|Dev: Intelligent Systems|
|Release: July 17, 2020|
|Players: 1 Player|
|Screen Resolution: 1080p-4K||Mild Cartoon Violence|
by Jenni Lada
There are times when it seems like Nintendo and Intelligent Systems don’t know what they want to do with the Paper Mario series. It was built on the original Nintendo 64 game and Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door, two incredibly strong installments with major RPG roots that inspired plenty of other games, But latter installments stray further from the source each time. Paper Mario: The Origami King is the latest to diverge from the formula. The result is a game that has some really good elements to it, but at the same time abandons even more of the series’ staples.
Paper Mario: The Origami King again takes us to a version of the Mushroom Kingdom and its surrounding areas where everything is made of paper and cardboard. Mario and Luigi have been invited to Princess Peach’s Origami Festival. However, they quickly learn that King Olly, a magical origami master, has folded Peach, plenty of Bowser’s minions, and almost even Bowser himself. He takes Peach’s castle, wraps it in streamers, guards them with bosses, and attempts to take control of everything. However, Mario is still free and has King Olly’s sister, Olivia, on his side. The two will visit different areas of the world to hopefully undo the streamers and save the day.
The aesthetics in Paper Mario: The Origami King are absolutely amazing. This is a bright and colorful game that is filled with all sorts of crafty nods. Some of the general enemies you face? They’re origami versions of iconic characters. The bosses? The Legion of Stationary are made up of crafting supplies like colored pencils, tape, and a stapler. The Paper Macho enemies are all made of papier-mâché. Every spot in the world, from the Asian-inspired Shogun Studios to the oceanic Bonehead Island, has a fun motif to it. There’s a great sense of ambiance.
It also can feel really clever too. When Mario talks to the people around him, they all have fun things to say. Some are incredibly self aware. Others rely on fantastic wordplay or puns. Even though this is a title where you really don’t have to talk to everyone, it makes you want to. Which is nice, since this isn’t a very complicated game in terms of its story or premise and you wouldn’t really need to talk to everyone otherwise.
Unfortunately, while it has a lot of personality in its dialogue, setting, and even music, a lot of its characters lack that. Unlike past Paper Mario games, which had some unique characters based on familiar friends or foes, Paper Mario: The Origami King abandons that for partner characters based on traditional people, like a Bob-omb named Bobby, Kamek, a Toad that is a professor, and Bowser. While some can be really fun, like Bowser in particular, it can feel like they’re just sort of… “there.” Professor Toad might help you find items, but others seem like they’re around for flavor text and the sake of saying there are some partners.
This is also a Paper Mario entry that steps back from the RPG elements and ambiance the series is known for. While you are traveling around the world, investigating, and solving puzzles, RPG staples don’t come through in the same way you’d expect. Mario has health and all, but you’re earning coins from battle that you invest in items and upgrades. When you fight general foes, it’s really more like you’re solving simple puzzles where you attempt to line up foes as quickly as possible by shifting the fields’ rings and rows to get everyone in place. When a boss comes up, you’re keeping track of their patterns and the field’s positions to get the right opportunities to trash those supplies.
This isn’t to say these are bad. The Paper Mario: The Origami King boss battles especially can make you think and can be a lot of fun, since you have to think about the path you’ll need to take and how to properly fight back. I especially enjoyed the Hole Punch fight, thanks to its personality, hole-punching elements, and the need to occasionally grab Mario’s missing face.
The downside is, because there aren’t the RPG elements, the normal battles against general opponents can get very boring, very fast. They aren’t especially challenging or fulfilling even as you get further into the adventure. And, given how often you can find the two currencies you need in the world, they sometimes feel like something to avoid, rather than endure. It’s fairly easy to find the confetti you’d need to fill the gaps left by King Olly and his minions, which also awards you more money. Getting coins, which you can use to buy stronger, less durable boots and hammers, increase Mario’s health, and grab him accessories that make him stronger, aren’t difficult either.
There is fun to be had with Paper Mario: The Origami King. That much is certain. It is a beautiful game with delightful music and clever moments. Its boss fights especially do a good job of making you feel smart. But, while it looks like a Paper Mario game, it doesn’t feel like its predecessors and abandons more of the RPG elements that originally made this series so special.