Even if you don’t class yourself as a gamer, chances are you’ve at least heard of Mario. After appearing in hundreds of games and wracking up an impressive number of entries into the various different Mario franchises, our favourite moustached hero has become practically synonymous with the Nintendo brand. The latest addition comes in the form of Paper Mario: The Origami King, the sixth instalment in the Paper Mario series.
The game begins with Mario and Luigi travelling to Toad Town to partake in an Origami Festival after receiving a mysterious invitation. Upon arrival, they are met with a wide array of intricately crafted origami decorations everywhere they look. Something isn’t right though – aside from the brothers, Toad Town is completely empty despite the Festival supposedly being in full swing. Upon venturing into the castle, Mario discovers that Princess Peach has been folded into origami by new villain King Olly, the self-proclaimed Origami King. After making a daring escape from the castle, it is uprooted by the Origami King and sealed shut by streamers.
This throws Mario headfirst into his latest quest to rescue Princess Peach. Along with his new companion, Olivia, Mario must travel across this beautiful paper world to sever the streamers so he can reach the castle, face off against the Origami King and rescue the Princess. Of course, in the world of video games, nothing is ever simple, and Mario is faced with obstacles to overcome at every turn. Thankfully, he has a cast of quirky characters to help him along the way.
One of the first things I noticed about the game was how nice it was to look at. Despite being a three-dimensional paper world with two-dimensional paper characters, it’s clear that a lot of work has been put into beautifully crafting this abstract, surprisingly expansive world. The colourful scenery is vibrant and fresh with a wide array of textures to differentiate between grass, sand and water. I was actually surprised at how good such a simplistic world could look. Autumn Mountain especially, with its beautiful autumn leaves and the sparkling river, is a spectacle to behold. Each location on the map has its own feel and aesthetic, making it a genuine joy to explore.
The goal of the game, as mentioned above, is to rescue Princess Peach from the new Big-Bad, but there is plenty to do along the way. Puzzles are filtered throughout, and each section of the map has a completion counter that tracks the number of blocks you’ve hit, Not-Bottomless Holes you’ve patched up with confetti, collectibles you’ve found and Toads you’ve rescued. If you’re a completionist like me, seeing anything less than 100% will drive you crazy, and you’ll spend hours in one area trying to find each and every pesky Toad hidden in the most obscure of places when you should be doing something more important like, say, rescuing Peach. If you’re not, it’s worth at least rescuing as many Toads as you can because you can call on them to cheer you on in battle. The more you’ve rescued, the more help they will be, doing things like rotating rings (which I will get into shortly) and throwing additional health Mario’s way.
The only real criticism I had with the game was that combat is a little simplistic, more like a puzzle than anything else. It follows a turn-based mechanic, but the stakes are pretty low since most enemies can be taken out in one or two hits. This form of combat sees Mario and his opponents on a wheel, which is split into rings and segments. Sliding these around allows you to line up opponents so you can easily take them either by jumping on them in typical Mario fashion or whacking them with a hammer. These battles increase in difficulty as you progress through the game, but they are still relatively repetitive. Boss battles are a little different, but they adhere to the same basic mechanic of moving rings around, though rather than lining enemies up, the goal is to create a path to the boss in order to attack. Because of this lack of variation, there is a very limited learning curve required for this game. Most enemies behave in the same way, which makes them grow boring after a while. There were very few times in which my health was less than a quarter full, and while this meant I could easily enjoy the game without having to worry about game overs, more of a challenge would have been nice – perhaps an option to increase the difficulty would have been beneficial.
As for the bosses themselves, they were…interesting, to say the least. They are whacky, full of character and definitely leave a lasting impression. I can’t speak for everyone, but this was certainly the first time I’ve ever battled a box of coloured pencils.
Magic circles are scattered across the world too, some that need to be activated to progress in the storyline and others that can either be used in battle or to unearth hidden Toads. Magic takes place in the form of origami abilities courtesy of Olivia, the first one being 1,000-Fold Arms, which allows Mario to extend his arms to peel back designated segments of the environment to reach new areas or as a method of attack. Further magic abilities are unlocked throughout the game by venturing through their corresponding temples. It should be noted that these magic attacks are, by default, motion-controlled, but this can be changed in the main menu if you are using the console handheld or the Lite version.
Unlike most of the previous instalments, Paper Mario: The Origami King is listed under action and adventure rather than RPG, but it still features many of the common tropes that are typical to the genre. The world, while not on the level of the likes of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt or The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, it is much bigger than I expected, and while there aren’t side quests as such, the puzzles, mini-games and exploration are enough to boost the gameplay by a good number of hours.
Despite the world being pretty open, the story itself is very linear with very little opportunity for decision making. Even in the few instances where you do get to choose either ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers to a question, there is next to no impact on the overall narrative, but that didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the game. I love a good decision-based game, but sometimes it’s nice to not lay awake at night wondering what would have happened if I’d made a different decision – something that happened frequently throughout my Witcher 3 playthrough.
As for character progression, there isn’t much by the way of levelling up, but hearts can be found throughout that maximise Mario’s overall health and increase his strength marginally – something that Olivia points out every time you collect these hearts. Outside of these ‘level-ups’, most of Mario’s strength comes from accessories and upgraded weapons that can be found throughout the game. These can later be purchased from the various stores, and you should make sure to stock up on these weapons as they break with extensive use.
Full of puns and references to other popular Nintendo characters, Paper Mario: The Origami King is a charming, colourful adventure with plenty of character. Despite the rather lacklustre combat, Paper Mario: The Origami King is funny and bizarre with a number of dance numbers and some really unique bosses (how often do you get to battle against a pack of coloured pencils?), and it’s something that the whole family can enjoy. There is plenty of content to sink your teeth into, and while fans might be disappointed when comparing it to previous instalments of the series, I found the game to be thoroughly enjoyable by its own right.
Developer: Intelligent Systems
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 17th July 2020
Gaming Respawn’s copy of Paper Mario: The Origami King was provided by the publisher.