Paper Mario: The Origami King Review: The return of Paper Mario is one of the best games on the Switch
Played On: Nintendo Switch (Original)
After eventually hitting the inevitable wall of playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons, I was left wondering what Nintendo could possibly have up their sleeve for the remainder of 2020. After all, Animal Crossing came out back in March and left a majority of 2020 open for Nintendo to release something unexpected and continue to capture everyone’s attention. What came in the form of an unexpected release was a sequel to Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door, sort of a cult classic in the Super Mario franchise, called Paper Mario: The Origami King. Since it’s late July release, the game ended up flying under the radar since it released alongside PlayStation’s newest success story from Sucker Punch, Ghost of Tsushima, but that doesn’t mean that it’s a total layup – quite the opposite actually.
The game takes us back into an alternate version of Mario world that’s totally made out of paper as Mario and Luigi are heading to Princess Peach’s castle for an Origami Festival. Upon arriving, the two notice that something is off as the Toads are nowhere to be found and even Bowser has been folded into a powerless form. Even worse is Princess Peach has been turned into a brainwashed origami version of herself and the castle has been overtaken by Olly – the Origami King. Olly then kicks everyone out of the castle and spreads his folded troops across the diverse lands of the Mushroom Kingdom to turn everything into origami. Now, with the help of Olly’s energetic sister Olivia, as well as some unlikely allies, Mario must defeat all of the folded soldiers, take back the castle, and save Peach and the Mushroom Kingdom – again.
Personally, I never played the original back when it was on the GameCube but have seen enough of it through online discussions and watching Arin and Danny play it on Game Grumps to see how unique it really is. Through it’s unique turn-based battle system and RPG elements, the game ended up being sort of a spiritual successor to Super Mario RPG. With Mario’s new adventures trying to stop the Origami King, the series further continues to create unique turn-based gameplay with a turning battleground.
Instead of fighting enemies in a straight line to reflect the 2-D atmosphere of the paper world, this sequel puts things in a new perspective with its battle wheel. Basically, players are put into the middle of the wheel and are tasked with positioning enemies either in a line or group of four so that they can deal more damage and take out enemies as quick as possible. It’s sort of a new take on puzzle solving strategy that becomes a lot of fun – once you get past the early tutorial stages of the game. Personally, the first moments of the game give off a bit of the wrong impression of the pacing of the game. While there’s definitely a lot of necessary explaining that needs to do since this kind of battle gameplay is totally new, it goes on for a little too long and makes the opening of the game feel a little like a slog. It also makes Olivia seem like an annoying NPC that’s just constantly butting her head into your business.
However, with time and a little less tutorial, the battle system and the game as a whole become incredibly intriguing and fun to play. Moving enemies through and across the circular battleground scratch a particular puzzle itch that I didn’t even know I had and presents a very rewarding and complex challenge. It’s actually a lot of fun trying to strategize how you want to line up enemies and even how to get them in the right place in the right amount of time. While some puzzles can be easily solved just by looking at them before the clock even starts, some take quite a bit of thinking and are made even more complex with how players want to tackle attacking.
Even if you line up and organize enemies perfectly, there’re still plenty of aspects players need to get right in order finish off enemies as fast as possible. Although players have only two basic modes of attacking, either stomping enemies with their boots or smashing them with a hammer, there’s still some elements to it that make it more than just simply attacking. There’re all different kinds of boots and hammers that players come across that deal different amounts of damage and will last different amounts of time before they break. Players can even utilize classic items, like Fire Flowers and POW blocks, to take out enemies, but none of this matters if your timing is off. Perfect rhythm and timing is key to taking out enemies on the first hit and nailing the right timing is immensely satisfying. Seeing that “excellent” come up just feels right and creating the right combination of attacks is equally satisfying. The same can be said for blocking attacks as players will have to time their blocks perfectly to take as little damage as possible. It’s also great how players kind of just have to remember how much health normal enemies have and how much damage different attacks and items do since it adds another layer to the challenge and strategy.
The enemy types also add more layers as they require a little extra thinking to both the fighting and puzzle solving. Just like in the previous game, stomping on spiked enemies with regular old boots will do players no good, so they need to remember to always have a pair of iron boots handy to take them out. There’s even a greater challenge with new enemy types that players face along the way and although they’re pretty much just the usual Mario henchmen we’ve seen time and time again in origami form, this new battle setting gives them the chance to utilize their abilities in different ways. Boos can disappear just before players make their moves so it’s important to remember where they are, masked Shy Guys can recall fallen enemies back to the battleground, and some enemies even hold spiked throwables over their head so that players can take them out in just one hit.
Throughout the game, players can also call upon a new asset to help them in battle that’s both incredibly awesome and little game breaking. As players explore each of the game’s areas, they are tasked with finding Toads that are folded up, hidden away, and stuck between nooks and crannies. Upon finding a Toad, he becomes a part of your battle audience and as you collect more Toads, your crowd fills up so much that you have an army of Toads cheering you on. It’s actually one of my favorite parts of the game as it’s not only a collectible that has one of the coolest showings of visual progression as you see your audience grow, but it also plays a relevant part in the game. Before players make their first move, they can spends their coins to bring the Toads out of the audience and earn back health, damage enemies, and even have they solve the puzzle for you.
While it’s cool to have the Toads be more than just background decorations, it does create an issue where players get too many easy outs and advantages. With the Toads being able to almost completely solve the puzzles, it does take away the challenge of trying to solve puzzles and even being in danger of losing all your health. Frankly, there were so many healing items I had left over because the Toads gave me so many and it alleviates some of the danger of the enemies. Sure, you do have to spend hundreds of coins in order to get some better rewards, but the game gives players thousands of coins throughout so your wallet rarely, if ever, runs dry. By the end of the game, I probably had about 30,000+ coins to spare and with the way coins immediately respawn upon re-entering areas, there’s definitely no shortages of unnecessary advantages.
Frankly, if the Toads were utilized more in the way they are in the game’s amazing boss fights, they’d be the perfect kind of support. Boss fights are actually quite unique as they put players in the outside the ring and has them creating a path to do some heavy damage against bosses. It’s great how their very little handholding in these boss fights as players kind of just have to figure things out on the fly and go through an educational trial and error process. There’re too many games now where there’s easy weak points to spot or clear directions to go and it’s actually very refreshing that The Origami King isn’t like that. If players can put themselves on the right track, they can find hints that’ll give them a better sense as to how to take down these gigantic bosses – or they can always ask Olivia. All of this is what makes landing big blows or wiping out bosses so immensely satisfying as every big move that players make feels earned. Also, like I said before, the Toads are better utilized as calling on them just lets players see the paths, they are creating more clearly rather than just solving everything for them.
The bosses ended up becoming one of my favorite parts of the game because they’re both fun to fight against and even better to look at. The giant, papier-mache enemies are visually stunning, add a great 3-D element to the game, and are glorious to watch explode. There’re giant origami bosses that players will encounter called Vellumentals that are awesomely designed and impact the gameplay as Olivia can harness they powers to help continue their adventure. My absolute favorites though have to be Olly’s big henchmen as they reflect real-life arts and crafts supplies and the strangeness of them just was so intriguing. Upon seeing “Colored Pencils” for the first time, I was immediately puzzled, but deeply intrigued by how out of place they were. It really works though in creating memorable bosses and the final fight against Olly is easily one of the most complex, rewarding, and tireless RPG fights I’ve seen in quite some time.
Honestly, the art-style and design of the entire game is excellent and it’s easily one of the most visually appealing games on the Switch. From walking through a dark and deserted desert to a beautiful autumn mountain top, each area is visually unique, and it drives this sense of excitement that’ll leave players wondering what they’ll see in the next area. It’s also great because exploring is a major part of this game and is incredibly addictive to check out every corner of each area. Just its predecessor, players can use their hammer to interact with the world and even deal early damage to enemies before they can initiate a fight. The Origami King adds another way players can interact with the world through them throwing out confetti and covering up some of the holes around the world as well as unlocking new secrets. Aside from that, it’s hard not to have a blast just exploring new area, including an entire ocean, for secret chests containing collectible statues, searching for Toads, and hunting down every ? block.
Now, in terms of gameplay, The Origami King exceeded my expectations with its unique take on turn-based gameplay, but the game exceeded my expectations even further in the story it tells. First of all, this game is absolutely hilarious as it builds a Mario world that’s perfectly self-aware, strange, and incredibly vibrant. Mario interacts with characters, even ones that are usually his enemies, in ways that fans have never seen before and seeing him walk into a villain’s coffee bar and offered a drink is amazing. There’re moments where everything bursts out in a musical dance party that’re an absolute delight, a Shy Guy game show that contains some high consequences, and some great side characters that Mario meets along the way. Even Olivia became more of a treat as her eccentric personality becomes a lot of fun and it absolutely surprised me how much I connected with her by the end.
The story, as a whole, was also incredibly heartfelt as it fleshes out both its characters and world very well. There’re great companions, like Bobby the Bob-omb and Kamek, that are incredibly funny and have very compelling stories of their own. Learning about how Olly and Olivia came to be is very interesting and makes you connect with these new characters on a deeper level. Even seeing the stories of the area unfold is great and going through a Ninja themed theme park and even a cloudy spa run by Toads was an absolute blast. There’re even two impactful sacrifices made in this game that really tugged at the heartstrings because of how close you become to the characters. It all culminates in an ending that’s poignantly beautiful and is incredibly emotional in unexpected ways. Even now, the journey and ending sticks with me in a way I would’ve never thought it could and it’s a true testament to how compelling The Origami King really is.
The Origami King easily contains some of the strongest visual, story, character, and gameplay elements seen in a Mario game to date and is truly one of the best surprises of 2020 so far. It’s truly the total package in terms of what anyone would want in a great game and embodies all the qualities of a sequel making things bigger and better in the best way possible. Any and all Switch owners looking to fill the void that Animal Crossing has likely eventually left will find a more than suitable, even better, game in The Origami King as it’s one of the best games the Switch has to offer.
*All Photos Used Here Were Taken by the Author