Paper Mario: The Origami King Review: Another Shift for the Series but a Great Game Nonetheless

by David Sanchez July 21, 2020 @ 8:10 am

World exploration gameplay in Paper Mario: The Origami King on Nintendo Switch.

You learn a lot of things while playing Paper Mario: The Origami King. You learn that there’s a Toad who loves burritos. You find out that there’s a cult run by a sketchy Toad who’s out to make a few coins. Also, Luigi always parks his own car because he doesn’t like tipping the valet guy. While playing the game, you’ll also learn — and this might be a hard pill to swallow — that Nintendo and developer Intelligent Systems have really moved away from the beloved formula of the original Paper Mario and likely have no intention of returning to it.

Here’s the kicker, though: Paper Mario: The Origami King is actually pretty great.

What’s with Everyone Wanting to Take Over the Mushroom Kingdom?

Bowser in Paper Mario: The Origami King for Nintendo Switch.

The setup for Paper Mario: The Origami King is about what you’d expect for a new Mario game. Mario and Luigi receive an invitation to attend the Origami Festival… which was never a thing before this game. The brothers head over to Princess Peach’s castle and after some quirky Luigi dialogue find themselves in the thick of yet another Mushroom Kingdom hostile takeover. This time it’s a textured little guy known as Olly who dubs himself the Origami King. He’s sinister enough, though for a villain who’s literally a 3D model in a paper-styled world, he’s kind of one-dimensional.

Still, though the plot may be as thin as the paper version of Mario, the dialogue is as rich as it’s ever been. Whenever you encounter Luigi, he’ll make his usual hilarious, dimwitted comments. Every Toad has something to say, and it’s almost always some combination of charming, endearing, and straight-up funny. Then there’s Olivia, the Origami King’s much nicer sister whose dialogue includes all manner of cute and comedic lines. Olivia plays a Navi-like role, though she’s even more talkative. Thankfully, most of what she has to say outside of the beginning moments in the game is entertaining.

Puzzle Battle System

Paper Mario: The Origami King battle gameplay.

While Paper Mario: The Origami King does utilize turn-based combat, the flow of battle is massively different than anything before it. Battles now take place on a circular arena that has movable tiles. Enemies are scatted across multiple tiles, and your first order of action is to move these tiles to either line up or group together the enemies. This allows you to successfully pull off big moves. If you properly line up four Goombas, for example, you’ll be able to stomp on one after another consecutively. Bunch them up and you can deal a devastating blow with Mario’s hammer.

The big challenge you’ll encounter is in the actual lining up of enemies. You can’t move tiles individually. Instead, you can select a ring of tiles to rotate or a line of tiles to shift around the battle map. Depending on the number of enemies, sometimes you’ll get multiple moves, while other times you’ll only get one. In those turns, you’ll have to do your best to group together your foes as efficiently as possible, which is easier said than done later in the game.

You’re also going up against a timer when you’re moving tiles, which adds a bit of pressure. On the flip-side, you can use coins to increase your timer — and because you collect so many coins along the way, it never feels like you’re making too much of a dent in Mario’s savings. During battles, you’ll see Toads chilling on some bleachers in the background, and you can also use your coins to encourage them to cheer you on, throw healing items your way, and maybe toss a few rocks at your enemies.

Princess Peach's castle in Paper Mario: The Origami King.

If you fail to line up enemies properly, your attacks will be more scattered, which means you’ll miss some enemies. That, in turn, means there’s a higher likelihood that you’ll receive multiple incoming attacks from any baddies you might have missed.

Though lining up enemies has a challenging puzzle-esque feel to it, battles in Paper Mario: The Origami King are rarely stressful. If your enemies are properly lined up, you’ll gain an automatic boost in attack power. Throw in some powerful weapon upgrades you find during your travels, and Mario can essentially be a beast in battle. You’ll get a good challenge out of a lot of battles, but the systems in place are still definitely geared toward empowering you.

Standard enemy encounters can be a lot of fun thanks to the puzzle mechanics and turn-based action. Unfortunately, the boss battles are a different story. These combat scenarios feel almost artificially lengthened and tend to last way too long. Even then, they’re not that tough, especially when you can snag health items mid-battle. They’re just long and tedious and, for the most part, not very fun.

A World Filled with Collectible Items… and Collectible Toads

Motion control gameplay in Paper Mario: The Origami King for Nintendo Switch.

There are a lot of battles to engage in here, but the world of Paper Mario: The Origami King goes in a more action-adventure-based direction and heavily encourages exploration. There are secret paths with hidden collectibles around every corner. A lot of these collectibles are your standard trophy-like figurines, but The Origami King takes things a step further by making walking, talking Toads the stars of this collect-a-thon.

Sometimes you’ll spot a crumpled up ball of paper jumping up and down, or a weird butterfly or grasshopper. A quick swing of Mario’s hammer will reveal that these paper craft creations and bits of trash are actually Toads from the Mushroom Kingdom. There are hundreds of these dudes scattered everywhere in the game, and they’re surprisingly enjoyable to seek out. This is especially true when you get the chance to find an item that reveals the hidden Toads’ general location. Finding lost Toads is addictive thanks to their clever locations and serves to scratch that collector’s itch.

Classic Paper Mario Is… Not Back, but This Game Is Still Really Fun

Paper Mario: The Origami King may not play exactly like the original Paper Mario or Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, but it still features that classic paper craft look the series is known for. Everything is bright and colorful. Flat items have a sticker-like quality to them, while shops, towers, and castles look like impressive arts and crafts creations. The Origami King’s legions of villains, known as Folded Soldiers, legitimately look like origami figures. You’ve never seen these kinds of Koopa Troopas and Shy Guys before.

Paper Mario: The Origami King boss battle.

The paper aesthetic of Paper Mario: The Origami King is pretty outstanding. And thanks to the Switch hardware, the series has never looked better.

Like its predecessors, this latest Paper Mario game features a frenzied soundtrack with fun and upbeat music. You’ll hear catchy jazzy tunes during battles and ominous themes whenever something suspicious is going on. The themes may not be the best in the series, but they’re solid and work incredibly well for each scenario.

Paper Mario fans hoping for a return to form may be disheartened to learn that Paper Mario: The Origami King offers yet another shift for the series. If you give the game a chance, though, you’ll find one of the most entertaining entries in the franchise. The RPG mechanics are super light, but the puzzle-solving nature of the battles adds a welcome twist. Add to that a huge paper-ized world that’s a great deal of fun to explore, addictive collection side quests, and highly entertaining writing, and you have the best Paper Mario game since Thousand-Year Door.

Score: 8.5 out of 10

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