One of the earliest gaming memories I have is gathering around a small box set television in my elementary school’s gymnasium, and watching the older kids play classic SNES games. Most pertinent to this particular review was Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars. A Super Mario game unlike any other, Super Mario RPG fascinated me with its art style and unique game play. It was also one of the first introductions I had to turn based RPGs. While I only ever played the opening levels because I dared not touch the older kids’ saves, the game very much resonated with me.
So much so that years later, when the first Paper Mario game came out for the GameCube I was excited to get to play in that stylized sandbox. When I saw the trailer for the sixth and latest entry into the series Paper Mario: The Origami King, I was pretty much sold off of the art direction. As I’ve come to the close of my journey over the course of a week, I find myself with conflicted feelings about the overall experience.
To be 2d in a 3d world
Paper Mario: The Origami King is available now for the Nintendo Switch, and the first hours of the game were an utter joy to play. The art and music teams deserve all of the applause for creating a beautifully realized world. It’s really incredible how much creative freedom the concept of a “world made of paper” provides and equally more impressive how well the creative direction is able to elevate and innovate on the concept. You have sprites rendered in vibrant 2D in a 3D world made out of colorful cardboard and wire frames. Enemy combatants have a unique visual flair given that they are not flat paper figures like the typical inhabitants. The music is catchy, the worlds are breathtaking, and I loved the vibrancy of the Mushroom Kingdom.
Humor in Reams
This praise also extends to the story. The premise is simple yet familiar: a mysterious figure called The Origami King has captured Princess Peach and wrought havoc among the kingdom and it’s up to you and your new companion, Olivia, to save everyone. You know, like every single Mario game that has ever existed. But where The Origami King shines is it’s writing and sense of humor. While there were definitely a nontrivial amount of moments where I raised my eyebrow at a particularly egregious pun, beat for beat (or rather, fold for fold) the story was endearing. As you traverse the various worlds, you meet your typical assortment of companions, a staple of the Paper Mario franchise, and there are a lot of great moments.
Rinse and Repeat
However… in between the gorgeously rendered cut scenes and the exploration, there is indeed game play. That is where my sense of enjoyment faltered. Early on, you learn to combat Folded Soldiers with a ring based puzzle system where you rotate or slide enemies into place so you can jump and/or hammer them. Early on, this is a neat little puzzle. Bosses invert the schema by having you rotate and slide the tiles so you can reach the boss at the center and pull of various origami based magical attacks to finish them off in a variety of ways. The problem is… that’s it. That’s the core combat mechanic, and no matter the variation or twist that gets put in, you end up doing the same micro puzzle however many times until the board is cleared.
Interesting at first…
To complicate matters, early on you get the ability to use coins to help simplify the puzzle. At first, I was reluctant to do it. But when I realized that I was on a 32nd time and that every battle played out in pretty much identically manner, I just used the wealth of coin to bypass the busy work. And that’s not inherently a bad thing, but for me, it definitely felt like I was the same microtransaction puzzle game while I was just trying to explore the world and see things. It was interesting at first, but it wore on me.
Which pretty extends to the entire experience. The game also has puzzles, real time events, and platforming sections that more often felt repetitive – especially near the half way point. There really isn’t a sense of mastery or progression either. Enemies take damage numerically, but only bosses have a proper HP and even then you only get visual cues for your progress. Gear has limited uses so you’re in a constant inventory loop. Messing up a sequence can sometimes set you back a little and can sometimes set you back a lot. Save points show up at the oddest intervals. And true to the RPG format, there is a lot of backtracking and circumnavigating that has to be done, and there’s only one and a half speeds that you’re really able to move at.
Tired of the loop
Paper Mario: The Origami King does dozens of things. And it does a couple things really well and then does everything else… okay. Part of this definitely stems from me hoping for a more classic Paper Mario RPG experience, where I have the standard equipment and leveling. Part of this stems from not really expecting this to be predominantly puzzles that test my spatial reasoning. I think it’s a good game, and I think there’s a lot to love. It’s the first game in a long time, however, where I kept looking for places to stop because I was tired of the loop, where I quit out of frustration not because it was insurmountably difficult, but because I just the fumbled the execution of something and had to start from scratch.
All in all, I do think The Origami King‘s art and sound direction make it a good investment. It’s a stylistically wonderful game and if you can get past some of the tedium, you’re gonna have a good time. There’s plenty to do. It’s just a matter of if you will enjoy doing those things. For me, now that I’ve seen the end, I’m probably not going for the 100%, but I did enjoy my stay.
7.8 “Origami Folds” out of 10