To date, all of the Paper Mario games have been hilarious. Thankfully, Paper Mario: The Origami King doesn’t shy away from the series’ great writing.
That being said, while I can’t say too much about the previous outing, Color Splash, (I never finished it) Origami King has its flaws. For everything The Origami King does right, there are two or three things holding it back.
Time to save the kingdom again
The Origami King starts with an invitation to Mario and Luigi from Princess Peach to visit Toad Town for the origami festival. When the duo arrives, they find that everyone has been folded up into origami versions of themselves by the evil origami king, Olly. After wrapping Princess Peach’s castle in streamers, it’s up to Mario to destroy the streamers and restore order to the kingdom.
I thought it was a smart move to not have Bowser as the main villain. He’s still present, but he takes a backseat. You’ll still battle plenty of Koopas and Goombas but as folded, origami versions of themselves. Honestly, I’ve always really liked the Paper Mario stylings of these characters. I’m not sure why, but they always seem to hit home with me a little better than the 3D offerings. I think it’s because it’s just so damn fun to see them all in differing styles. Coupled with the hilarious writing and characters, I’ve always preferred the Paper Mario series.
More than a few paper cuts
However, The Origami King does take a few steps back in terms of gameplay mechanics. Combat is simple and almost never challenging. And there are no experience points to earn here, so you’ll never find a reason to grind out battles. Mario’s power does increase occasionally, but it seems like it’s tied more to game progression than anything. After certain points, players are able to bonk enemies’ heads with his hammer and not have to go into battle.
Combat sees Mario placed on the inner circle of a grid. You have to line up enemies or group them in a small square. The formation of enemies decides whether to use a jump attack or your hammer. If you line them up in a row, Mario will go down the line and jump on each one’s head. If they’re grouped in a 2×2 square, you’ll use a hammer with an area attack.
The entire battle takes place in two phases. The first phase is spent either sliding enemies back and forth in a row or rotating a different circular grid to line them up. It’s a simple system that often doesn’t pose much of a puzzle challenge, but there were some times I just couldn’t make it work.
Even when I couldn’t get enemies lined up properly, I was almost never in danger. Enemy attacks are generally pretty weak, and after their turn, players have another opportunity to complete the grid puzzle again. Fights against normal enemies quickly wear out their welcome, and I found myself avoiding fights because they served no purpose. With no experience to earn, what’s the point?
Boss battles shake things up
Admittedly, the boss fights are where the combat excels in Paper Mario: The Origami King. During boss fights, Mario is positioned on the outside of the grid while the boss is in the middle. Here, players rotate the inner rings to find a path to an attack point. Still, things aren’t very difficult because those paths are often littered with hearts or attack up bonuses that assist relatively easy battles. Difficult or not, these boss battles help shake up the monotony of the regular fights, which is something The Origami King desperately needs.
The writing is where Paper Mario: The Origami King really shines. The characters’ lines are well written and hilarious. The amnesia-ridden Bob-omb is an easy standout as he gets distracted easily. I found him hanging out with a sombrero-wearing Shy Guy. Just like the main cast, the Toads in The Origami King are also quite funny, which is great because they serve as the main collectible of this outing. There are a ton of them in each area. Once found, they appear in the bleachers surrounding the battle grid.
Additionally, I found just exploring the world and platforming really fun here. It’s a blast searching for all the Toads. I think a lot of the fun of exploration hinges on how beautiful and colorful the game world is in The Origami King. Each area is unique and vibrant. Whether you’re exploring an autumnal forest or a desert, I often found myself marveling at how good it looks for such a simple game. As you explore and bash things with your hammer, Mario earns confetti. These are used to patch holes in the paper mâché world, opening up different routes and hidden areas.
Each streamer has a group of connected levels to explore in a quasi-open world. Players backtrack through these connected areas to track down Toads and have to go back to Toad Town to travel to different sets of connected worlds. It definitely isn’t as open as it seemed to be at first, but there is a ton to do and track down in each area. There is not a lot of variety of content, but great writing makes up for it. I found myself wanting to keep playing, even if I was doing the same sort of tasks over and over again.
Paper Mario: The Origami King isn’t going to win any awards, but it is a generally good experience. I think the absence of experience points coupled with uninteresting combat was a poor choice. As a result, players will probably avoid fights when possible because of it.
Luckily, the fun boss battles make up for it a little. You won’t stay for the combat encounters, but players will likely stick around for the hilariously charming writing and beautiful vistas Mario ends up exploring.