Like many of its heavyweights released on the Nintendo Switch, Nintendo is comfortable giving fans largely the expected with Paper Mario: The Origami King.
The latest from developer Intelligent Systems doesn’t stray too far from the tried-and-true formula of the long-running Mario spinoff series. Mario and friends have been flattened down to 2D and tasked with exploring a beautifully-crafted 3D world in creative ways while looping in some light RPG elements and comedy.
Keeping things light in the RPG area, though, and a reworked battle system is where The Origami King will draw the most raised eyebrows. The entire package, while gorgeous and fun throughout, almost feels like a half-measure at times compared to some of Nintendo’s other big titles that have released on the Switch.
Graphics and Gameplay
The Origami King is good looking and can stop a player in his or her tracks to take things in and soak up the details. It’s a little akin to the gobsmacking visuals found in Yoshi’s Crafted World from last year—playing the game is like taking part in a little piece of art come to life.
As always, Intelligent Systems gets creative with how to utilize all the inherent nature of paper itself, creating fun folding surprises, texturized wrinkles and more. Call it par for the course with Nintendo on the Switch—the visuals are engrossing and, technically speaking, the game has no stutters or issues on its base or in handheld mode.
The game really does dial in on the details players will appreciate if they look for it. Besides the environments themselves, for example, dialogue boxes of non-folded characters appear on smooth paper. Folded-up characters have dialogue boxes with crinkled paper.
Maybe that’s a little silly, but the attention to detail gives everything a handcrafted-with-love sort of feel. Thanks to an artsy approach that’s so well done, there aren’t any big nitpicks to mention. The game is always a pleasure to experience, either as a player or onlooker. And as expected, the accompanying soundtrack is fitting and matches the mostly jovial tones of the journey.
How the visuals blend with the gameplay is always the most interesting facet of this series. Early on, Mario is discovering layers of paper he can peel back to find secrets, and he’s using confetti gathered from walloping things with his hammer to patch holes in the environment. Not much later, he’s still patching these holes for goodies, but he’s doing so much more in the form of manipulating the environment in creative ways.
This serves as one of the best examples of environmental usage in gaming today. Mario can find Toads hidden in the world all over the place. There are so many Toads, and it gives the game a dense feel. It isn’t uncommon to exhaust one’s attention in an area thinking it’s complete, only to come back later and accidentally stumble into more toads.
The adventure takes Mario and friends all over the place, as any traditional Mario game would. There are colorful forests with secrets, gigantic animals, an industrial-stylized locale, golf courses, little bars to enter and so much more.
It’s a truly massive world littered with unique locales, and Mario employs some fun modes of transportation to move quickly between areas.
Actual battling gameplay is more puzzle than RPG in a lot of respects. Once the player enters a battle, Mario plops down in the center of a circular grid. He immediately partakes in a “line them up” phase in which he rotates tiles to align enemies in a way he sees fit.
That’s the puzzle—line up four enemies in a row and his jump attack, activated via his boots from an RPG-styled screen, can pound on and defeat all four. Make a smaller formation of enemies in the early game and selecting his hammer wallops all of them. Line them up right and there’s an added damage bonus to attacks.
It sounds simple, and it is, though The Origami King isn’t content to let players get too comfortable. A timer attached to the “line them up” phase provides a sense of urgency, though players can spend coins to get the timer extended. Mario only has a limited number of moves in this phase for each encounter, too. Coinage found throughout the world can also get tossed at audience members who will throw out assists in the form of health packs and otherwise. Late in the game, the puzzle aspect isn’t something players can breeze through or they’ll get punished for doing so, which is something of a good compromise for those seeking a hardcore JRPGish experience.
Simply put, the environmental exploration and trying to uncover all of the game’s folded, hidden secrets is quite a bit more engaging than the actual battle system in place. It’s not bad, and does its intended job well enough, but it’s not like some RPGs that have players enthusiastically entering fights.
It’s somewhat funny that for as lighthearted as things are and how casual the gameplay might be to RPG fans that actually losing can be a terrible time thanks to an archaic save system. Mario has to pop save cubes throughout the world to save a player’s progress. But the distance between these cubes is sometimes quite far, meaning one mishap could equate to replaying a bunch of content again.
The battle system, by and large, is just a vehicle to help get the player through the story and doesn’t detract from the experience as a whole. But it’s the overworld, not the puzzlish fights, that carry the gameplay.
Story and More
Mario’s stories don’t deviate too much from the formula—2D, 3D or whatever else.
This time, Mario and Luigi head to Princess Peach’s castle after being invited to an origami festival. A neat scenario where the camera follows closely behind the brothers’ kart while they navigate the abandoned festival leads into the revelation that a villain by the name of King Olly has taken Princess Peach and others and folded them into origami.
Mario is then whisked away on a quest to triumph over Folded Soldiers he encounters while pursuing the massive, colorful streamers nailed down throughout the world that hold the now-kidnapped castle atop a high mountain.
The narrative devices in the story itself aren’t unexpected by any means, though the already-praised art style really brings things to life. So does the usual Paper Mario humor and whit. While the dialogue might grate on some, the one-liners and zingers the series is known for are all here. Comments and quips from a folded-up Bowser as he hops along behind Mario are hilarious. Some of Luigi’s early lines are money.
In the end, the story accomplishes its goal for players—they get to play another Mario game, this time with some added wrinkles via innovation while meeting some new characters.
As should clearly be the understood theme now, just don’t expect the accompanying gameplay to have massive amounts of depth like other RPGs. There aren’t experience points to grind out, loads of party members to min/max in different roles or major stopping points requiring a re-examination of the entire approach.
It’s a little grating that the only massive form of progression is through coins. Those coins can buy more powerful items for Mario to use in battle but eventually break, meaning players need to purchase more. Coins are rather abundant for those who explore. Simply spamming unnecessary battles to earn more coins for temporary weapons to keep that loop going without another form of progression (like experience points) is a little odd.
For those who just want to experience the story, it can become an effort in avoiding unnecessary battles if Mario has enough coins, then simply making sure he has enough for mandatory fights like boss battles.
And those boss battles here and there do just enough to break up the puzzle formula of the battle system. Bosses flip the whole idea on its head more often than not, changing the order of how an encounter goes or simply setting new rules and restrictions. Which isn’t to say they’re hard, but they are a welcome curveball in a game that likes to mostly stick to its formula.
Either way, the game isn’t an overly difficult one with high barriers to entry. The only major divider is more attentive and/or patient players will come across more secrets in the worlds.
Paper Mario has a rather proud speedrunning history.
The most recent game in the series, Color Splash, had a good community that had world-record runs check in around the eight-hour mark. Arguably the best game in the series, The Thousand-Year Door on the Gamecube, has world records pushing the two-hour mark with runs as recent as a few months ago.
Whether The Origami King has enough staying power to stick around for so long down the road is hard to say. The 100 percent runs where runners have to speedily uncover every secret in the game would make for a fun watch.
As for optimal runs upon release, it’s going to come down to picking and choosing the battles. Stocking up on coins in a smart manner will equate to being able to skip nonessential battles. For the essential, having the best equipment is a way to error-proof the actual battling process should problems arise in lining up enemies.
Otherwise, darting through dialogue as quickly as possible is a must. Depending on the type of run, ignoring almost any and all side events that don’t progress the story and allow advancement through the world also qualifies as a must.
The Origami King plays it really safe, leaning into beautiful art design and clever exploration to craft a fun, lite action RPG.
And that’s not a bad thing. It’s unfortunate the game doesn’t go heavier on the RPG side of things in the form of leveling up characters and making the battling feel more meaningful at every turn. But asking players to grind clearly wasn’t what the game wanted to accomplish.
More of the same is fine—with the exception of a ho-hum new battling system—if it’s done well. The Origami King mostly strikes the right notes in the humor department, goes to interesting places and introduces some interesting faces.
While it won’t headline the Switch’s library, The Origami King is an enjoyable experience from front to back and yet another strong entry for the console’s deep library.
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