Paper Mario: The Origami King – An early review

 

[BACK ON THE ROAD AGAIN]

I was definitely ready to be back on the paper road again.

I have been a big fan of Paper Mario games since I played the first title on the N64 (Well, admittedly, I skipped a few games after Thousand Year Door, which mostly wasn’t on purpose… Super Paper Mario I missed entirely, Sticker Star  I didn’t enjoy it as much and abandoned it early on, Color Splash – I don’t own I Wii U). Origami King, however came at a good time and as soon as I saw the announcement I pre-ordered it. I’m glad I got the physical edition as they bundled in some nice Paper Mario character magnets and some Origami paper!

The aspects that attracted me to the original Paper Mario and Thousand Year Door in the first place were the lovely popping colours, the charm of the characters and story, the lively animations, the designs of the characters, the fun turn-based gameplay, the sense of adventure in different lands…. and all the cool weapon stickers allowing to to customise your combat to whatever strategy you liked. This has all thankfully remained and evolved in Origami King  to varying degrees of quality.

To the layman, Paper Mario as a concept may seem like a cash-grab considering the existence of Mario 64 and a cluster of spin-off Mario games, but Paper Mario is very much it’s own thing in the form of a comedic, turn-based combat adventure. Charm is a key word when describing the PM series – something that is prevalent not only in the dialogue, graphics and animation but also in the battles and the very nature of the turn-based system where Mario, his friends and his enemy’s attacks pop like tiles from a comic book.

 

[FIRST IMPRESSIONS  #SOME SPOILERS!#]

Firstly, I am only about a third of the way through the game so far, and I will review this… review again once I have completed it, but I feel like I have played enough to make some preliminary observations / voice some opinions. Also, I will be dropping spoilers here so beware.

It was nice to see the familiar quality and charm of the Paper Mario series again after my hiatus from the series – Intelligent Systems are a very good studio in my opinion (I am also a big fan of Advance Wars). The intro movie takes us on a kart ride with Luigi through Toad Town in third-person perspective, close behind the kart in  an almost first-person line of sight – I really liked this as it was a nice way to experience the scene.

It’s the same tried and tested formula of course – Princess Peach being kidnapped by some evil entity and Mario gets together with some friends he makes along the way to defeat the bad guy – and so on. I don’t have an issue with this formula as long as the story and characters are solid and the design and animation is of the usual quality. So far, I think some areas are up to the standards that we expect, but I have some reservations about other areas which I will detail below.

 

Look at those beautiful orange mountains, gorgeous fall colours, clear river with calm waves, cool Japanese architecture…

[GRAPHICAL GOODNESS]

There’s no doubt about it – it’s a gorgeous game. Of course, as each new console dawns the hardware is improved and Origami King looks fantastic on the Switch. With the delightful paper-like graphics coupled with an increased level of 3D (or is it just me?) coming together to create a great sense of depth. I have always liked the look of ‘paper’ Mario and co against the semi-3D backdrop. It also allows for some cool secret hiding places that fit seamlessly into the scenery, and unless you are looking very closely, you will miss them. Yes, I have been fooled many a time by secrets despite being a thorough gamer and a completionist.

My favourite area so far unsurprisingly is the Shogun Studios level – the colours and beauty of it all – and I am a sucker for old Japanese architecture and culture. I could go on talking about all the areas but it’s easy to see that it’s a beautiful game like all it’s predecessors.

 

[MUSIC]

I enjoy the music in the Autumn world the most, but other than that the music is nice, but not that memorable. Not to say it isn’t good, but I am used to the AMAZING sounds of the Advance Wars soundtrack – and that is in low quality!

 

[WE… I NEED TO TALK ABOUT OLIVIA…]

I’m sorry to say this really, but I find Mario’s latest main companion Olivia, the sister of the bad guy, a little annoying more than charming. The scale tips more towards.. trying to hard to be funny and cute but isn’t? I remember your companions in OG Paper Mario and TYD having more amusing and likeable personalities. Then again it’s been a while since I played those games. She is helpful though when you are stuck with the story. I think she is just a bit too vanilla without much of a personality. That said, I do quite like Bomb-omb – and I feel like his story is about to unfold (honestly didn’t mean for that to be a pun) very soon.

 

[STORY]

In OG Paper Mario and TYD the story was more involving. For example, Kammy Koopa turns up to ruin your day – the constant interference from minions as a reminder that your enemy is on your tail. There was also in TYD playing as princess peach from time to time, which was a lovely novelty in itself, but also was a way of forwarding the story and involving you in each side of the battle.

Unfortunately, so far I haven’t really seen that as much as I’d have liked. I have just started the third chapter and to be fair Olly the Origami King has just appeared to crush his sister with a giant boulder (a move that should have upset me more than it did), so there was an appearance, but we are two chapters in and we know nothing about these mysterious origami people. 

The goal of getting rid of the various coloured streamers and saving the toads from being folded. Some of these toads are hard to find I tell you, but it is fun trying to find them. I feel a little sad to say I have had to use guides to 100% most of the levels so far. Not to mention the hidden blocks and collectables.. I find the holes satisfying to repair with the confetti, though, I’ll say that.

Thus I can’t really say much about the story yet.

 

[GAMEPLAY]

Generally, OK plays very much like it’s predecessors. You hop around hammering or jumping on enemy’s heads and clamber over objects to find items. It’s all good. So far, the items have been a little disappointing to me, or rather the selection of items. In Paper Mario and TYD, the selection of weapons was abundant and varied in scope and I am the type of person that enjoys setting RPG style weapons and upgrades and one of things I really enjoyed was the freedom of weapon choice. The selection is reduced so far in this game and the focus is shifted to the new ring-based puzzle battle system. More on that below.

I wanted to mention the River Rapids mini game / level – I enjoyed this a lot. There is also the theatre in Shogun Studios which was a fun addition – along with the putting on the Goomba mask in order to safely navigate the Theatre entrance (of course I tried the other masks first to see what would happen). If you have played TYD, you will remember the wrestling portion of the game, which was a highlight for me, so I am glad that the devs have added similar events in Origami King.

 

[BATTLE SYSTEM]

This is my biggest negative point for Origami King so far. I know others have expressed online that they don’t like the new battle system, but this is what I have to say.

The new ring battle system…. is not my cup of tea. I prefer the theatre-like pop-up of PM and TYD.
I don’t like to bash the fresh approach to the battle system because it sounds like I am one of those types that hates change, and I like that Intelligent Systems are tying new things, but to me the ring-based system can be tiresome, and I’m no good at the puzzles when lining up the enemies. The extra timer item that gives you more time at the puzzles just feels like a way to patch up the problem for people like me that suck at it. There is also the function to ‘buy’ more time with coins, but it doesn’t work very well.

Like I said, I appreciate the effort of trying something new, and it does bring something interesting to the table for boss battles when things change up, but i think they should have reserved it only for the boss battles. That would have worked well I think, as I like the hint letters – there are there if you want them – then you have the hearts as long as you work them into your path around the rings – it’s tactical, and I think this is probably an improvement to the older games – or at least as good. However, the average battles can be frustrating as they are slow to start with, and the enemies run about and then you have to line them up. Then you are heavily penalised if you don’t get the line up right – it’s bad enough if you mess up and they aren’t lined up for you to knock them all out at once, but to lose attack power AND battle reward coins –  it’s too harsh.

The fact that the battle gyms exist to familiarise you with battle system and improve your skills is further proof. It’s another personal thing I think, I am more of a traditionalist and I enjoyed the old battle system so to have it taken away is sad for me.

 

[CONCLUSION]

I am enjoying this game and I am glad I bought it, but admittedly I enjoyed the original and TYD more. The classic aspects that make Paper Mario as a series are present in Origami King, but for me the battle system (at least the average battles) and the less involved story are disappointing aspects. I am yet to get halfway through the game let alone complete it, so these are of course my early thoughts on the game. Watch this space for an update in the future, and thanks for reading!

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