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Posted on Aug 5th 2020 at 08:00:00 AM by (zophar53)
Posted under Paper Mario, The Origami King, Switch, RPGs


It's a bit hard to believe that it's been 20 years since the first Paper Mario game was released in Japan. As disappointed as I was back then that we weren't getting a sequel to Super Mario RPG (still one of my favorite RPGs of all time), the game we got instead was the next best thing. With a unique new look and a battle system that took a lot of inspiration from its predecessor, the Paper Mario franchise came out of the gate with three excellent titles. Since Super Paper Mario, however, the series has been pretty lackluster. After being sorely disappointed with Sticker Star and put off by the negative reviews of Color Splash, I was hopeful but cautious about the trailers for Origami King. After getting a lot of hands-on time with it over the past couple of weeks, I can say that it doesn't solve all of the problems of those past games, but it gets enough things right that I'm having a lot of fun in this world again.






As The Origami King opens, Mario and Luigi arrive at Princess Peach's castle for an origami festival. But upon arrival, they quickly find that things are very quiet....a little too quiet. As the trailers showed, Peach emerges in a folded state and things actually get kind of creepy for a Mario game. King Olly from the Origami Kingdom has "folded" all of the citizens of Toad Town, and plans to do the same to the whole Mushroom Kingdom. Using five massive colored streamers, he lifts the castle up onto a far-off mountaintop and sends the streamers cascading throughout the land. King Olly's sister, Olivia, partners up with Mario on a quest to rid the land of the streamers and unfold its residents.

Occasionally you'll find big paper mache enemies that break apart as Mario hits them with his hammer.

Wandering around the various regions of the Mushroom Kingdom, Origami King is fairly standard RPG fare. This streamer leads up to a tower, but to reach it you need to gain a power. To get the power you need to help someone with their problem. But halfway to the thing they need you're blocked by another obstacle and must find this other thing. Along the way, you collect confetti and coins. The confetti is used to fill in holes that you find all over the land. Sometimes the holes block access to other areas, sometimes they're just hidden away as something to find for collectibility's sake. You'll also be rescuing the various toads you find along the way. They've been folded up into various things and by finding and unfolding them, they populate the towns and are basically another collectible.

The nested quest structure of the game isn't always the most compelling reason to keep playing, but it's rather satisfying to track down folded-up toads and fill in all the holes in the world. This is a good thing, because there's a LOT of them. The game tracks your collectibles per area of the map, so for the completionists out there, watching the percentages of toads rescued and holes filled go higher and higher is pretty rewarding. Another thing that's kept the game interesting for me is the new battle system.

One of the easier battles. Rotate the second ring counter clockwise and you'll have two groups of four enemies.

Every time you begin a battle, you're in the middle of a big spherical arena, with the enemies scattered seemingly-randomly around you. The goal is to slide the columns in and out and/or rotate the rings around to line up the enemies either in rows or in a squared grouping. Mario's hammer hits all the enemies in a squared-up group, and his boots let him jump on all the enemies in a row. There's a strong puzzle aspect to the whole thing, because you only have a set number of seconds to "solve" the groupings and a certain number of moves in which to get everyone lined up properly. Once you succeed in lining everyone up, you're only given a set number of moves in a given turn. The nice thing about this system is that if you line the enemies up and execute all of your moves properly, you can win nearly every battle without taking any damage at all. If you don't line everyone up or don't defeat all the enemies in a given turn, then they attack you and you get another go at it when your turn comes around again.

Like past games, you still have to hit the jump button in time with Mario's stomps to get extra damage out of the attack.

The most disappointing thing about Origami King is that, like that last few Paper Mario games, there is no leveling up, so there's no real benefit to getting into battles. You get a lot of confetti and coins from battles, but you'll quickly learn that even without the battles, confetti and coins are extremely abundant, so you're never in danger of running out. By the second area I had about 20,000 coins, and I stopped worrying about spending them liberally. In addition to buying more powerful boots and hammers, you can buy accessories in the shops that do things like sound an alert when you're near a hidden toad or increase the number of seconds in the battle timer for lining up foes.

I'm a big fan of puzzles, so I haven't been skipping very many battles, but it's worth noting that if you're close to having your timer run out, you can spend coins to immediately buy more time, so if you have enough coins, you can effectively take as long as you want to solve a given battle puzzle. This was disappointing to me as well, but by challenging myself to buy more time as infrequently as possible, I've continued to find the battles engaging and fun.

Nothing like kicking back a couple of cold ones after a hard day of plumber hunting.

In terms of writing, I wouldn't say Origami King is among the best in the RPG genre or anything, but it is clever and humorous. Quite often, I'm finding the jokes lame/dorky but endearing at the same time. Since Olivia is from another Kingdom, there's a lot about Mario's world she doesn't understand. There are other partners Mario finds throughout his adventure, but I haven't found them particularly helpful. Occasionally they'll get in an extra hit during a battle, but for the most part they're just there to have another character provide dialogue so Olivia isn't constantly talking to a silent protagonist.

Tonally, Origami King is kind of all over the place. The song that plays during the title screen is basically j-pop, and it sounds strange to be in a Mario game. Whenever a cutscene involving Folded Soldiers happens, things get oddly eerie, with dialogue and music that invoke a cult-like atmosphere that also seems out of place for what is otherwise a light, vibrant Mario adventure. And then things change again during battles, where the music has an almost game show thing going on and the toads you've rescued start filling up the bleachers around the arena. The boss battles are one of the most creative things about the game. Not only do they change up the puzzle battle mechanic in a meaningful way, but their designs are pretty crazy. The boss of the first streamer, for example, is a box of colored pencils. It's one of those things that sounds so bizarre on paper (see what I did there?), but when Nintendo is firing on all cylinders, they make it work better than you think it would.

For bosses, Mario is on the outside of the ring and you shift the rows and rings to get to the center.

I'm about a third of the way through the game so far, but I'm really enjoying my time with Origami King. There are things I wish it did better. I wish the partners had more to do in battles. I wish there was some kind of leveling system that made the battles more meaningful. But overall, the latest entry in the Paper Mario franchise is a mish-mash of things that works in that trademark Nintendo way, and has renewed my interest in the series. If, like me, you were put off by the last couple of games, I'd recommend giving the new one a chance. The origami aesthetic is cool and makes for some great character designs. Filling holes and finding toads is addicting in a way that makes me want to find them all (which is saying a lot considering there's no achievements or trophies in Nintendo games). Finally, the new puzzle-centric battle system feels less like a traditional RPG than any of the games that came before it, and isn't quite like anything I've seen from an RPG before.

How about you? Have you played Origami King and want to share your thoughts? Do you have reservations given the series' past? Let me know in the comments.




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Comments
 
Good but not great is how I would describe this game. They seem to be classifying the Paper Mario series as adventure games these days, but would also love to see the series return to its RPG roots. The game has its charm and in jokes it just doesn't feel Nintendo AAA.

I hope to continue playing the game soon, but Ghost of Tsushima has been taking up all my free time. That game is fantastic.

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