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May 2021

Paper Mario: The Origami King

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: July 17, 2020


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Switch Review - 'Paper Mario: The Origami King'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on July 24, 2020 @ 1:00 a.m. PDT

Paper Mario: The Origami King delivers a comedy-filled journey packed with puzzles, strategic ring-based battles, quirky characters and stunning visuals.

Buy Paper Mario: The Origami King

The two original Paper Mario games were standard RPGs with a paper theme, but after the Mario and Luigi franchise took off, Paper Mario focused more on the "paper" and less on the RPG. Paper Mario: The Origami King is the latest in the new generation of Paper Mario titles. It isn't as much of an RPG as Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door, but taken on its own merits, The Origami King is the best Paper Mario title of the new generation.

As with any Mario game, The Origami King opens with Princess Peach being kidnapped. The mysterious Origami King has taken over the Mushroom Kingdom by transforming its paper denizens into origami folded soldiers — including the princess. It's up to Mario, aided by an origami fairy named Olivia, to save the kingdom once again.

The Origami King has a delightfully charming cast of characters, somehow made all the more endearing by their simplicity. You have the usual casts of Goombas, Koopas and Toads, but the game goes out of its way to give them personality. Even the bosses, who are stationary supplies like rubber bands and a box of colored pencils, are somehow charming. The game even manages to give a Bob-omb some degree of pathos, which is frankly bewildering. The writing is witty and funny, and even when the jokes don't hit, they're cute enough to earn a smile. The story has some serious moments, but you're mostly going to be laughing your way through.

Battles in Origami King also have a puzzle component. Combat takes place in a circular arena that's divided into multiple rings, and Mario and his allies are smack dab in the middle. You can rotate the rings a set number of times — the number changes depending on the battle — and your goal is to line up all enemies in either a 2x2 square formation or a 1x4 straight line. The former can be hit by hammer attacks, and the latter can be hit by jump attacks. If you can line them up in either formation, you'll gain a 1.5x boost to attack strength and can theoretically take out the entire group of enemies in a single attack. Fail, and you'll be vulnerable to enemy counterattacks, which drain HP and lose your cash bonuses. You level up by finding hidden hearts in the world, so there is no EXP in the game and cash is your primary reward for fighting.

Origami King has a relatively small collection of enemies, but each one responds to a different tactic. Goombas can be stomped on, but Flying Goombas can only be jumped on. Spiked enemies can't be jumped on without special boots, Boos turns invisible before the ring-spinning phase so you have to memorize their positions, and so on. It's not too complex, but it adds a touch of complexity to the puzzles to keep them feeling somewhat fresh. You also have a time limit to solve the puzzles, which can be upgraded by finding accessories throughout the game or spending cash to add extra time.

Attacking is done by choosing either items, jump, or hammer. Both hammer and jump have a default attack that can be performed as many times as you want and is often enough to defeat weaker enemies. You can also equip more powerful hammers and shoes to improve your attack power or change the attack radius. (Hurl hammer gives hammers the same attack radius as a regular jump attack.) Any non-default attack has a durability meter and breaks after repeated usage, so it's best to use the minimum amount of power that is needed for an encounter. Thankfully, it's easy to replenish weapons, and you're unlikely to run out of them.

The battle system in Origami King is surprisingly fun. It scratches the same itch as something like Persona 5, where the goal is to defeat enemies as quickly as possible by figuring out the correct combination to inflict damage. The battles tend to be easy, and they can get repetitive over long gameplay stretches. Mercifully, the game lets you instantly defeat weaker enemies, so it's not onerous to revisit old areas. I did start to avoid battles because I was awash with in-game money by winning battles .

The boss battles reverse the combat mechanics, so the boss is the one in the middle and Mario has to create a path to them by rotating rings. Each boss has a gimmick that involves the use of icons on the ring fields. For example, powerful origami attacks involve stunning the boss and then charting a path that takes you through both an "On" icon and the icon for the attack. Some moves can only be done from the front, sides or back. Each one is a distinct puzzle, and they were all fun to figure out.

Outside of the traditional combat system, Paper Mario is more like an adventure game. You explore a lot of weird places, each with their own challenges, and in doing so, you need to solve puzzles and occasionally battle giant enemies. The game does a great job of keeping the dungeons interesting. One involves exploring an abandoned luxury liner, another restores a Shogun-themed amusement park, and a third uses music to coax a disco-loving hole punch out of hiding. Each area in the game is distinctive, funny and memorable, and thankfully, no gameplay mechanic wears out its welcome.

There's also a good amount of side content. There's a game-length "Find the Toad" quest where you find origami-folded Toads all over the world, disguised as everything from flowers to paintings. They grant you items and power-ups, and they can be used in combat. If you spend money on them, they toss healing items, solve part of a puzzle, or throw items to damage enemies. This is optional and not a core part of combat, but if a particular puzzle is difficult, this is a way to get through it, especially since you can turn a profit by getting the No Hit bonus.

Beyond that, there are a ton of collectibles that can be viewed in the game's museum, including models and music. There are also the aforementioned hidden hearts, which are the only way to power up Mario and improve his health bar and base damage.

The biggest barrier to someone enjoying Origami King is its extremely low difficulty level. Some of the boss battles can be tricky, but you're unlikely to feel heavily pushed at any given time. Most minigames or optional challenges toss additional healing at you between phases, so unless you mess up constantly, you're not in danger of dying. The Paper Mario games are all relatively easy, but Origami King is one of the easiest, and completing easy objectives can feel like busywork. Like many Nintendo games, it's sometimes over-explains things. Most major hints are optional and require you to manually call out to Olivia for help. As enjoyable as the game is, the mechanics often feel a bit perfunctory.

Thankfully, The Origami King is a genuinely beautiful game. The charming paper style has never looked better, and every character is expressive and delightful to watch. The origami doesn't look as charming as the paper sprites, but it still does a good job, and Olivia's transformation sequences are some of the neatest in the game. The soundtrack is also phenomenally good and comprised almost entirely of brand-new music. There are even (unvoiced) musical numbers! It might have my favorite Mario RPG soundtrack to date, and that's saying something.

Paper Mario: The Origami King might not be the sequel to The Thousand Year Door that some people are hoping for, but it's a darn fun game. It's witty, charming, fun to play, and has a soundtrack that can't be beat. Its low difficulty and the combat sometimes overstaying its welcome can drag down the experience a little. It's still a delightful experience for fans of Mario's adventures.

Score: 8.5/10

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