Game Reviews

Paper Mario: The Origami King Review

A step in the right direction.

by Dean James
Paper Mario: The Origami King

The Mario franchise has had numerous spin-offs over the years, with the Paper Mario series serving as sort of a spiritual successor to Super Mario RPG. Starting off very strong with the first few entries, Paper Mario has been on a sharp downward trend for awhile now. Fans have been asking for a more traditional Paper Mario game that captures the spirit of the original games for years and the latest somewhat pulls this off in Paper Mario: The Origami King.

Not including the Mario & Luigi crossover game, Paper Mario: The Origami King is the sixth entry in the Paper Mario franchise. Like many Mario games before it, the game starts off with Mario and Luigi going to visit Princess Peach at her castle. It is never that easy when it comes to Mario though, as something is amiss with Peach and Mario gets put in the dungeon. He very quickly saves his new companion for the game named Olivia, who you very quickly found out is the sister of the game’s main antagonist, King Olly.

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Both Mario and Olivia are banished from the castle that is then taken away from the castle grounds, leaving you to have to work together to find your way back. The main goal in Paper Mario: The Origami King is to get back to Peach’s Castle and save the day, but getting there isn’t going to be easy. Along the way, you must go and remove long streamers that are strung all throughout the land and are connected to the castle. This is done by venturing to different areas across the kingdom, including dungeons where you have to face off against bosses known as Vellumentals.

What has always been special about the Paper Mario series has been the charm and humor that is not always as present in the other Mario games. It is disappointing that we once again don’t get any new original designs on characters like with Goombella in the past, but the plain versions of these characters still have a lot of personality in the game. Bobby, the lazy, yet adventurous Bob-omb is a good example of this, who leads to some really funny moments between the group. This is where Paper Mario: The Origami King really thrives and leaves no doubt that you’re playing a Paper Mario game.

Rather than being split up into different levels, this game brings back the more seamless overworld besides the few areas you have to travel between. As you are making your way through these areas, you will come across holes in the ground and on walls of varying sizes. These often need to be filled to advance further, while others can just be filled for extra coins or items. This is done with the Confetti Bag you collect after being removed from the castle, which you have to continually fill up with more confetti to keep using it. Mario can also team up with Olivia at certain areas to use the 1000-Fold Arms technique, which is one of the game’s few uses of motion controls. This is activated on special pads you find, with there also being pads available to call forth the Vellumentals you defeat to help you as well.

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If there’s one thing you can count on with Paper Mario, it’s the introduction of a different battle system in each new game. Paper Mario: The Origami King keeps this trend going with special turn-based combat around a circular arena. Rather than go with a simple turn-based approach where you just take turns attacking, this game is split into two different phases that are quite different. As per usual, you can also hit the enemy in the overworld to deal some extra damage before the battle even starts as well.

The first battle phase tasks you with lining up the enemies to where you can best attack them, which is either four in a line for you to jump on in a row or four enemies in a 2×2 section that you can attack with your hammer. This can be done by moving each of the four rings up and down or sliding the rows up and down. For getting them all lined up correctly, you will receive an attack bonus that is often enough to take down the enemies in one go. However, you can still attack even if you don’t line them up correctly, but just be prepared to take some damage. This phase has a limited amount of time for you to complete, which can get really complicated as the game moves along.

Next comes the actual attack phase, where you can select a jump attack that is dependent on the type of Boot you choose to use or smack the enemies right in front of you with the Hammer of your own selection. In classic Paper Mario fashion, you can deal extra damage by pressing A at just the right time, which is dependent on the type of attack you are using. If you do not manage to take out the enemy forces in one go, they will then attack you. Just like with attacking, you can press A at just the right time to block and reduce the amount of damage taken. At this point, the enemies are then reshuffled and you start from step one again. There are also some additional battle options like paying Toads to cheer for you and deal a little extra damage or using items to help recover health or even deal damage as well.

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The game changes things up a bit with the boss battles, as they utilize the battle system in more innovative ways. Each boss battle is handled a bit differently, with the general goal being to line up arrows on a path that will lead to a spot that you can attack or use a specific move like the 1000-Fold Arms technique. Thanks to the addition of new abilities by defeating the different Vellumentals in the game, there will be more options for you in these battles as well.

Paper Mario: The Origami King does introduce some of the classic Paper Mario style with the turn-based approach, but at the same time once again almost tries too hard to implement something that is entirely new to the series. The first phase of battle is pretty unique and interesting with how you get to lineup the enemies. This starts to get more complicated with additional enemies being added into the mix, which is where it starts to get very tedious. You can extend your time limit with items or coins, the latter of which you should always have an abundance of. However, having to do the exact same thing over and over again really can hinder your enjoyment of the combat in the long run. The boss battles are at least a little more inventive here, but there are a lot of monotonous regular battles in between them.

While the series has moved more away from being a true RPG in recent entries, it is also pretty disappointing that Mario and company cannot level up or anything during the game. All you can do is obtain new weapons to equip, which you have to keep acquiring due to their limited uses. This prevents you from ever feeling like there is any real sense of progression in the combat and in turn makes it feel less rewarding in a way. The companions are also used in a very limited capacity as well, where they are pretty much just there for story purposes than to really help you in the fights.

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The Paper Mario series has never been one to push the visuals to the limit, but Paper Mario: The Origami King really does look great in action. Everything is very colorful and the individual character animations do a good job at conveying emotions and such, even as simple as they are. Each area has a unique theme as well, which comes across really well in the game through their design.

Intelligent Systems has switched things up with each subsequent Paper Mario game and Paper Mario: The Origami King is no different. The two phase combat system gets very tedious in no time, but the boss battles do elevate this style to be much more serviceable when they come about. A return to an actual overworld feels great here, as the world is a lot of fun to explore and makes it feel like a much grander adventure. The core of Paper Mario is always its characters and charm though, which help to overcome the gameplay and move the series back in the right direction.

The Verdict

While it may not return to the heights of The Thousand-Year Door, Paper Mario: The Origami King is by far the best entry in the series in over a decade and gives us hope for the future of the series for the first time in awhile.

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Paper Mario: The Origami King

  • Available On: Nintendo Switch
  • Published By: Nintendo
  • Developed By: Intelligent Systems
  • Genre: Action Adventure RPG
  • US Release Date: July 17, 2020
  • Reviewed On: Nintendo Switch
  • Quote: "While it may not return to the heights of The Thousand-Year Door, Paper Mario: The Origami King is by far the best entry in the series in over a decade and gives us hope for the future of the series for the first time in awhile."
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