Paper Mario: The Origami King Review — The Legion of Stationary
As a longtime fan of the series, Paper Mario: The Origami King has its trademark humor and charm, but misses its appealing RPG gameplay.
Paper Mario: The Origami King tries its darndest to straddle the line between what fans of the original games love and a desire to move the franchise in a new direction. In many ways, it succeeds. However, there are countless misfolds along the way that makes it a tough game to give a full recommendation.
In The Origami King, a tiny origami man named Olly has turned the Mushroom Kingdom into an origami world. Princess Peach is a soulless zombie doing Olly’s bidding, and Mario must save her and the world from his evil creases. Joining you is Olivia, Olly’s sister, and a powerful origami folder in her own right. Your journey takes you all over the Kingdom, letting you explore exotic locales and meeting interesting people.
The biggest talking point of Paper Mario: The Origami King is the new battle system. It’s a tough thing to describe with just words, but essentially, each fight takes place on a battleground you can twist and move. This allows to you set up fights in a way that lets you easily manipulate the positioning of Olly’s minions as you see fit.
Once you set the folded fighters up, you have two basic attacks; Mario can stomp and he can swing a hammer. There are a few other special items and attacks, but these two are the plumber’s bread and butter. Or wrench and plunger, if you want to get technical. There’s also a bit of active time button pressing that lets you deal extra damage, but it never seems that important. For the most part, every single battle against minor minions works exactly the same. There are a few enemies that spice things up, just not in a meaningful way.
And that’s one of Paper Mario: The Origami King’s biggest problems: there’s no leveling up. You can get somewhat better shoes and hammers to make your attacks stronger, it just never feels like a big deal. Thus, the battles feel like at worst a way for the developers to steal your good items and at best a waste of time. After the first hour or so, I was doing everything I could to skip them. Fortunately, most minions are easier to dodge than a 90-year-old grandma.
All that being said, there is a very important caveat to all of this; while the normal enemy encounters are dreadful, the boss battles are inspired. Instead of Mario being at the center of the board and you rotating the enemies into place, these flip the script. Mario is on the outside and while using different symbols on the board, you need to trace his path to the different members of the Legion of Stationary. That’s an all-time great pro wrestling stable name if I’ve ever seen one.
They really go all out with these. Every boss has their own mechanic to tease out, with some of the early ones being spectacular. The boss fights do lose a little steam as you move toward the end, particularly with a boss that can kill you in one hit and force you to replay their entire section before trying again. I pray it doesn’t happen to you because it was so frustrating to make one wrong decision and be sent back 20 minutes of progress. That said, the final boss fight ramps it back up in a way I can appreciate. I won’t spoil it, but seeing a former nemesis join the fight in a “big” way was great. Make sure you bookmark that last sentence so you can come back and appreciate my awesome pun.
Even still, Paper Mario: The Origami King doesn’t respect your time with combat. There seems to be little to no point in engaging with minion battles. Along with that, the time between bosses stretches out to hours. Unless you’re a kid on a summer break, it’s a hard game to recommend based on the combat alone.
Fortunately, that’s not all The Origami King brings to the table. The series is well-known for its humor and exploration; both of those are here in spades. Personally, I gave up on exploring much after the first few hours because it just felt like collecting things for the sake of collecting. And the game constantly asks you to backtrack anyway. It all just got old quick. However, if you can actually take your time and not play under the constraints of needing to get a review out, I can see this being an excellent podcast game. You can just veg out and find some Toads. And truly, isn’t that all you can ask for.
The Origami King also mostly nails the funnies. I mean sure, when you’re launching one-liners with every other line of dialogue, a few are bound to hit. That said, I genuinely laughed out loud more times than I can count in my 30 or so hours with the game. Kamek, in particular, does an exceptional turn as Bowser’s underlooked right-hand wizard. There’s also a secret coffee shop where you can meet up with some of Bowser’s other henchman, which might be the best part of the game. If you pick up Paper Mario’s latest journey, seek it out.
Here’s the thing though: The Origami King also takes a few surprisingly dark turns. I don’t want to spoil anything, but there are quite a few story beats that made me wonder if this really is a kid’s game. If you’re a parent picking this up, be ready for some potential waterworks and tough conversations coming your way.
At the end of my time with Paper Mario: The Origami King, I’m wondering who exactly this game is for. Classic Paper Mario fans will be left wanting due to the game’s combat and lack of RPG progression. People looking for a fun romp with a silly story might bristle at the game’s length and padded out content.
And kids? In so many ways, this seems like a great game for younger gamers; however, I can’t help remember several moments that would have left me in tears as a little dude. If you’re a parent who thinks your kid can handle it, this is an excellent pick-up. You’ll certainly get your money’s worth from a time perspective. Just don’t come to me if you also have to pay some psychiatrist bills in a few years.
I’m mostly joking (pour one out for Bobby). However, it really does feel like a game that doesn’t completely know what it wants to be. The puzzle-based nature of the combat seems like a fun direction to take the gameplay in, but divorcing it from progression kills any desire to engage with it.
Paper Mario: The Origami King is far from a bad game; it’s just not one that meets its potential. This feels like a solid first step from Intelligent Systems to finally find a new groove for the franchise. Hopefully the team continues to iterate on the design and deliver a follow-up that finally mixes that classic Paper Mario tone and feel with quality gameplay that fans love. It can, and arguably should, be different from the original games, but it needs to be more than this.