Paper Mario: The Origami King is a hilarious new entry into the series, chock-a-block with memorable oddball moments and side-splitting quips from the fantastic cast of Mushroom Kingdom characters. The puzzle-centric combat is disappointingly one-dimensional and lacks any sort of challenge to please seasoned RPG gamers, but there's enough variety here to keep you engaged until the credits roll thanks to various platforming and Zelda-esque dungeon sections.
- Hilarious writing and characters
- Outstanding visuals and soundtracks
- Great variety of combat, puzzles and platforming
- Inventive boss battles
- Puzzle-centric combat feels too one-dimensional
- Little challenge for adult gamers
- Lack of RPG progression system
- Review Price: £49.99
- Platform: Nintendo Switch
- Release: 17 July 2020
- Developer: Intelligent Systems
- Publisher: Nintendo
Paper Mario: The Origami King features one of the most eccentric and laugh-inducing adventures I’ve ever played, as I danced with Shy Guy ballerinas, battled a disco-obsessed Hole Puncher and enjoyed more paper-related puns than even Michael Scott thought possible during this 20-hour long adventure.
You may think all of that sounds outrageously weird, but Nintendo and Intelligent Systems have somehow been able to sew all of these oddball anecdotes into the Mushroom Kingdom fabric so seamlessly that the rib-tickling jokes never felt out of place.
This is helped by the Paper Mario staple of comical self awareness, with the likes of ‘Fax Travel’ ribbing fun at classic video game tropes, and witty writing remarking on Mario and Bowser’s never-ending tug of war over Princess Peach. In fact, there’s an abundance of amusing references to Nintendo’s vast library of games, ranging from Yoshi’s Island to Super Metroid, amounting to just as much fan service as you’d find in any Marvel or Star Wars flick.
There’s a Pixar-esque vibe here too, with slapstick jokes providing plenty of laughs for children, while more subtle one-liners cater to mature audiences. But while the comedy appeals to multiple age groups, I’m not convinced the combat and various other interactive elements are quite as versatile, likely proving to be too one-dimensional to satisfy those looking for a spiritual successor to The Thousand-Year Door.
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For those who’ve never experienced a Paper Mario game before, this quirky series sees the paper-cutout plumber trade classic platforming for turn-based hammer smashing. While Mario and all of the other Mushroom Kingdom characters are even flatter than a pancake in this universe, they still occupy a 3D world, resulting in a wacky yet charming aesthetic that complements the fourth wall-breaking humour.
The Origami King introduces an amusing new twist to the universe in the form of evil-doer King Olly, who’s folding up the 2D residents of Mushroom Kingdom into origami forms – including Princess Peach – in order to turn them into mindless slaves. It’s a simple story with wafer-thin depth, but your adventure is decorated with so many mad-cap moments and zany characters that you’ll be engrossed right up to the credits.
With Princess Peach’s castle taken hostage by the Origami King, Paper Mario must free the kingdom from its bounds by venturing to various realms, including an abandoned samurai-style fun park and a desert seemingly trapped in an endless night cycle.
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Unlike most Mario ventures, characters are very chatty with the likes of Luigi, Bowser and Mario’s new sidekick Oliva often punctuating conversations with rib-tickling quips. The likes of Kamek and Boswer Jr. also feature, unconventionally finding themselves on the same team as Mario which frees them up for more side-splitting dialogue opportunities rather than being restricted to the occasional pantomime cackle.
It’s the army of Toad characters that steal the spotlight though, hiding in various spots across the Kingdom, waiting for Mario to free them from their origami prisons. While saving Toads will boost the strength of a combat-focused special ability, my main incentive for rescuing them was just to hear their one liners as they’d routinely break the fourth wall or offer a slapstick joke – one even pretended to be decapitated, which I’m surprised and delighted was able to sneak through Nintendo’s strict family-friendly filters.
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I’ve got mixed feelings about the new ring-based battle system though, with Intelligent Systems abandoning the series’ RPG roots for a more puzzle-centric approach. Each combat encounter begins with a Rubix Cube-esque puzzle, as Mario is tasked with grouping up enemies with a limited number of platform-shifting turns. This is tediously easy initially, simply requiring you to shift origami-shaped Goomba into either a column of four so Mario can perform a head-pounding hopscotch, or into a square formation to perfectly sync up with your hammer’s blast radius.
The puzzles become more complex later on as additional enemy variations are introduced, with the likes of Boo being able to turn itself invisible to test your memory skills and spiked goons boasting immunity to Mario’s jump attack. But with Mario’s skillset failing to mature beyond the tutorial stage, and the lack of upgrade system providing any sort of progression, the waves of combat encounters quickly start to feel repetitive.
Various side characters occasionally lend a helping hand in combat, but they unfortunately don’t add new mechanics, simply inflicting damage to any enemies you failed to take down after each turn. This is a big missed opportunity, particularly with the potential skillset the likes of Bob-omb and Kamek could have provided.
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There are very few consequences for mistakes during combat too. Failing to solve a puzzle before the timer hits zero does not result in a game over, merely giving the origami enemies an opportunity to attack instead. Multiple attacks can of course accumulate to deplete Mario’s health bar to worryingly low levels, but there’s such an abundance of health items spread across the Mushroom Kingdom that my lack of brain power was rarely detrimental to the plumber – I saw the ‘game over’ screen just once during my plus 20-hour playthrough, not counting boss battles.
The boss battles are more enjoyable, with Intelligent Systems reversing the format so colossal foes sit in the centre of the arena instead of Mario. This means you must twist and turn the rotating platforms to navigate your way to your opponent, all while dodging missiles and trying to stomp specific panels that grant bonus damage to your attacks. Each boss brings a new twist to the table, requiring you to think on your toes rather than rely on brute strength.
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There’s much more to The Origami King than combat, of course. There are fun platforming sections that see you flee from boulders or guide a boat down deadly rapids, and puzzle-aplenty dungeons that feel like simplistic imitations to those found in The Legend of Zelda series. The platforming and puzzles sections aren’t remarkable, but they do help to add variety to Paper Mario’s adventure.
The slew of hidden collectables also gives you an excuse to explore every nook and cranny of the Mushroom Kingdom, which has been crafted with astonishing detail. Animations of the huge cast of characters are superb, particularly for some of the origami creations that look outstandingly realistic. The incredible soundtrack need to be highlighted too, invoking levels of emotion and drama – particularly towards the end – I didn’t think possible in a Paper Mario game.
The Origami King continues the incredible form of the Paper Mario series in terms of comedy, providing one of the most hilarious Nintendo adventures yet. I loved exploring the paper-styled Mushroom Kingdom and meeting all the iconic Super Mario Bros. characters, especially since they consistently deliver fantastic fan service for long-standing Nintendo fans.
However, the new puzzle-centric combat feels one dimensional compared to the more RPG-heavy outings in the series, which could well be a turn off for older gamers hoping for a challenge or an entry more akin to The Thousand-Year Door. But with platforming, puzzles and inventive boss battles providing enough variety to keep you entertained throughout the 20-hour adventure, Paper Mario: The Origami King is still an excellent addition to the Nintendo Switch’s ever-growing library.