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Paper Mario: The Origami King Review

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761332038_PaperMarioOrigamiKingboxart.jpg.ded5c8465ef03b8cca2c1e3b4b4adc20.jpgHow do you keep a franchise feeling fresh game after game? It must be difficult balancing the impulse to repeat the same style/features of a winning formula with branching out and trying something new. For the Paper Mario series, the developers clearly went with the latter by dropping the RPG elements of the first few games and transitioning to a more purely action-adventure system. The change was clumsy, to say the least, and few would disagree that Sticker Star was the low point of the series. Color Splash made some decent steps toward restoring the panache that the franchise is known for, and now Paper Mario: The Origami King pushes forward with even bigger strides. It's still not the RPG experience that many fans most likely hoped for, but The Origami King still does an excellent job of crafting a new adventure brimming with charm.
It wouldn't be a Mario game—platformer, RPG, adventure, or otherwise—without our favorite plumber setting off on a quest to rescue Princess Peach. This time she and her entire castle have been overrun by Olly, the self-proclaimed Origami King, who is literally reshaping the world one fold at a time. Mario is aided on his quest by Olivia, Olly's sister, plus you'll see Luigi, Bowser, and dozens of Toads as you work to undo Olly's reign of terror. One of the great strengths of the Paper Mario series is the personality and humor it injects into familiar Mario characters. Sure you get a bit of that in the mainline Mario platformers, but this spin-off series is where the writing can really shine, and The Origami King manages it exceedingly well. Olivia in particular is one of the most delightful companions Mario has ever had. More than just a mouthpiece for Mario or a guide for the player, her story throughout the game is genuinely engaging, and her sweet, friendly demeanor makes her instantly endearing—leave it to Nintendo to make a sentient origami such a lovable character. The game is also jam-packed with puns and various other goofy jokes, most of which are far more charming than they have any right to be.
The Origami King places a fairly big emphasis on exploration. The environments are significant, larger than most Paper Mario games, and are filled with little things to interact with. As you explore you can rescue Toads who have been turned into origami shapes, collect items—both usable items and collectibles—from question blocks, and repair holes in the world with confetti wherever the paper has been torn. Each area you explore is filled with these little things to do, and it's a lot of fun to go out of your way to do them all. There's something very simple and satisfying about this kind of collection or checklist completion gameplay, plus there are some wonderfully inventive environments in the game that make exploration much more interesting than simply walking through a field or scaling a mountain. Completionists should love having so much to do in each region.
The game's battle system will most likely be a divisive issue among fans once again, since there still isn't an experience points system to actually reward you for battling. However, The Origami King might have the best non-RPG battle system in the series to date. For one thing, you are still rewarded with coins and confetti, both of which are plenty useful. More importantly, this game uses a ring-based battle system which essentially makes every fight a mini-puzzle. In order to efficiently defeat enemies you'll want to line them up in a row (for jump attacks) or arrange them into a square (for hammer attacks). By manipulating the rings on the battlefield, you can move enemies into the ideal formation for your attacks. It helps keep every battle at least a little engaging, and some of the puzzles can get genuinely difficult, so it's not like this is a mindless task in each battle. The really complicated puzzles can be a bit frustrating, but you can also spend coins to get an assist from the Toads you've rescued, which is extremely helpful. The ring system can get tiresome or repetitive if you're doing a lot of battles in a row, and the lack of experience points still somewhat disincentivizes you from actually fighting instead of just avoiding enemies, but it's at least an improvement over recent Paper Mario games. And while you do need to buy equipment to use more powerful attacks, the equipment has a lengthy durability so you don't need to be constantly buying more, unless you're going out of your way to fight every enemy you meet.
Boss fights take the ring-based battle mechanic one step further with a more elaborate puzzle system. This time Mario is navigating the battlefield and needs to follow arrows on the ground in order to get close enough to attack the boss. It scratches a puzzle/strategy game itch where you get the satisfaction of seeing your plans fall into place, which in this case means delivering a devastating attack against giant bosses. There are also specific strategies you'll need to employ to properly damage most bosses, and just figuring out the right steps can be an engaging challenge. In the end, The Origami King finds a unique and interesting battle system even without the standard RPG elements. It's arguable that those RPG elements would only further improve the experience, but at least battles don't feel like completely lopsided time wasters in this game.
The Origami King is also a lot longer than you might expect. Given the lack of RPG mechanics, you might expect the game to skew toward a more typical action-adventure length, but there's still quite a lot to do here, and the early parts of the game in particular can be decently time-consuming. You can expect a good thirty hours or so out of the game, more if you go after all of the little collectibles that the game has to offer (including a fishing mini-game, because every game has a fishing mini-game these days).
The visuals in the game are just a joy to look at, and once again push the envelope of what a world built entirely out of paper and craft supplies can be. The real-world constructed feel of the game is beautiful, and combined with the simplicity of 2D character designs it creates a rather striking yet also mellow and charming visual identity for the game. The origami characters are excellent as well, and manage to capture a realistic feel and weight of paper while still fitting perfectly with Paper Mario's aesthetic. And Olivia's adorable design is undeniably a part of what makes her so endearing. There are also some surprisingly gorgeous special effects at play here, notably the water and soil effects during specific scenes of the game, which feels like the developers showing off what the Switch can really do (and will hopefully be put to use in a new Pikmin game?). The soundtrack is excellent as well and thankfully doesn't rely too much on recycling familiar Mario tunes—it's fun to hear those songs again from time to time, but nothing beats originality, and The Origami King has some fantastic original tunes.
Paper Mario: The Origami King still refuses to embrace the RPG mechanics that made the early games in the series such a smash hit with fans, but the compromises it concocts might be enough to make up for it. The ring-based battle system is a fun novelty, even if its charm does wear off at times, and the emphasis on exploration has provided a vibrant Mushroom Kingdom filled with fun and unique set pieces. Most importantly, the humor and personality of Paper Mario is well-represented here, from the pun-filled dialogue to the absolutely adorable adventure partner, Olivia. If Paper Mario can't return to its RPG roots, it has at least found a quality, engaging niche with The Origami King.
Rating: 8 out of 10 Folds

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Posted (edited)

Great review. I agree with most of what you have to say on the game. The regular battles are the weakest link of the game from what I've played, but I don't think having systems in place that were present in earlier Paper Mario games would necessarily make it better than other aspects of Origami King. More incentive to engage in regular battles would have made the game better overall though and I have thought that Paper Mario's strength increases should have come through battling rather than through the Max Up Hearts. The solution is already there to give battles more purpose which is what makes it a little frustrating that they didn't incentivize regular battles further. 

Edited by IU

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