Paper Mario makes his debut on the Nintendo Switch in an all new action-adventure game. With visually stunning overworld designs and an excellent range of puzzles to boot, The Origami King has ironed out many of the past two titles’ creases. Yet something is missing. Repetitive battles, breakable weapons and a flawed coin system aside, the story feels less engaging this time around, often subverted by overzealous gameplay mechanics that make zero sense.
Described as an ‘experimental’ series by fans and developers alike, Paper Mario is a transformative game that’s free of any boundaries. What began as an RPG adventure series has slowly transitioned into a smorgasbord of gaming genres. Each entry from Sticker Star onwards appears to focus on one key gaming mechanic, building the entire world around its use. First it was stickers, then colourless cards, and now, in the Origami King, it’s confetti. But unlike Sticker Star and Color Splash, confetti isn’t something you can use in battle; it’s only purpose is to fill ‘non-bottomless holes’ that appear in the overworld as a way to earn coins. And, as coins are as bountiful as confetti in the overworld, we’re left questioning as to why it’s even there in the first place.
This is where we arrive at the crux of the matter. Developed by Intelligent Systems, Paper Mario: The Origami King just throws everything at the board and hopes something will stick. Between carbon copied elements from previous games in the series to borrowed mechanics from The Legend of Zelda (The Great Sea, Courage, Power and Wisdom Trials), Yoshi’s Crafted World (overworld puzzles), Labo VR (submarine mode) and more, The Origami King persistently refuses to settle on one identity that it’s somehow merged into several Nintendo IPs in one fell swoop. And since many of the gameplay mechanics are often tied to storyline progression, with no real reason other than to elongate time spent in a certain area, Paper Mario becomes a strange concoction of puzzles, luck-based scenarios and a lengthy search for an unfeeling cause. It’s ironic, really, since The Origami King’s entire story revolves around soulless, refolded paper enemies that force you into puzzle-based battles, designed to break both your weapons and patience.
However, that’s not to say the game doesn’t have its star-studded moments, and it would be detrimental to the series itself to simply skip over these elements. While the storyline isn’t as engaging as past entries, (see our preview for a quick summary) there are still times where I’ve found myself giggling uncontrollably due to the sheer wit and humorous writing seen in Olivia, the Origami Princess and Mario’s cheerful assistant, or via Luigi’s epic fails, as well as through partners such as Bob-omb, Professor Toad and Kamek – all of whom assist in battles too.
The Origami King’s visuals are also noteworthy. After the first two streamer worlds, you’ll visit Shroom City, located in the Scorched Sandpaper Desert, which looks like a pop-up Agrabah and is absolutely stunning at night. After a trek across the Great Sea in your boat, you’ll happen upon a heaven-like paradise (also known as The Shangri Spa) where you can take a hot dip in the Spring of Purification, later meeting up with Bowser’s minions.
Speaking of, adventuring in the sumptuous overworld locations like The Great Sea to discover islands or by exploring underground caverns and dungeons in search of ‘Vellumental’ magic are where you’ll find some of the best puzzles. Between image and action-based slide puzzles to locations that feature unique contraptions, buttons and trials to test your memory and logic, The Origami King is truly a puzzle game at its core. In fact, it feels more like a traditional Legend of Zelda game – think Wind Waker – than it does a Paper Mario title. Yet unlike the Zelda franchise, where the puzzles, action and enemies get more difficult as you progress through the 30+ hour storyline, The Origami King falls foul of that pattern.
Throughout all five streamer worlds, The Origami King is defined by its unique ring-based – and time-based – battle mechanics. Essentially restricted to the same gameplay difficulty through its own making, forced enemy battles become highly repetitive and mundane, while boss battles (though enjoyable) are constrained to puzzle-based logic that’s almost identical to the previous fight. While bosses do showcase quirky elements pertaining to their character, for instance Sellotape sticks the battle rings together and Hole Punch attacks the board like an overenthusiastic dog with a chew toy, nothing is too taxing once you’ve understood the basic elements. Simply switch the board around – either horizontally or vertically – to strategically place the arrows, treasure chests, ‘on’ switches, magic circles, coins, hearts and action points together to make your way to the boss.
For added hilarity during boss fights, using the 1,000 Folded Arms – a special motion control movement that sees Mario wield corrugated cardboard arms – when using your Switch in handheld mode makes it nigh on impossible to watch the action as you repeatedly shake the console up and down. It’s true that motion controls can be turned off, but where’s the fun in that? I’d rather just shake it like a polaroid picture.
There are moments, though, when Origami King veers off course – for the greater good, might I add. Action battles with a paper mache Blooper in The Great Sea and another enemy later in the game are prime examples of Paper Mario doing what he does best; defeating an enemy in a skill-based, action-packed battle – all without the constraints of a ring-based puzzle mechanic. There’s also no time limit in these battles either, making for a great change of pace.
As spoken at length in our preview, The Origami King’s battle system offers no experience or level ranking, only rewarding players with coin bonuses after enemies are defeated. Due to this, there is no real incentive to fight enemies in the overworld – unless you are forced into doing so. Aside from your standard boots and hammer, Mario can also wield upgraded hammers and boots that are either stronger or offer unique properties. These weapons, however, break after so many uses, ensuring you spend your coins in the game’s battle shop. And herein lies another unfortunate flaw: the game’s use of coins.
Instead of confetti, The Origami King revolves entirely around collecting coins. Between battles, filling non-bottomless holes, discovering Hidden Toads, and an accessory that hilariously rewards you with 10,000 coins after taking 10,000 steps, the game encourages you to use your coins to reward you with – that’s right – even more currency. Eventually, coins become meaningless and are often used solely as a bargaining chip to obtain more collectibles, purchase accessories for stat / health increases, upgrade your boat, or assist Bowser’s Minions by purchasing items via their extortionate prices.
On the other hand, coins are also used to make the game easier. Between paying collected Toads to ‘cheer’ you on in enemy battles, lengthening the countdown clock, and making trials or puzzles easier in the overworld, coins are bizarrely tied to the game’s difficulty. The more you have, the easier it gets. Yet by avoiding spending coins to increase the difficulty, you’re also missing out on some of the game’s most interesting weapons (the Legendary Hammer is particularly cool), accessories and more. It appears the Origami King is stuck between a rock and a hard place.
When all is said and done, Paper Mario: The Origami King is a solid, wonderfully charming adventure-come-puzzle title. Thankfully, for series’ fans, it’s closer to Color Splash than it is to Sticker Star, but the game still doesn’t come close to The Thousand-Year Door territory. Perhaps this is down to The Origami King’s need to do everything at once, rather than focus on one core element of gameplay. Until the series can truly settle and develop an identity to call its own, Paper Mario will always be a little creased in the corners.
A review copy of Paper Mario: The Origami King was provided to My Nintendo News by Nintendo UK. To discover more about the gameplay mechanics and storyline, take a look at our preview.