The universe of Paper Mario has always been a whimsical, distant, place from the main, gritty world of original Mario. Thankfully, Paper Mario: The Origami King continues to provide that joyful reprieve the series is known for, with fresh, strategic, combat and a quant batch of lovable characters. If for a moment you forget you’re in a paper-world, that’ll quickly evaporate when you flatten a crumpled Toad with your Hammer. These kind of absurd and facetious interactions are exactly what I had expected from a Paper Mario title.
Olly (or King Olly as he declares himself), is attempting to claim the Paper Mario universe as his own and alters some of the current residents into his 3D origami minions. Princess Peach has also been kidnapped, but that’s a theme that never waivers in any Mario title. As if these are not bad enough, he’s also ripped the castle from the ground with a set of vibrant streamers he’s wrapped around it, and has placed it on top of a mountain in the far distance. So once again Mario, this time with the help of Olly’s contrite sister Olivia, is traveling to save the damsel in distress and her threatened kingdom. Well, that and flatten what Olly has crinkled in his wake.
While the flattened world of Paper Mario has always been appealing, this game has added textures to certain environmental elements that just were not there before. The way the paper overlaps to create structures with depth, or how the splashes of origami bring character to 2D surroundings. I passed through a variety of locations while on my journey, like forests, a leaf-covered mountainside, a rather large desert, and a theme park, to name just a few. Each one has a specific appearance, which is not usually represented in any other section; including the enemies. My only graphical qualm is how crisp the characters and enemies look. They don’t have that graininess like the rest of the circumambient paper has.
Speaking of enemies, Olly’s been folding Bowser’s crew into origami versions of themselves, turning them into goons used for his own biding. Goombas, Shy Guys, Snifits, various Koopas, and all the types of usual foes Mario faces, but in origami form, are roaming about. They are referenced in the game as Folded Soldiers and they’re the main enemies faced throughout. There’s also Paper Mâché enemies, which are giant versions of common Folded Soldiers, but are not fought too often.
Battles are still turn-based, but with a twist. Usually, you’d take your turn, then your opponent(s) use theirs until someone wins. Now, Mario is tasked with rotating a set of enemies on 360˚ platform, to get them to stack up. Essentially, each time you battle you’re faced with a puzzle, and putting the enemies in a certain order gives you a 1.5x boost to your attack. You don’t fight Paper Mâché opponents on this platform.
The new system requires you to think strategically, especially since you have a time limit and a restricted number of moves to complete the line-up. Pressing your A button right before you land on an enemy or strike a hammer blow, will deal extra damage, as it had previous titles. A score rating is also given at the end of each battle, which doles out coins for how well you perform. These ratings are based on several conditions, like if you took damage or completed the puzzle line-up.
Early on, if I just couldn’t solve a puzzle, paying the crowd of Toads to cheer me on would bring me closer to the solution. Although, this causes the loss of the puzzle-completion bonus. They will also throw objects at your foes, dealing small amounts of damage, and will give you health. At some point, there will be an option to make life easier by having these puzzles solved, with you just needing to move the enemies. This can feel borderline like cheating, but it can’t be used during boss encounters, so ehh.
Fighting bosses is an entirely different kind of beast. Although these encounters still use the same combat system, you move arrows instead of enemies. Overhead is the only view you have during boss battles and moving the arrows brings you closer to your target for an attack. Bosses will scatter debris and the game will throw automatically toss health, treasure, messages (they give info on how to beat the boss), and other items onto the field. This can make the ring look rather chaotic, and has caused me to miss my mark a couple of times.
I personally don’t like the new combat system, simply because it can be difficult for me to determine where to place opponents due to their origami design. The option to see the field from an overhead view doesn’t always solve the issue when your problem is literally paper-thin. It also feels like boss battles are extremely long, especially if a certain combat sequence needs to happens before they can be defeated.
Different weapons are still available for Mario to use, like the Iron Boots and the Shiny Hammer, which is great for getting through stronger enemies and boss battles. There’s one thing that bothers me about this. They didn’t apply the images of the weapons to the base Boots and Hammer during battle. A wooden hammer with floating sparkles, but no shiny coat, doesn’t make it a Shiny Hammer.
Adding strategy to the combat is a nice touch, but becomes as mind-numbing as previous title’s repetitive engagements. The only remarkable aspect of this drastic system overhaul, are the fights with bosses.
Much like the other games in the franchise, this one also has companions that follow you throughout the quest. First off, yes, they do help in fights. Secondly, no, they’re not always super helpful. Depending on the follower, their assistant during battles can be minimal and occasionally their attacks won’t even deal damage. They also never help in boss fights.
Even though the game does present them as having character, it’s hardly ever seen, on or off the stadium battlefield. It’s as if they were an afterthought, sprinkled in so Olivia wasn’t the only source of story progression. While a few of these characters did bring some emotional moments, they just didn’t stick around long enough for any sort of attachment to grow. Olivia is basically the personality throughout the game, and she’s definitely a colorful one, since we all know Mario isn’t much of a talker. It’s unfortunate that the other characters were not as prominent.
The RPG element is rather light, with no need to grind for resources, which can get extremely old in game where battles are turn-based. Gold is used for items purchased from merchants and it’s super easy to come by. Winning battles dispenses the most Gold, but rescuing Toads, hitting question blocks and completing small side quests will grant coins as well. There are also holes that litter the ground, which can be filled with confetti, netting Gold and stopping Mario from falling through it.
All this Gold isn’t just to stare at, there are different weapons and accessories. Some of the accessories have abilities like extending your time-limit in during battle or helping you find hidden items easier. These pieces also make it more inviting to explore the world of The Origami King. I worried less about having to weave my way through enemies looking for that last Toad or that last question box in an area, once I obtained certain items.
I really hate to be one of those people, but I’ve got to say it: if you’re a serious fan of Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, you likely won’t enjoy this game. However, if you’re just a fan of the Paper Mario series in general, Paper Mario: The Origami King still shares a lot of the same elements as the others. It’s got a good story, great boss battles, and that classic witty sense of humor. While I don’t entirely like the new combat system, it’s never so overwhelming that I feared losing and it eventually grew on me. What it boils down to for me personally, is the big marker it really missed. Character development is a huge piece for this type of game and without it.. it’s kind of drab. Like mac n’ cheese without the macaroni. Sure, cheese is good, but I couldn’t eat half a bowl of just that and continue to want more. At least, not all at once.