It’s time to round up those enemies.
The Paper Mario series puts the Nintendo community in a whirlwind every four years or so, and that time has come once again. Paper Mario: The Origami King is about to drop on the Nintendo Switch and after spending some time with the game, I have some thoughts to share with you. Some parts feel fresh, others harken back to the older RPG titles, and some feel stagnant at this point in the franchise.
While Paper Mario was originally named for its emphasis on the storybook / pop-up book component, that was downplayed significantly beginning in 2012 with Paper Mario: Sticker Star. A slightly stronger, albeit admittedly still fairly barebones narrative was implemented with it’s follow-up on the Wii U, Paper Mario: Color Splash. And now, Paper Mario: The Origami King advertises itself as having a bigger emphasis on plot. And that it does...sort of. The Origami King takes several swings at creating beautiful, epic cinematics in its set up. Peach has invited Mario and Luigi to the Origami Festival in Toad Town. When they arrive, the town is deserted and they investigate at the castle. There, they find Peach has been transformed into an origami version of herself, and that Bowser and his minions are being turned into the Folded Soldiers, the minions of the nefarious King Olly. While there, Mario encounters King Olly’s sister, Olivia, and the two begin a quest to stop her brother from folding the world in his image. They travel around the kingdom to destroy magical streamers that are keeping Peach’s Castle imprisoned. This serves primarily as context for the adventure that is happening with Mario and Olivia. The two encounter countless Toads with witty dialogue and explore very unique locations like the holy site of a religious deity that Koopa Troopas worship, or a traditional Japanese culture theme park. While the overarching narrative falls into the background, the adventures so far with Mario and Olivia act as memorable experiences between the player and character. The Origami King is determined to make sure you are swept away in its charming world and characters, and its comical writing, while banking on you not thinking too hard about its narrative.
And of course while in this world, you encounter the Folded Soldiers, which are origami versions of Bowser’s minions. Let’s go ahead and rip the band-aid off now: I think this new combat system, so far, is “okay.” The Paper Mario series has become known for its constant changing of the combat system in its games with Origami King adding another shake-up. Every time you encounter an enemy, you begin a ”Ring-Battle.” Mario appears in the center of a dial that can best be described as the appearance of a dart board. Several enemies then hop on to the dial and Mario has a set number of time and moves to spin rings in the dial as well as slide slices of it to align enemies in a way that can maximize damage. Once aligned, you are given a set number of moves (this changes per battle depending on how many enemies there are) to attack the enemies around you. If you aligned your enemies right, you get an attack boost, ensuring your attacks will K.O. the enemies. Every one of these puzzle fights has a correct solution, so in theory you can align your enemies and then attack them without them ever interacting with you. So far, I have found that to be the case with the majority of my encounters. The puzzle difficulty varies, but so far I would say the majority of them have been laughably easy. Hours into the game, I’m still finding encounters that are: move the Goombas up one spot, and then rotate them over. There are definitely a few that have wracked my brain because the solution isn’t obvious, but those are few and far between.
Boss fights act slightly differently in that the boss is the one in the center of the dial, and Mario has to rotate and slide arrows along the dial to create a path to the center to deal damage. And so far, these have been rad. They feel much more handcrafted rather than the overworld enemies where the puzzle solutions can be so obvious it feels like you’re spamming to get through them. A lot of scripted fights pop up where you are exploring and suddenly a barrage of enemies appears and you have to throw down. Usually these seem to be where the puzzle difficulty shows itself evolving. But even if you don’t get the right solution, you can easily block and minimize damage taken, and then wail away. I have yet to feel like I am ever in danger in any of these fights, even if I got a puzzle wrong. Powerful weapons are plentiful and while they do break over time, much akin to the stickers and cards of the past Paper Mario games, they aren’t the focus at all. In short, the experience has been laughably easy. And unfortunately, the incentive for battling the optional overworld enemies is odd. You are flooded with coins depending on your performance in battle. Coins can be used to buy more time in the puzzle segment, pay for Toads to assist in the fight, buy items, weapons, and accessories at shops, or for the odd collectible or key item in the overall journey. Coins seem to be what The Origami King is trying to use as a form of progression. But the ludicrous amount you earn even from the scripted battles and boss fights, have left me feeling like the need for battling is obsolete. You can flee from many of the fights with the note that Mario fails fleeing half of the time, and the enemy will have disappeared as if you have already won. Sure you miss out on the coins but it makes it quicker to get back to exploration. Maybe this changes up later on in the game, but so far, I’m not encouraged.
Several of the Origami King’s levels are considerably larger in scope and allow Mario a lot of room for free exploration. Linear dungeons still happen and the hand of the narrative is there to string Mario along from place to place, but it is very possible to often get a key item prior to needing it in the adventure’s context. I found a bunch of mysterious orbs scattered around a mountain, and later found that they were needed to open a door. That free roaming feeling is very appreciated because there are an abundance of collectibles in the world that make exploring these large environments more rewarding. There are so many, that it has come to the point that I strongly believe this game is part optional collectathon. Toads are hidden all over the place, and finding them has various effects. Sometimes they unlock a shop, sometimes they go back to town to repopulate it, and most of the time they stand there and provide comical relief. Hidden Question Mark Blocks with various items and Treasure Chests containing little trophy models are abundant around the world, too. And lastly, hundreds of spots can be found where the paper of the world has been eaten away leaving a hole. Mario can repair these holes by throwing confetti on them. Collecting these items and fixing these holes unlocks content in the museum at Toad Town, which can be rewarding if you enjoy looking at that type of content. If you played Paper Mario: Color Splash, it’s an identical process, with just more to do.
My experience with The Origami King so far has been very charming with a lot of great comedy along the way. I question the purpose of the battle system given its very low difficulty, and while the collectibles haven’t been that substantial, they have added to the thrill of exploration. I will be curious to see where the narrative goes because aside from the strong opening, not much has happened aside from Olivia making occasional reminders why the duo is on the adventure.