The Paper Mario series has had a rough time of it lately. Paper Mario: Sticker Star and Paper Mario: Color Splash took the franchise away from its traditional turn-based roots, implementing gimmicky battle systems, removing battle partner characters, while also failing to pay as much attention to the story. Paper Mario: The Origami King doesn’t bring back the combat of the upper echelon of Paper Mario titles, however it does see a triumphant return of the world building and character development that made the franchise great, alongside a promising new battle system.
The Origami King kicks off with Mario and Luigi headed to Toad Town to attend an Origami Festival, at the request of Princess Peach herself. Upon arrival, the once bustling town is suspiciously empty, with not a single Toad in sight. Catching on to the fact that something is wrong, the duo head to Peach’s Castle, where Mario crosses paths with a possessed origami Princess Peach. After being plunged into the castle dungeons and trying to escape, you again see the Princess, accompanied by Olly, an Origami villain who seeks to reinvent the Mushroom Kingdom into his own Origami Kingdom. Olly quickly demonstrates his power, uprooting Peach’s castle and enveloping it in multiple coloured streamers. As Mario, you team up with Olly’s sister Olivia to remove the streamers in order not just to save the Princess from an origami existence, but each and every individual in the Mushroom Kingdom. The narrative isn’t at all complex, however it succeeds perfectly in justifying Mario’s globetrotting journey, and it has its fair share of funny and even emotional moments.
Origami Peach is haunting
Despite some dips in quality throughout the Paper Mario lineage, the franchise is known for its brilliant writing and character/world building, and thankfully both are present in The Origami King. Dialogue is usually consistently fun and oozes with charm, never afraid to reference pop culture, poke fun at itself, or break the fourth wall. Persistent characters you spend time with throughout are also able to build up a personality for themselves, allowing you to foster a relationship and fondness towards them, as opposed to being forced to deal with characters who are as paper thin as they appear.
What is arguably most impressive though is the ability developer Intelligent Systems have to create a sparse world that feels truly lived in. The world of the Origami King feels gigantic, in part due to the sheer amount of varied locales you visit on your quest. You’ll find yourself exploring multiple towns and dungeons, as well as other interesting locations such as deserts plunged in darkness or the open seas via a boat that feels somewhat similar to exploring the Great Sea in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (albeit far less annoying). The quality of the writing on display is top notch, as is the world building. The game also looks absolutely gorgeous to boot in docked and handheld mode, with the entirely paper world littered with a multitude of vibrant colours.
Olivia is a brilliant companion
In what has become commonplace in the Paper Mario series since Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door, The Origami King introduces a new battle system. The new ring-based combat sees Mario situated in the middle of four different rings, with the aim being to line up and defeat the origami soldiers. Lining up enemies correctly grants a 1.5 damage multiplier, a great reward that often allows Mario to clear out a bunch of enemies with one attack. Mario has his trusty jump and hammer with him at all times, with special single-use items such as fire flowers available in battle if you’ve purchased them from shops or found them in the overworld. There are even special boots and hammers to collect that grant unique abilities, but they degrade with each use before breaking, so stick to using them only when you’re in a pinch. While the ring combat seems overly easy to begin with, it quickly begins to become a bit of a challenge, especially when the timer starts clicking ever so close to zero. If you manage to get into a pickle and can’t see the best approach to completing the ring puzzle, you can buy more time by giving up a decent chunk of coins, a gamble that feels worth it when you finally see how to complete the puzzle.
Battling enemies with the new battle system is fun, and being rewarded with an amount of coins at the completion of each battle based on how well you completed the fight is handy, but the omission of any form of experience points or levelling makes the combat feel somewhat meaningless in the long run. Towards the end of the game I just began actively avoiding encounters because I’d come to the realisation I was no longer getting much from them. I had enough money to see me out for the rest of the game, and fleeing from battles had no repercussions that dissuaded me from doing so. It’s a shame that there is no experience or levelling present in The Origami King, as its addition would’ve kept me more engaged with the interesting battle mechanics for far longer.
The combat system is enjoyable, but the lack of incentive to battle is an issue
Something that never got boring though were the boss battles, which were arguably the best moments in The Origami King. Instead of being in the centre of the rings, Mario starts the battle on the outskirts, and must make use of tiles placed in each ring segment to defeat the boss. These battles are remarkably creative, constantly throwing new issues for you to navigate around, while still having to worry about carving an adequate path in a small amount of time.
When not in battle, you make your way through the myriad areas of the Mushroom Kingdom, all on a quest to remove the streamers and defeat Olly. You can explore the overworld and find plenty of things to do, such as finding collectibles to add to the Toad Town museum or covering the exposed cracks in the paper world with confetti in order to access special areas or net some coins for your efforts. There are even hundreds of folded Toads littered throughout the world for you to find, with the reward being that they can assist in battle if you pay them. You can find them in mailboxes, bins, and even masquerading as butterflies, just to a name a few. There is plenty to do in The Origami King, and thankfully the overworld provides plenty of fun optional objectives to complete.
There are plenty of optional things to do in The Origami King
Alongside my aforementioned qualms, I do have a few other issues with The Origami King. Firstly, I feel like the game suffers from poor pacing in certain segments. After what is a slow start that is paired with ridiculously easy combat, The Origami King kicks off nicely, providing a steady and rewarding feeling of narrative progression, before slowing down to a crawl again, relying on backtracking and additional objectives that feel more like padding than a necessary task. It hurts the momentum of the game somewhat and while I feel like it recovers from it in the end, there are still small pacing lulls throughout what is a rather long gameplay experience. Secondly, is the fact that the game is a bit too easy, especially in the first couple of hours. Taking out enemies in one hit is the norm for numerous hours at the beginning of the game, giving the impression that the combat is going to be a cakewalk. While the enemies do eventually feel stronger and the one hit kills evaporate, the game is still far too easy, even if you’re making a mockery of the combat system.
Pacing issues hinder the experience somewhat
The Origami King may be cut more from the same sheet of paper as the series’ divisive titles than the series’ favourites, however its new and interesting battle system and return to fleshing out the world and its inhabitants make it a worthwhile entry that should entertain everyone, even the most jaded Paper Mario fans.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch // Review code supplied by publisher