After playing Paper Mario: The Origami King for a few hours, I’m feeling cautiously optimistic. The move to a more puzzle-orientated combat was a big risk considering its RPG roots, and while I don’t think the new approach will hit the heights of The Thousand-Year Door, the wealth of original ideas here at least makes it refreshing. Otherwise, The Origami King looks to be an excellent adventure thanks to varied gameplay, a gorgeous paper-craft world and a hilarious cast of zany characters.
- Review Price: £49.99
- Platform: Nintendo Switch
- Release: 17 July 2020
- Developer: Intelligent Systems
- Publisher: Nintendo
Nintendo and Intelligent Systems have taken a big risk with Paper Mario: The Origami King, overhauling the combat and all but abandoning the RPG roots the series established 20 years ago.
While the Paper Mario series is no stranger to adding unfamiliar twists to the traditional turn-based battle system, The Origami King marks the first occasion where it looks unrecognisable to the debut entry on the N64. Now Paper Mario feels just as much a puzzler as an RPG.
Those wanting more of the same of older entries such as The Thousand-Year Door may well be disappointed by such dramatic changes, especially since the new system is arguably inferior to the original.
Still, the Paper Mario identity remains intact elsewhere, with the series’ staple crafty art style and witty humour proving to be as strong as ever. And while I have a few reservations after playing Origami King for a handful of hours, it’s still evidently clear that there’s enough quality here to make this an exciting Paper Mario entry for Switch owners.
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For those who’ve never experienced a Paper Mario game before, this quirky series sees the paper-cutout plumber trade classic platforming for turn-based hammer smashing. While Mario and all of the other Mushroom Kingdom characters are even flatter than a pancake in this universe, they still occupy a 3D world, resulting in a wacky yet charming aesthetic that complements the fourth wall-breaking humour.
The Origami King introduces an amusing new twist to the universe in the form of evil-doer King Olly, who’s folding up the 2D residents of Mushroom Kingdom into origami forms – including Princess Peach – in order to turn them into mindless slaves. This means that even Mario’s classic foes are in danger, forcing the likes of Bowser to team up with our moustached hero.
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With Princess Peach’s castle wrapped up in ribbon, Paper Mario must venture to various realms to free the kingdom from its bounds. It’s just as silly as it sounds, but that only adds to the charm – this is classic Nintendo humour at its best.
Unlike most Mario ventures, characters are very chatty here with the likes of Luigi, Bowser and Mario’s new sidekick Oliva often punctuating conversations with rib-tickling quips. The many Toad characters steal the spotlight though, hiding in various spots across the Kingdom waiting for Mario to free them from their origami prisons.
While saving Toads will boost the strength of a combat-focused special ability, my main incentive for rescuing them was just to hear their one liners, as they’d routinely break the fourth wall or offer a slapstick joke – one even pretended to be decapitated, which I’m surprised and delighted was able to sneak through Nintendo’s strict family-friendly filters.
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I’ve got mixed feelings about the new ring-based battle system. The ambitious leap to create something entirely new has to be applauded, weaving together brain-teasing puzzles and classic turn-based strategy for a Mushroom Kingdom experience unlike any other, but I’m not completely convinced by it just yet.
Each combat encounter begins with a puzzle, as Mario is tasked with grouping up enemies with a limited number of turns. This is tediously easy in the initial hours of the game, simply requiring you to shift origami-shaped Goomba into either a column of four so Mario can perform a head-pounding hopscotch, or into a square formation to perfectly sync up with your hammer’s blast radius.
However, the puzzles become increasingly more complex as additional enemy variations are introduced. I felt the difficulty spike was whiplashingly steep after the tutorial section, as I went from mindlessly solving puzzles to routinely struggling to overcome the Rubik’s Cube-styled challenges.
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Fortunately, failing to solve a puzzle before the timer hits zero does not result in a game over, merely giving the origami enemies an opportunity to attack instead. Multiple attacks can of course accumulate to deplete Mario’s health bar to worryingly low levels, but there’s such an abundance of health items spread across the Mushroom Kingdom that my lack of brain power was rarely detrimental to the plumber – the same can’t be said for my bruised ego.
While I’m a big fan of puzzle games, I’m admittedly already finding the ring-based battle system repetitive so early into the game. The lack of an RPG-style progression system is an early concern too, with Mario only able to strengthen his attacks by purchasing more powerful weapons that shatter after extended use.
Take everything I say with a pinch of salt though, as I’m not even halfway through yet and already being teased with new mechanics and combat allies, with Bob-omb recently joining my roster. I’m excited to see how the combat evolves later into the game, but simultaneously can’t deny I’m pining for more traditional turn-based RPG combat.
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The boss battles feel more promising, with Intelligent Systems reversing the format so colossal foes sit in the centre of the arena instead of Mario. This means you must twist and turn the rotating platforms to navigate your way to your opponent, all while dodging missiles and trying to stomp specific panels that grant bonus damage to your attacks. I’ve only encountered three boss fights so far – including a sentient colouring pencil case and a grumpy tortoise – but it looks as if many more are awaiting me, each with their own game-changing twist.
There’s much more to The Origami King than the new combat, of course. There are fun platforming sections that see you flee from boulders or guide a boat down deadly rapids, and puzzle-centric dungeons that feel like simplistic imitations to those found in The Legend of Zelda series. The platforming and puzzles sections aren’t remarkable, but they do help to add variety to Paper Mario’s adventure. The slew of hidden collectables also gives you an excuse to explore every nook and cranny of the Mushroom Kingdom, which has been crafted with astonishing detail.
Paper Mario: The Origami King may not be The Thousand-Year Door successor I was hoping for, but the latest entry at least can’t be accused of lacking originality. The new puzzle-orientated battle system takes some getting used to, but initial signs show it has a lot of ideas and twists coming my way – although I’m unsure whether it can hit the heights of classic RPG combat.
At the very least, The Origami King retains the quirky humour and eccentric cast of characters that made previous entries so beloved. I can’t wait to explore more of this paper-themed Mushroom Kingdom, even if that’s just to hear Toad spew more paper-themed puns than you’d hear in Dunder Mifflin.
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