Paper Mario: The Origami King – A New Series Standard

A while back, I wrote up a short post on my first impressions of Paper Mario: The Origami King. It’s been almost two weeks, and I’ve just about wrapped up my playthrough of the game. I can say this with confidence: I believe The Origami King is Nintendo’s strongest Switch release this year. Though, considering its rather barren lineup (especially if you take out Animal Crossing), that might not be saying much.

Still, though, I’ve got to hand it to Nintendo. They could have rather easily ported Paper Mario: Color Splash to Switch, but instead they built a brand-new Paper Mario game that far, far exceeds its predecessor. Please note that this will be a spoiler-free review; we won’t be going in-depth on any specific plot details. If you’re still on the fence, hopefully this post can help you make a decision!

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Introduction

My last post on The Origami King followed a somewhat unconventional format (since it consisted of my work-in-progress opinion of the game), so we’re back to our normal format for this one. Let’s start with the generic Sticker Star spiel once again. As we all know, Paper Mario changed for good when Sticker Star was released. And I’m not about to defend Sticker Star — it was pretty rough, and the sudden transition was jarring to longtime Paper Mario fans. Unfortunately, I started with Sticker Star. Yeah. Bad place to start.

Sticker Star had a lot of problems. One issue players were particularly unhappy about was its lack of character variety. You had Mario, sure, but then almost every other friendly NPC was a Toad. The only difference between Toads were their colors, and you’d often have multiple red or blue Toads appear in the same area. On the whole, Sticker Star’s plot was much more forgettable than prior Paper Mario games’. Review sites were quick to give praise to Sticker Star despite its glaring issues, and before long, players began to garner a burning dislike of the series’ direction.

Then Nintendo released Paper Mario: Color Splash on Wii U in 2016. I played through Color Splash myself, and was quite happy with it. I didn’t beat it, though, because my Wii U GamePad began drifting, which made a particular section quite literally impossible to beat. I digress, though: Color Splash had problems too. Battles still forced you to rely on dispensable attack “items”, and powerful objects called “Things” – which usually took the form of real-world appliances such as fans and ovens – were required to beat certain bosses. Didn’t have the right card? Too bad. You’re getting defeated until you figure it out.

Paper Mario: The Origami King is a remarkable improvement over Color Splash. Things are now… things of the past, and you won’t need any particular items to be able to defeat bosses. There are breakable boots and hammer upgrades to use in-game, but you are given consistent access to your default Boots and Hammer no matter how many upgrades you break. Either way, though, we’re just getting started: The Origami King has cemented itself as my favorite Paper Mario game. Do note, though, that I haven’t played The Thousand-Year Door or Super Paper Mario, but I have played the others. I figured that might be an important note to include here just in case.

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Story & Presentation

The Origami King doesn’t make Paper Mario’s storyline as “complicated” as it used to be. When compared to the first three entries, Origami King’s plot is still quite simple. A small origami creature named Olly (proclaiming himself as King Olly) seizes Peach’s Castle, turns its inhabitants into folded origami soldiers, and surrounds it with five huge streamers. With the help of his new friend Olivia (who is also Olly’s sister), Mario must follow each streamer to its end and destroy it. All in all, there are five major areas in the game, with several minor ones sprinkled in between.

There’s a lot that I want to say here that I can’t say without spoiling major plot details. Without saying too much, The Origami King is advertised as “Mario’s funniest adventure yet”. This is not true. This is not true at all. There are actually a number of sad moments throughout the story, and a few in particular took me by surprise. My point is, there are surprises to be found here. I’d recommend not spoiling yourself, but if you’ve already learned important plot details, I would say the game is worth playing anyway.

Let’s move on to The Origami King’s presentation. In a word, it’s absolutely fantastic. That’s two words, because one word can’t accurately describe it. There are so many varied locations, including an autumn mountain, a bunch of temples, an island in the sky, and much more. I can’t spoil it all for you, right? The game is noticeably brighter than Paper Mario: Color Splash, which I feel had more shadows and darker colors. It looks great and runs well, save for a few particular moments when using certain attacks in battles. I’d like to compliment its water graphics, too: for much of the game, The Origami King’s water is “paper-styled” (not sure how else to describe it). But one specific cutscene makes use of really realistic water, which I was very impressed by. You’ll know it when you see it. Otherwise, though, Paper Mario’s aesthetic is just that: everything’s paper-y and made of crafting materials.

The Origami King has a wonderful soundtrack, too. At the time of writing, I beat the game a few days ago and a bunch of its tracks are still stuck in my head. Some of my favorites include the Red Streamer battle theme, the Yellow Streamer battle theme, and the Staff Credits theme. If you’re going to listen to them before playing the game, don’t check the comments because there will almost certainly be spoilers. If you’re trying to avoid them, that is.

Overall, I really don’t have any complaints about The Origami King’s presentation. It’s bright, colorful, and eye-catching at all times. It uses its soundtrack well from a story perspective, too; many important plot points have tracks that were specifically designed to play in that moment. The varied music makes the game more interesting, and pairs very well alongside its striking visual style.

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Gameplay

There’s a lot to talk about here. We’ll start with the aspect of the game you’ll find yourself looking at most: the overworld! It … controls exactly as you’d expect. You can walk. And jump. And use a hammer. That’s about it, but to be honest, such simplicity actually opens up a lot of creativity in the game’s level design. When you’re stuck and don’t know where to go, jumping into a hidden area or hammering part of the environment is generally your best bet. At times, I’d get stuck for a little while, because the way forward wasn’t obvious. And then I’d realize the solution was really simple after all. Of course, this was the case in Sticker Star and Color Splash too. The overworld’s got a fair amount of puzzles and even full-fledged dungeons with bosses at the end of each one. There are also Toads, Collectible Treasures, Hidden ? Blocks, and “Not-Bottomless Holes” to collect and fill. The game tracks your completion of each area, too (and 100% completing each area rewards the player with a slightly changed ending). Now then, Not-Bottomless Holes are part of a new mechanic in The Origami King. By whacking parts of the environment – trees, rocks, and the like – with your hammer, you can gather confetti which can then be freely tossed in the overworld. This confetti fixes up holes in the ground, which then spout out a few coins when patched. It’s a bit satisfying to use confetti to fix the Not-Bottomless Holes, but by all means, it’s nothing too special.

I have just one complaint about the overworld. Mario is too slow. This isn’t a large problem, because there are warp pipes and shortcuts littered throughout the world, but some areas are only accessible via walking, and Mario really isn’t very fast. You can’t slide across the ground like you could in the original, so there’s nothing to do but hold your control stick in a single direction (and maybe spam the jump button, if you’re feeling impatient). Moving along to something positive, though: The Origami King has no world map! Sticker Star and Color Splash both had one, and it made things feel sort of artificial. But that’s not the case here — the entire world is connected. That’s probably why I found Mario’s movement too slow. Honestly, if Mario moving too sluggishly is the trade-off for no world map, I’ll take it.

Here’s something else you’ll be finding a lot of in the overworld: dialogue. For the most part, it’s just fine. Color Splash unfortunately wins out in this department — seriously, almost every line of dialogue in Color Splash was at least a little bit funny. There’s some of that here, too, just a bit less of it. As you’ll find out in the game’s intro, Bowser, Bowser Jr., and Kamek are friendly because King Olly is their enemy too. And let me tell you, this is the only Mario series game I’ve played where I actually like Bowser Jr.’s character. In general, I find him a bit annoying, but he was uncharacteristically bearable this time around. You won’t find Bowser, Bowser Jr., and Kamek until later in the game, but their arc is definitely quite interesting. At least by modern Paper Mario standards.

This leads me into my next point: the character “design”, if you can call it that. The only truly new recurring characters are Olivia and Olly. Of course, Olivia’s with you for your whole adventure. In terms of personality, I liked Huey from Color Splash better, but Olivia is several tiers better than Kersti from Sticker Star. For the first time in ages, Paper Mario has partners… sort of. Throughout the game, a few characters will join your team and assist during battle. You can’t control their moves, and they sometimes miss their attacks, but it’s nice to see them back in any form. Hopefully future Paper Mario entries will bring back full-fledged partners. I’d also like to mention a recent interview with the game’s developers, in which they discussed limits Nintendo had previously placed on the series. It seems characters can no longer have their age or occupation visually represented – which means no bearded Toads – and why exactly this restriction is in place is beyond me. It’d certainly be good to see more unique character design in the future, but there is one positive takeaway here. Since characters can’t have truly unique designs, the developers had to focus on their personalities instead. Seriously, the generic enemies in The Origami King have more personality than everything in Sticker Star combined. It’s refreshing to see a bit of character in our characters again.

The Origami King, Color Splash, and Sticker Star have something in common: players tend to take issue with their battle systems. The Origami King’s is by far the least offensive of the three, but it’s also rather unconventional in comparison. First, every battle takes place on a ring. When you encounter an enemy in the overworld, a bunch of enemies appear and occupy “spots” on the ring. You’re then tasked with lining up each foe. Some battles have you arranging enemies in a straight line so you can jump on four in a row, while others have you arrange them in a two-by-two square to strike them all with a hammer attack. Some battles have you doing both. And a few enemies get particularly tricky, too: Boos disappear entirely while you’re rotating the ring, forcing you to remember their location. Make no mistake here: The Origami King’s battles are more like puzzles than battles. Of course, you’ve got the action commands that have been here since the original Paper Mario, but the actual act of arranging the ring can be quite challenging at times. It took me a little while to warm up to the battle system, and after about thirty hours of gameplay, I’d say the battle system is good. Not groundbreaking, not excellent, not even great, just good.

Now, I do think battles are satisfying sometimes, but only if you’re able to arrange the ring correctly. If you do, your attack power is increased by 1.5x, usually allowing you to clear the screen in just a couple of attacks. If you don’t arrange the ring correctly, your attack power stays the same, and you might not be able to defeat every enemy in one turn. Here’s an issue with battling: there’s little incentive to do so. There’s no experience points, and while this isn’t a huge problem, the only reward you collect in battle is coins. There’s plenty to spend coins on, but I found it a bit annoying when I couldn’t run away from enemies I knew I’d be able to beat. If you try to flee a battle and fail, every enemy on the field gets a chance to attack you. Luckily, progressing the story allows you to collect Max HP Hearts to increase your health, and these have a side effect of allowing you to beat overworld enemies with a single jump or hammer swing. But if they happen to touch you, you’ll still need to do battle with them. Kind of annoying.

Another annoyance is that there are disposable action items. Let’s say you have a completely empty inventory. You can still use your standard Boots and Hammer attacks, but they’re quite weak (to compensate, they never break). You can obtain stronger Boots and Hammers, though – there are shiny, flashy, and legendary variants of each – but these do break after a while, forcing you to go back to a shop to buy more. Honestly, I’m not really sure why a durability system was included in The Origami King, as it feels totally unnecessary. Running out of strong attacks was never a problem for me… so then why include the mechanic at all? Not that I want it to be a problem, but it’s still something I found a bit confusing.

You can choose from a bunch of different attack types, as we just discussed, but you can also choose from a variety of accessories to equip. They’re kind of like badges, but there aren’t as many different accessories available. Some of them are kind of neat, though. One increases the attack power of your partner, one increases the amount of time you have to arrange the rings in battle, and one even adds sound effects from the original Donkey Kong to Mario’s movement. Neat!

My personal favorite part of The Origami King is its boss battles. Yes, they use the ring too. Except the boss is in the middle, and you’re on the outside! You have to line up the ring to create a path for Mario to follow that leads to the center of the ring. The game’s central gimmick, the 1,000-Fold Arms (… which we still need to talk about, hang on) can also be used for an attack rush that deals major damage. These boss fights take a while to learn, but are incredibly fun once you get used to them. It’s like a strategy game where each one of your turns counts. Some of the battles can get a little tough, too, and they get even tougher if you choose not to equip any of the aforementioned accessories.

Now then, the 1000-Fold Arms are a new gimmick that Mario gains access to whenever Olivia is around. He folds his arms into really long ones that can reach and modify the environment around him. A Magic Circle needs to be present, though, so the use of the 1000-Fold Arms is pretty straightforward. By default, they utilize motion controls. No thanks. There’s an option to turn off motion controls and use the control stick instead, which I went with the whole game. I can’t speak to the reliability of the motion controls at all.

As I mentioned before, there’s just so much to do in this game. 100% completion will keep you occupied for a while, sure, but the game has a full-fledged museum with a ton of cool extras. You can listen to the game’s soundtrack, look at its concept art, look at origami forms of Super Mario enemies, and much more. The main game mixes things up from time to time, too. You’ll be playing minigames fairly often, and they help break up the repetition and keep things feeling fresh. You’ll have to row a boat, navigate an ocean, dive underwater, and even throw shurikens. There are a lot of cool types of gameplay on offer here. As far as the ocean thing goes, I was pleasantly surprised to find an area in the game… that was just a giant ocean. In the same vein as The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, you can sail around, dive for treasure, and find a bunch of islands. Overall, I’m very much impressed with The Origami King’s variety. A lot of effort was put in here.

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The Verdict

Paper Mario: The Origami King is a great game, and it’s certainly cemented itself as my favorite Paper Mario game (so far). Again, I haven’t played The Thousand-Year Door, which people seem to rave about, so maybe my opinion will change after I play it. There are minor issues here and there, but none of them hit too hard. The game’s positives far outshine its negatives. Personally, I feel like The Origami King is the most “complete-feeling” game Nintendo has released in quite some time. The main story will run you 25 to 30 hours, so whether or not you think that’s worth the asking price is up to you.

There is one dangerous direction I see Paper Mario heading in, though. They’re getting very… formulaic. Something bad happens. A little fairy-type partner joins Mario. It turns out this partner has a special ability they can lend to Mario. And each game has had a different paper-esque theme. Sticker Star was stickers, Color Splash was paint, and now The Origami King is origami. Are they going to run out of paper gimmicks sometime? Who knows. Probably. Re-read this paragraph after you beat the game and my statement of “Paper Mario’s plot is formulaic” will make more sense.

Regardless, I was pleasantly surprised with The Origami King! Just go into it expecting an adventure-type puzzle game and I think you’ll like it. I think it’s best played in short bursts (an hour or less each day), but of course, you’re allowed to play it any way you want. In any case, thanks so much for reading! This was another long one, and if you’re still on the fence about whether to get the game or not, I hope my opinions have led you another step in the right direction.

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