The Paper Mario series has always been a sort of oddity at Nintendo, taking everyone’s favourite apparently mid-20’s plumber and his whole world, turning it into paper, and then doing really cute and interesting things with it. While the first few instalments were closer to traditional JRPG’s, as of late the story and RPG elements have slowly started disappearing, much to fan outcry. But in its latest entry, it looks as though this is the way the series is going moving forward, and we have to ask: is it a good thing?
I took up origami for a while. Had to give it up. Too much paperwork.
So, like all good Mario games, this one starts with a festival. An origami festival, to be precise. Weirdly enough, when our heroes arrive to Toad Town, they find it completely empty and in disarray. Upon visiting Peach’s castle, they soon discover that her lovely flat self has been folded up into a weird evil origami Peach, along with a bunch of Bowser’s minions. Behind it all is Olly, the evil Origami King, who wants to turn the entire flat paper world into origami.
Bowser is here too, in case you wondered, only he’s all folded up and needs to be rescued by Mario. Along with Bowser, Mario rescues Olivia, Olly’s origami sister, and soon the castle is wrapped in… Evil streamers? And carried off to a volcano, forcing Mario and friends to escape and figure out how to stop all this nasty Origami business.
It’s very silly and light-hearted, and not an incredibly deep plot, but honestly? It doesn’t need to be. The story is quite easily carried by the absolutely delightful cast of characters and brilliant writing that I had a really good chuckle at several times, and it makes some of the biggest, most dramatic moments in the story really stand out. There’s a surprising amount of depth in the characters, and it’s obvious the developers want to give their all and make a very in depth experience despite the higher ups consistently trying to remove those pesky elements like ‘story’ and ‘plot’ from Mario games.
But you know it’s good writing when you go out of your way to talk to every NPC multiple times through story events to see their new dialogue. And there’s these constant little touches like new dialogue or changed scenery that a lot of players could very well miss with the game offering little incentive to backtrack, despite giving multiple, easy to access options and pathways to different areas. Though each area does have optional things to complete, such as finding hidden, folded up Toads or fixing all the holes in the landscape. But there’s very little incentive or reward for this, other than some of the Toads being shop-owners, and most of them having delightful dialogue.
It’s frustrating, because this means you’re essentially railroaded from area to area, with the only reason to go back to Toad Town being to stock up on items or go to the next plot area. The world is absolutely gorgeous and full of fun, interesting little puzzles that take advantage of Mario’s newfound origami skills, as well as his new buddy Olivia who can transform into all kinds of cool origami animals.
I used to be in an origami club, but it folded.
While utterly delightful, the ‘story/adventure’ segments of Origami King are only half the story. While you definitely can’t call this a traditional RPG, given it doesn’t have experience points or levelling up in the traditional sense, it does have turned based combat. Just. Really unique turned based combat which has caused a lot of controversy.
Essentially, it’s like this: At the beginning of the round, enemies will be placed around a circle. You then have to move the circle in various ways to line the enemies up for an attack boost. The biggest problem here is that I am by no means a visual thinker. The simpler lineups? Fine. I can make a row of Goombas no problem. But the further you progress, the more complicated the puzzles become, and it’s important to note there’s a limited amount of times a player can move the ring to make a lineup. There’s also a time limit.
Combat really becomes less of a ‘beat the other guy senseless’ and more of a ‘solve this puzzle’, though there are ways around this to make it into more of a traditional combat experience. Though if, like me, you’re really not much of a visual thinker and you get very easily confused there are unlockable options as you progress through the story to make battles easier, ranging from showing you the ideal enemy placement in the circle through to just doing the whole dang puzzle for you.
Though where this battle system really shines is the bosses, which plonks the boss in the middle of the circle and then requires it to be manipulated in order to create a clear path, with Mario able to pick up items and bonuses to his attack along the way based on how you arrange the circle.
It really works, and I found myself eventually enjoying the puzzles and combat. Instead of traditional equippable items, there are different versions of your boots and hammer, and coins can be used to pay a bunch of Toads to give you a hint, damage the enemy or give Mario a health boost. Which really comes in handy for stubborn players like myself who refuse to turn the puzzle combat off, but are still dumb as hell and need a little help sometimes.
I tried watching the origami channel, but it’s paper view.
Paper Mario: The Origami King isn’t going to be your next big RPG investment that will leave you a sobbing wreck and emotionally attached to all the characters like, say, Persona or Final Fantasy. But what it is going to do is give you a surprisingly long, and positively delightful experience with a lot of heartfelt moments. The combat can be hit or miss, but if you’re a puzzle fan and know how to think visually, unlike myself, you’ll probably have a lot of fun with it.
Honestly if all future Paper Mario games were like this, I wouldn’t mind as much.
But I still wish they’d make a new Mario RPG.