Paper Mario: The Origami King falls flat from exhaustive mechanics and gameplay.
Mario is arguably the most recognizable video game character by all ages. He has even been fortunate enough to celebrate his 35th birthday this year, which was celebrated by the release of a few throwback items: Super Mario 3-D All Stars collection, the Game and Watch, and a new game in the Paper Mario franchise, Paper Mario: The Origami King. This recent release took the series and made significant changes to game play mechanics, from combat to interactive challenges within the various landscapes that you explore. However, some of these changes were not beneficial for the overall experience of the game and made the game drag.
The overall story follows the same layout that many other Mario games follow, to save Princess Peach from the evil… Origami King? The first shocker here is that Bowser did not capture the Princess but rather a new antagonist, Olly, the Origami King. Olly manages not only to capture Princess Peach but also her Castle through the use of streamers. To rescue Peach and return the castle to its rightful spot, Mario must defeat some familiar enemies, such as goombas and koopa troopas that are now in origami form and the Legion of Stationery, to destroy the five streamers that are located in various regions throughout the Mushroom Kingdom.
As you travel through five areas of the Mushroom Kingdom, ranging from a desert to a wonderful but not so relaxing spa, taking on two bosses per area, you unfold more story and get rid of the streamers to save Princess Peach and the castle, the sixth and final location of the game. Each area varies drastically in size. In some areas, you can manage to walk around on foot without issues; however, in others you must use forms of transportation to get around, otherwise you will be there longer than expected. The path to get to four of the bosses pay homage to the traditional Zelda style dungeons, forcing you to figure out puzzles and maneuver through obstacles. Unfortunately, after finishing the first two areas, the gameplay and overall path of the areas feels repetitive. You arrive in the new area, realize you must fight a boss that goes along with an element of that area, take on a member of the Legion of Stationery, and destroy the streamer. These first five areas felt too long and could have been shortened for a much more enjoyable adventure, considering the game takes roughly 25 hours to roll credits.
Throughout the adventure Mario meets many new allies and makes a momentary peace treaty with old enemies. The most significant ally is Olivia, Olly’s little sister! Olivia’s attitude and demeanor resemble that of a small child as she gets excited about the simplest of things and clearly struggles with concepts, such as names and understanding what is going on in conversations. She has funny lines throughout the game that give it an overall light tone, even though her brother is trying to recreate the kingdom in origami greatness. She provides hints and helps aide Mario through the story. Unfortunately, sometimes these hints are less than helpful and overly vague to the point it is not useful to the player. If you do take a few days away from the game, these hints do help remind you what goal you are currently in the process of completing. In addition, the moments where Olivia is able to aid Mario in combat add a much-needed change of pace to combat.
Olivia is not the only individual who has witty lines. A key part of the game is rescuing toads who have been folded into various origami items, such as a mischievous monkey or a bug crawling around on the ground. When you manage to rescue one of the numerous toads, they deliver a witty one-liner that is a pun related to the creature or item they had been folded into, giving me a nice chuckle. Sometimes the toads are kind enough to give you prizes for rescuing them. The origami toads serve a higher purpose that goes beyond delivering witty one-liners and prizes, they also are in the spectator stands during your battles and can be enticed to help out in the battle by giving them coins.
Combat within this new entry of the Paper Mario series is comprised of two distinct forms: turn based combat on a spinning board and live action combat with various paper-mache soldiers. First and foremost, the spinning board combat is a new addition to the series that combines a puzzle system with turn-based combat. By spinning one of the four rings or sliding sections of the ring, the player attempts to correctly line up enemies to get an attack boost. When the enemies are correctly lined up, you can hit the enemies that are in a straight line of four with a jump or those who are in a two by two square with a hammer. Boss battles are comprised of the same spinning and sliding; however, the goal is to create a path for Mario to get from the outside to an attack pad where he can attack the boss, while collecting power-ups and health along the way.
While the spinning and sliding create a special twist to the game, this combat style overstays its welcome, especially for those who are not looking for a puzzle aspect incorporated into combat. I found myself dreading running into an enemy and having to figure out a solution to the various puzzles that are presented. When I felt stumped, which was more often than not, I tended to cheer on the toads in the stands to help me figure out the solution. Lucky for me, I never ran out of coins. Considering I finished the game with well over 200,000 coins, they are in steady supply.
With how repetitive and frustrating the puzzles were from time to time, I found myself looking forward to the live-action combat where I got to strike enemies with my trusty hammer. While these battles are few and far between, they were a welcome relief to frustrating turn-based, puzzle combat.
Developers at Intelligent Systems added other unique changes to the game, such as the confetti bag and toad radar. The confetti bag holds, obviously, confetti that can be collected from various world objects and defeated enemies. The confetti is used to fill various “Not Bottomless Holes.” These holes vary in importance of filling, from a random hole on the side of a mountain to a staircase to get to a boss. This addition created a mix of emotions as it was enjoyable to see the hole slowly become covered with various confetti colors until it was completed filled in or absolutely frustrating when I would run out of confetti in my bag.
The toad radar is helpful in situations when toads are needed to complete challenges and is a distinct addition to this game series. While it is distinct, it unfortunately lacks much use unless you intend on collecting all the toads in an attempt to 100% the game.
While this entry in the Paper Mario series struggled with gameplay and mechanics, it does bring some moving moments and is complemented by the game’s soundtrack. You will experience moments of joy, grief, and a handful of other emotions until the story ends. The music created for the game gives a deeper tone to each moment and makes them feel more significant. These moments, mixed with the melodies, gives life to poorly constructed game play and almost made the 25 hours I spent with it worth the time and energy.
Paper Mario: The Origami King introduced numerous new aspects into the series, with many causing more frustration than excitement. With the new combat style being overly repetitive and complicated, it made me dread combat in a game were combat is a crucial part of the experience. The areas that were explored were unique in their own way; however, the time spent within each felt similar to the last, creating a monotonous experience. It was enjoyable to see the story unfold to the very end but not enough to overcome the shortcomings with the core gameplay.
Paper Mario: The Origami King’s moving story beats are not enough to overcome the mediocre gameplay and poor pacing.