Paper Mario: The Origami King (Nintendo Switch) Review

By Renan Fontes 07.08.2020 1

Review for Paper Mario: The Origami King on Nintendo Switch

Developed initially as Super Mario RPG 2, the original Paper Mario was defined primarily not by its aesthetic but its overall quality as an RPG. Improving upon Super Mario RPG in virtually every respect, Paper Mario's legacy was firmly established as one built on reflex-based gameplay, airtight dungeon and level design, and a remarkably well-paced story, full of personality. Thousand Year Door sought to push its predecessor even further, but the series locked itself into an experimental loop following the release of Super Paper Mario on Wii. Although Paper Mario: The Origami King looked to promise a return to form via its marketing, any connections to the original Paper Mario - let alone Super Mario RPG - are downright superficial. Should Intelligent Systems commit to the title's oddities moving forward, however, Origami King could be seen as the fresh start Paper Mario desperately needed.

As if taking a page from Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time, The Origami King embraces morbidity on an unexpected scale. Framed around Princess Peach throwing an Origami Festival in Toad Town, it doesn't take long for Mario's ordinarily paper world to be shaped into an Origami Kingdom where sentience, personality, and free will are folded out of all those unlucky enough to be touched by King Olly - the game's central villain. The titular Origami King, Olly desires to rebuild the world in origami. Before Mario even gets to confront the king, Olly has already refolded Princess Peach, mutilated countless Toads, and crushed Bowser into a shell of his former self.

Beyond the uncomfortable nature of seeing friendly faces stripped of familiarity, the quaint horror of Toads having their bodies reshaped, faces punched out, and torsos cut into pieces re-implants an important edge that Paper Mario had been missing since Sticker Star. Cartoon violence it may be, but Olly's sheer brutality lends the narrative real stakes. Origami is a legitimate threat endangering the Mushroom Kingdom and audiences are forced to confront that fact almost immediately. The opening hour is a creepy, solemn introduction that places Mario in a lifeless world overrun with Folded Soldiers and paper mâché monstrosities (referred to in-game as the cloyingly clever Paper Macho).


 

Although the overall tone never shies away from the creepiness it opens with, the narrative proper is fairly light-hearted. Olly's sister, Olivia, serves as Mario's perpetual partner throughout and is ostensibly the real main character. Olivia is the real star of the show and one of the series' best partners, if not the outright best in terms of actual depth. Olivia interrupts the action a bit more than she should, but her dialogue is rarely a nuisance and her insight into Mario's world offers an outside perspective into the Mushroom Kingdom that's often missed. Olivia also serves as a strong foil for Olly. Beyond their contrasting colour palettes, Olivia's kindness is in stark contrast with Olly's cruelty. Best of all is that the story doesn't force an arbitrary connection between Mario and Olly, keeping the focus squarely on Olivia's desperation to stop her brother.

In taking over Peach's Castle, Olly wraps the Mushroom Kingdom in five colour-coded Streamers - splitting the world into five key segments that Mario and Olivia need to explore. The Red Streamer wraps its way up a mountain, the Blue Streamer weaves between autumnal hills and a Feudal Japan-based theme park, the Yellow Streamer takes Mario to a desert locked in perpetual darkness, the Purple Streamer spans a Great Sea ripped right out of The Wind Waker, and the Green Streamer stretches high into the heavens for a last act that's reminiscent of Nimbus Land in Super Mario RPG. While some Streamers are notably longer than others, Mario and Olivia never linger in the same area for too long - in large part due to the game's four act structure.

Referring to the structure of classic Chinese, Japanese, and Korean plot development, kishotenketsu is a four-act form of storytelling that the Mario franchise has frequently utilised with regards to game design and each Streamer follows the structure to a T. Every Streamer begins with Mario and Olivia introduced to new information in an area framed as new for Olivia (ki;) Mario and Olivia conquer each section's first dungeon so they can be led into the next major development (sho;) Mario and Olivia face off against Olly's personal army, the second dungeon building towards a climax (ten;) and then Mario destroys the Streamer when all is said and done, wrapping up that section's arc (ketsu.) The only variations to the formula come at the very end, but they come too little, too late.

Screenshot for Paper Mario: The Origami King on Nintendo Switch

For as well as the kishotenketsu structure works for the franchise's platformers, an action-adventure title like The Origami King suffers immensely from virtually every narrative thread playing out in the exact same fashion. While there's quite a bit of visual variety, the story's pacing is painfully one-note. Getting to the meat of each story arc is an exhausting process and the pace never really picks up. If not for Olivia's banter and the occasional (always temporary) party member joining Mario, the story's progression would be an utter bore. How progress is presented to an audience is critical - especially narratively - and while the story opens with high stakes and a considerable amount of tension, the monotony of getting through each Streamer overshadows most of the atmosphere by endgame.

If nothing else, the script is fairly well written (typical for the sub-series at this point) with an emphasis on humour. More importantly, where the plot's presentation falls flat, the game's world as a whole is presented masterfully. A Funk/Rock/Jazz heavy soundtrack and gorgeous visuals that play off not only the series' paper aesthetic, but officeware, as well, carve an identity for Origami King that's distinctly unique from its predecessors. On that note, it's worth pointing out how origami is incorporated into the world's design. Classic series enemies take on the shape of Folded Soldiers, some Toads have been folded into animals, and a number of bosses are simply origami creations. It's commendable just how much Intelligent Systems commits to origami; a refreshing change of pace after the lacklustre use of stickers, colours, and the rare real-world settings featured in Sticker Star and Color Splash.

Curiously, level design takes after The Legend of Zelda more than it does Super Mario. The Paper Mario sub-series always made a point of featuring platformer-esque dungeon design, to the point where Super Paper Mario being an action/platformer with light RPG elements actually made some degree of sense - at least in relation to how the series' level design was progressing. Embracing puzzle-heavy exploration, while shining a spotlight on overworld secrets, leads to a gameplay loop that would be more at home in a hypothetical Paper Zelda. Replace coins hidden in confetti grass with Rupees, and the hidden Toads with Koroks, and that's basically what Origami King is, half of the time.

For what it's worth, these Zelda influences do work in the game's favour. Individual levels are more exploratory than they have ever been, with Toads a great incentive to search every nook and cranny. Much like the Gold Skulltulas from Ocarina of Time and Koroks in Breath of the Wild, the hidden Toad system encourages players to stray off the beaten path. While there is a tangible reward to finding each Toad (some even tied to shops and progression), the majority of them simply exist to offer engaging in-game set pieces - whether they be minor platforming challenges or brain teasers that test a player's reflexes and critical thinking skills.

Like previous entries, Mario can jump and use his hammer in the overworld, but he's also been given the ability to throw confetti this time around. As Olly has torn apart the Mushroom Kingdom, Mario will eventually run across pits that he must fill with confetti (by pressing ZR) in order to proceed. Although confetti is a finite resource, there's always enough to be found when running and whacking most objects as they will drop more confetti. Mario can also make use of the 1,000-Fold Arms technique to interact with the background, usually as a means of revealing new passageways. The 1,000-Fold Arms does make use of the Switch's gyro controls by design, but it's possible to swap over to analogue control in the options menu.

Confetti and the 1,000-Fold Arms aren't as present as they should be, but the dungeon design makes great use of Mario's jump and hammer. Beyond platforming, dungeons feature Zelda-esque puzzles where Mario's hammer often needs to hit switches while he's jumping in and out of danger. If Mario automatically jumped off all the ledges, most dungeons would be right at home with early 3D Zelda. Puzzles require players to retain key information, solve logic problems, and know how to navigate complex 3D spaces. Throwing Paper Macho fights into the mix - battles that take place in real-time and make use of Mario's out of combat mechanics - Origami King's dungeons are surprisingly involved from top to bottom.

Screenshot for Paper Mario: The Origami King on Nintendo Switch

Not half as involved as combat, however. While real-time battles with Paper Machos aren't an uncommon occurrence, they aren't the main event. That distinction belongs to the Ring Battle System - a mix of turn-based combat with reflex-based action and real-time puzzle solving. Rather than battles taking place on a stage, Mario now fights his enemy in a round arena - surrounded by all sides. Random battles place Mario right in the centre of the action, with enemies littered before him on an adjustable ring. At the start of every battle, enemies are shuffled on the ring and players need to rotate the various rings' rows and columns in order to line enemies up. Should Mario succeed in reshuffling the board back together, he will be given a 1.5x attack buff during his turn, along with a clear vantage point to attack every enemy at once. Should he fail, some enemies will be out of reach and Mario will lack the buff.

Shifting the Ring back together is easier said than done, however. Players need to not only race against a timer, but also fix the board in a set number of turns (usually 2 or 3.) Overthinking any given solution is usually a recipe for disaster, but it's hard not to panic when the clock is ticking and a Snifit just isn't fitting into place. Reshuffling the ring requires quick thinking, preventing battles from becoming mindless. Unfortunately, mindless battles aren't necessarily a bad thing and every single encounter requiring some degree of mental fortitude frankly becomes exhausting. This is where the Toad system really pays off, though. By holding Y before touching the Ring, Mario can throw coins on the outskirts of the stage for the Toads to pick up. The more Toads that are saved, the more useful chucking cash at them becomes, including healing Mario and even solving the Ring for him.

Worth keeping in mind is that ring shuffling is just the Puzzle Phase of combat. After the board has been set, players transition to their Attack Phase, where Mario can attack as many times as there are groups of enemies on the field. Although Mario will always have access to his default Boots and Hammer, all other weapons have durability. Items like the POW Block, Fire/Ice Flowers, and Tanooki Tail are one and done deals, while stronger variants of the Boots and Hammer - Flashy, Shiny, Gold, and so on - will eventually break after too much use. Mario will always have a means of fighting back should the worst-case scenario occur, but the coin economy is generous enough where there's never a reason to run low on weaponry.


 

Once Mario's weapons have been slotted in, players will be tasked with timing their attacks correctly. The boots require players to press A right as Mario lands on each enemy's head, the hammer is at its strongest when pressing A just a split-second after it's fully charged, and the Fire Flower is deadliest when tapping A as soon as its flame enlarges. Poorly timed strikes are marked with Nice, approximate strikes with Great, and precise strikes with Excellent. The closer players get to hitting Excellent, the more damage Mario will do across the board. As soon as Mario finishes attacking, players naturally enter their Defence Phase. Enemies take advantage of Mario being in the round arena, attacking from all sides, and even using unfriendly camera angles to their advantage. Enemies also change up their behaviour based on how many other opponents are alive while attacking. Some will call for reinforcements if they are the only ones left, while others might outright sacrifice a comrade at the chance of damaging Mario.

Keeping with the offensive timing, Blocking is as simple as pressing A right as enemies attack. Considering multiple enemies can attack at once, players should be expected to time their blocks in rapid succession this time around. Once the Defence Phase has ended, players will loop back to the Puzzle Phase where they go through the motions until every enemy has been defeated. In the event of Wave Battles - fights that occur when Mario triggers multiple enemies on the overworld at once - players will need to fight multiple battles in succession. Upon clearing one Ring, another will appear to start the cycle anew within the same battle. Come late game, Wave Battles become a regular occurrence, for better or worse.

Wave Battles also shine a light on one of the title's core problems: no levelling. Intelligent Systems seems completely averse to letting Paper Mario embrace its RPG elements, but experience points have their place in a gameplay loop - especially a turn-based one. With plot progression already so stiff, the lack of consistent character progression hurts Origami King more than it should. Wave Battles are the best source of grinding in the game, but the only thing worth grinding for is coins. The closest thing to levelling is the Heart system, where Heart Containers increase Mario's HP and overall strength. Some Hearts can be found hidden in the overworld, but most will be stumbled upon naturally. Coins and Hearts aren't enough to make up for how unrewarding random encounters ultimately become, though.

The Ring Battle System is amazing on paper, but it's not sustainable for a game as long as The Origami King, with a difficulty curve so static. While the combat generally does become harder over the course of the game, ring shuffling never for random battles feels particularly tricky. Frankly, they almost feel like a waste of time in the final dungeons. By that point, Mario has no need for coins anymore and the average encounter takes longer than it should to actually be beneficial, which in itself is worth mentioning. Mushroom Kingdom's coin economy is the worst it's been in years. Battles don't give nearly enough coins outside of Waves, and environmental puzzles give far too many. Accessories are expensive enough to drain players' wallets whenever they first appear for purchase, but it doesn't take much effort to purchase every single Accessory before the end of the game. Badges they are not. They are useful, though, with three in particular buffing Mario's health, defence, and Ring Timer rather generously.

Screenshot for Paper Mario: The Origami King on Nintendo Switch

The real pity of the Ring Battle system struggling to keep random encounters engaging is that it's actually amazing during boss fights. Rather than placing Mario in the centre, bosses fight back in the round arena. Players still need to reshuffle the board, but the goal now becomes making a path to the boss from the outskirts. With movement panels on the ring, shifting rows and columns about is even more important. Some of the nastier bosses will even force players to solve their rings so Mario can do damage. Rather than attacking when close enough, Mario actually needs to land on an Attack Circle to access his weapons and items. Boss Rings are also littered with Summon Circles that allow Mario to use his 1,000-Arms technique or make Olivia to transform into a Vellumental - extremely powerful summons that Mario and Olivia come across throughout their adventure. Chests, likewise, hide Coins, Hearts, and Double Attack and Double Damage panels, offering Mario a level of variety unseen in random encounters.

Honestly, if the Paper Macho encounters served as the main combat loop with the Ring System saved exclusively for narrative Wave Battles and boss fights, the gameplay's overall pacing would be better for it. Boss Rings are carefully catered, whereas random encounters pull from the same puzzles over and over again, with nowhere near enough variation. Bosses like the Scissors and Fire Vellumental actually force people to intelligently think about how they are shuffling the board, how Mario's techniques are playing off one another (1,000-Arms and Olivia's Summons are best used in conjunction), and the logistics of the enemy Mario is fighting. Try jumping on Scissors while his blade is facing up and Mario will be cut in half; or try finishing off the Fire Vellumental while it has too much health and it will revive itself, as Phoenixes do.

When it comes down to it, the entire gameplay loop is at odds with itself and very little comes together naturally. Legend of Zelda-esque dungeons and puzzles are very much welcome, but they don't really play off combat naturally. Likewise, the Ring Battle system is better for bosses than it is for random encounters to a point where it's genuinely frustrating come the end of the game. Paper Macho fights are also an oddity that, while welcome, are never fleshed out as much as they should be and simply feel like a way of rounding out a gameplay loop Intelligent Systems had little confidence in. Considering how many environmental gimmicks the game starts throwing at the player starting with the Yellow Streamer (the Bootmobile, sailing the Great Sea, everything in the Jungles of Mist), this likely isn't too far from the truth.

As much of a mixed bag Origami King is, the title does at least end on a high note. In a generation where satisfying endings are seemingly becoming rarer and rarer, a story that sticks the landing is worth applauding - even if the journey there wasn't all that well-paced. Olivia's arc is emotional and surprisingly powerful. She doesn't just take Olly's villainy in stride, reacting rather realistically to her brother's cruelty, she's often disturbed, demoralised, and prone to moments of weakness, but that just makes Olivia a more compelling character. Her contributions extend beyond just party chatter; Olivia offers the story genuine pathos. Heading into the last act, the narrative places focus on how much Olivia's seen and grown over the course of the game, weaving a relatively satisfying arc out of sometimes unsatisfying storytelling.

What really helps the end of the game shine, though, is how brisk the pacing becomes. While the Green Streamer does follow the kishotenketsu structure, it's notably faster, features elements of non-linearity, and even indulges in some rather bold insta-kill moments, dripping with actual tension. The end of the Green Streamer also wastes no time in transitioning into the finale, resulting in a last act that knows when to end. It's just a shame the whole game couldn't be as brisk-paced and tightly put together. Everything from Bowser's Castle to credits is handled with a sudden swiftness. One could argue it is evidence of a rushed development, but it's only fitting that the finale kick things up a notch. After nearly 30 hours of monotonous storytelling, it's just nice to bask in something substantial.

Paper Mario: The Origami King isn't as good as it should have been, but it's much better than Sticker Star or Color Splash. Although the game is bogged down by a meandering pace and a battle system that's exhausting outside of bosses, hopefully Intelligent Systems realises the gold it has struck. With fine-tuning, an Origami King sequel can iron out the Ring Battle system's most tedious qualities, while fleshing out the Zelda influence that's all over the puzzle and dungeon design. Origami King isn't the ideal sequel, but there may be hope for Paper Mario yet.

Screenshot for Paper Mario: The Origami King on Nintendo Switch

Cubed3 Rating

6/10
Rated 6 out of 10

Good

The genuinely thought-provoking Ring Battle system, engaging puzzle design, and care given to Olivia's characterisation all make The Origami King the best Paper Mario since the series' Wii outing, but that wasn't a high bar to begin with and the series is still struggling to come up with an engaging gameplay loop in light of the lessened RPG elements. Without experience or levelling, random battles lose their lustre fast. Likewise, Accessories don't make up for a lack of Badges or traditional equipment, keeping combat relatively static and offering little in the way of non-Toad rewards for uncovering secrets. Worse is Intelligent Systems' love affair with bloated pacing holding back otherwise well-designed dungeons and set pieces. The Origami King is an overall step in the right direction, but it's emblematic of the fact that Paper Mario has no interest in honouring its legacy or living up to its potential. If nothing else, a direct sequel could easily unfold Origami King's many creases.

Also known as

Paper Mario: The Origami King

Developer

Intelligent Systems

Publisher

Nintendo

Genre

Action Adventure

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  6/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

Comments

I'm in the desert section right now, and I'm *wanting* to enjoy it, but then certain parts just really drag on... and I don't feel any joy from filling in all the holes, finding all the Toads, hitting all the blocks and finding all the treasure in each area. I started with great gusto, but after the second streamer, my interest started to wane. AND that's not even looking at it from a Mario RPG point of view. If I look at it through those eyes, then this is another fail. Nowhere near as bad as Sticker Star or the painful Colour Splash, but still a poor show. The development team says it hears what fans are shouting... but if that's true, then clearly it means the team is blatantly ignoring them?! Smilie

With AlphaDream gone, I fear for how Mario & Luigi will continue. Now THEY are funny, as well as addictive. Origami King's jokes fall flatter than the paper characters, and the songs are WOEFULLY painful. The summons, as well, are really underwhelming.

Why can't S-E be drafted back in to make SMRPG2, or even just let a team like Grezzo or Brownies touch up SMRPG for a Deluxe version.

Adam Riley [ Director :: Cubed3 ]

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