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To say that the Paper Mario fanbase is impassioned about the series is putting it lightly. The first two games released for the Nintendo 64 and Gamecube, respectively, picked up the RPG mantle from Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars with aplomb, and especially the Gamecube outing, Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door is still held in the highest regard to this day, 16 years after its release.

Later outings in the series have been met with a more lukewarm reception due to moving away from mechanics that veterans enjoyed from the glory days of the series, which begs the question; Is Paper Mario: The Origami King more of an early Paper Mario game or a latter day one?

Well, none of the above actually.

Paper Makes the World Go ‘Round

Let’s start with the basics. You move a paper thin version of Mario around in a paper crafted 3D World. There are coins and mushrooms to collect, puzzles to solve and enemies to fight in turn-based combat, when you encounter them. So far standard Paper Mario fare.

This time around, Princess Peach has been folded into origami by the evil King Olly who turns the peaceful flat paper characters of the Mushroom Kingdom into his twisted, brainwashed folded soldiers, attacking their former friends. Mario barely escapes an attack on Peach’s castle and must now prevent the world from folding in on itself (sorry, couldn’t resist).

The Origami King feels like it borrows bits and pieces from its long history, while still expanding the basic concept into new areas. Old school fans will still miss a proper xp system like there was in the first games, but they will more than likely breathe a sigh of relief for the return of colorful and memorable companions, even though they don’t follow you through the game like a merry band of adventurers like they did in the first games. 

The truth is, the Paper Mario games have always sought out new ways to put a spin on the core gameplay formula. From the heavy RPG leanings of the first two games, to the platforming and dimension shifting of Super Paper Mario to the oft-maligned sticker and battle card system of Paper Mario: Sticker Star and Paper Mario: Color Splash, the lowest points in the series. Variety seems to be the name of the game and The Origami King is no different, serving up an entirely new battle system, puzzle-based ring battles.

A Thinking Man’s Fight

You enter combat whenever you approach an enemy in the overworld. The battlefield is set up with Mario in the center of several layers of rings that you push and pull to line up goombas, koopas and the like for the most effective attack. Jumping will attack in a straight line, while the hammer attacks in a square pattern instead. Lining up enemies feels kind of like trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube, as getting the right alignment gets trickier and trickier the further along in the game you get. Luckily, you can use coins to enlist the help of Toads you have saved so far, to tip the battle to your advantage in different ways, like help to spin the rings or deal damage to enemies. 

Boss battles switch up the formula, having Mario be on the outer parts of the rings instead, trying to find the best way to approach the boss, often with a tricky weak point to suss out. 

It doesn’t help that you only have a certain amount of time to get everything in order, so you barely have time to put on your thinking cap. This can also be alleviated by using coins to add valuable seconds to the clock. I found myself wanting to get the battles over quickly so I could get back to exploring the gorgeous overworld and finding hidden collectibles.

Lovely Levels and Lots to Do

And collectibles are aplenty. There’s holes in the paper world to cover with confetti to fix the destruction wrought by your enemies, secret items to find and Toads to help, all recorded and accounted for on a snazzy collectibles page for the completionists out there.

The collection aspect is tons of fun, because the levels are beautiful and vibrant. In one of the early stages you travel through a lush forest where the inhabitants, without giving too much away know how to put on quite the musical performance.

The charm of the series, which always shone the brightest in the dialogue, is indeed intact. Every Paper Mario game has benefitted from amazing translation work and more than a few nods to pop culture, other Mario games and even references to games from outside Nintendo’s own fold. The Origami King is no different in this regard, with more than enough funny puns and quips.

Paper Mario: The Origami King is not a return to the roots of the series, nor is it a continuation of the lesser games. It tries to walk its own path, and succeeds in most aspects. Exploration is fun and the dialogue and characters are excellent and for some, it will be enough to outshine the so-and-so battle system.

Score: 8/10

Pros:

  • Beautiful, vibrant levels
  • Memorable characters
  • Top notch dialogue

Cons:

  • Slightly tedious battle system
  • Lack of RPG Elements

Game purchased for review. You can read SP1st and MP1st’s review and scoring policy right here. Paper Mario: The Origami King is now out for the Nintendo Switch.