Paper Mario: The Origami King is not the return to the traditional roots of the series I was hoping for. Like other recent entries in the series, it de-emphasizes character-progression elements to provide a simplified role-playing-game experience. And yes, that means Mario doesn’t earn experience points for battles and doesn’t level up as a result of those fights.
Paper Mario: The Origami King is due out July 17 on Nintendo Switch for $60.
Whatever Nintendo’s reasoning is for repeatedly stripping familiar RPG mechanics from its Mario RPGs, it doesn’t do any favors for a game like The Origami King. Even just through the first section of the adventure, I’ve already begun trying to avoid battles. I have no incentive to disrupt the exploration just to get in a battle that will leave me in the exact same position I was before it started.
That’s the big issue here. Nintendo is stubbornly against making Paper Mario feel more like an RPG, but then that makes the cutaway to combat feel all the more disruptive. You don’t level up in Zelda or Metroid, but battles also don’t completely interrupt the flow of those games. Here, they absolutely do.
And this is even more frustrating when you clear an area of enemies, and then return to see that they respawned. Why would I ever want to fight the same enemies in the same place more than once for zero reward? The answer is that I don’t, and that is training me to run past enemies wherever I can.
Paper Mario: The Origami King’s combat is much more like a puzzle game
The battle system in Paper Mario is much more about the puzzle-like sliding puzzle. Most standard fights begin with a “line them up” phase. This is where you need to move the enemies around a circular stage to get them into one of two optimized attack patterns. If you line them up in a row, you can jump on four enemies in a row. If you get them in a two-by-two formation, you can hit them all at once with a hammer.
And the line-up phase here is paramount. If you are able to get the enemies into the pattern — which is always possible with the correct moves as far as I can tell — you will almost always win the battle on your first turn. This completely minimizes selecting attacks or using items.
The challenge, then, comes from the timer during the line-up stage. You start with around 30 seconds — maybe more if you’re facing more than two groups. But The Origami King gives players multiple outlets to make this easier. You can use coins to buy more time by holding Start. Or you can hold down “Y” to pay coins to the toads in the audience to give Mario an assist. If you pay them enough, they’ll throw you health, attack the enemies, and even spin the stage to show you how to line up the goombas and shy guys.
And through the first section of the game, I’ve always had enough coins to get the help when I need it.
But Paper Mario: The Origami King has a lot to love
I’m complaining a lot, but I wanted to answer the most burning questions that fans have about these games first. That doesn’t mean the newest Paper Mario is a failure. I’m still really enjoying it.
That comes down to the characters and the world. Everything everyone says is always so entertaining. One of the main concepts of the game is that the titular Origami King folded up toads and hid them around the environment. And it is a joy to discover them and then to see what they’re going to say. Paper Mario has the best kind of eye-rolling wordplay, and I’m loving that.
Developer Intelligent Systems also nailed the exploration and discovery. The locales are detailed with a ton of style. And I love moving through these spaces and looking for secrets. As part of his evil plan, the Origami King wrapped up Peach’s castle in giant paper streamers that unfurl out into the world. And it is awesome to see the blue streamer always hanging over head and sort of drawing you along through the first area.
The game also just looks incredible. I didn’t play Paper Mario: Color Splash for Wii U, so maybe this isn’t new. But the HD visuals really pop in The Origami King. You could turn this game into a children’s show on Netflix or PBS with very few tweaks or changes.
Finally, Paper Mario: The Origami King has a lot of variety. This is what’s really keeping me going. Sure, I’m trying to avoid standard battles, but the game isn’t simply an endless string of straightforward fights. It mixes things up in a number of unexpected ways, and that keeps it feeling fresh.
I’ll have a full review of Paper Mario ready next week.