority of the dungeon. Just light ‘em all up. That should have been more effective, too, given that everything was made of paper, but the fight was still over in a flash.
I’m probably forgetting more about the game than I realize (oh right, collectibles!), but I can’t itemize every single thing in Paper Mario: The Origami King and call it a review. Instead, I leave you with this. I’ve gotten hours upon hours of delight out of this Paper Mario game. It’s colourful, well written, has great visual jokes and plenty of tongue-in-cheek moments of quirk. Some memorable lines are “Shake it like an outdated photographic paper!” And referring to amnesia as “Thinky Thinky Panic.” It’s funny, it’s clever, and it looks and feels great in handheld mode. I don’t know how good or bad the motion controls are because I didn’t try them, and I can live with myself on that one. I’ll be playing this to the very end, just like every Paper Mario before it, and I’ll have a great time no matter what. It might not be the strongest entry in the series, but it’s one of the most developed and certainly the one that occupies my Switch, and that’s damn good enough for me.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Paper Mario: The Origami King Review
Gameplay - 8/10
Graphics - 8/10
Sound - 8/10
Replay Value - 8/10
If you’ve also been waiting for a game where Mario faxes himself to different labs, you can finally relax, it’s here.