Given his consistent choice in wardrobe, you could be forgiven for not knowing that Mario is a man who wears many different hats. Over the years he has starred in countless spin-offs, some of which, like Mario Kart, have gone on to become full-fledged series in their own rights. And others, like Mario Paint, which we never see again.
Then there are series like Paper Mario that haven’t reached the lofty heights of Mario Kart, but aren’t relegated to the dustbin of history either. Paper Mario began as a spin-off RPG series on the Nintendo 64 in 2000 and currently has six titles to its name (seven if you include its crossover with the Mario & Luigi RPG series).
I have fond memories of Paper Mario harkening back to its original release on the N64 when my 10-year-old self wrote to Nintendo Power at the time and begged them to send me a free copy of the game’s strategy guide. I didn’t even have the game due to my 10-year-old self’s financial situation, I just couldn’t get enough of the art style and wanted to know as much about the game as I could learn.
Fast forward to the Paper Mario sequel on the GameCube, The Thousand-Year Door, which I was able to buy at launch, and the rest is history. I, like many other gamers, fell in love with the Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door. The cast of characters, the humorous dialogue, the refined artwork, updated graphics, stellar soundtrack, and solid gameplay were just a joy to behold. It was a near-flawless package, both then and now.
Sure, Super Paper Mario on the Wii had its moments, and the previously mentioned Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam crossover on the 3DS was an interesting little diversion, but nothing in the series has ever come close to topping The Thousand Year-Door. Especially not its Wii U release of Color Splash nor its counterpart Sticker Star.
Honestly, starting with Super Paper Mario, the series began to stray from its RPG roots and became more of an experimental adventure-type game. That’s one reason why I was so stoked for Paper Mario: Origami King when it was announced for the Switch. It looked like a return to form, like Paper Mario was finally going to recapture that magic that made the first two entries in the series so special.
Origami King was a day one purchase for me. I cleared out my schedule for the three days after its release and decided to devote all of my time to it. On the first day, I was blown away by the sheer amount of fun it was to play, and by the hilarious script. Seriously, this game is funny – the wittiest game I’ve ever played. It’s even funnier than actual games based on comedies like South Park. And it’s wholesome funny too, which makes it even better for sharing with friends and family.
I was also impressed with all of the extra little details thrown in for Mario fans. Without spoiling it, all I can say is, the game rewards you for paying attention and is constantly finding ways to tug at your nostalgia strings without ever feeling like it’s pandering you. The soundtrack is full of toe-tapping ear worms. And don’t even get me started on the art design – this game succeeds at bringing the Paper Mario aesthetic to life more than any other game in the series so far. It’s a masterpiece in that regard.
I played for ten hours straight from the moment I first popped the game into my Switch until I finally took a break. I couldn’t be sure yet, but it felt like it had the potential to dethrone The Thousand-Year Door. Certainly it was miles above anything Nintendo has put out from the series in recent years.
However, I wasn’t quite as charmed by it the next day. And on the third day, I decided not to write a review. Not because I didn’t like, but because I didn’t know what to say. I couldn’t decide it it was the amazing follow-up to Thousand-Year Door, or another disappointing misfire.
You’re probably wondering why I felt so torn about it. After all, didn’t I just say I was blown away by it? That it’s the funniest game I’ve ever played? That it’s a rewarding experience that gives Mario fans a constant helping of insider references and easter eggs? That it has the best art design in the series? How could a game that I recognize as being so brilliant still leave me feeling so conflicted that I couldn’t form a coherent conclusion on whether it was good or not?
Well, it’s complicated. But there are three main caveats that prevented me from fully endorsing Origami King, and I didn’t have the heart to write a flat-out negative review either.
The first thing that holds it back is its battle system. While the game treats battles like turn-based RPG sessions, and they certainly can take as much time as a traditional RPG battle, there are no perks that come with normal turn-based battles. Despite the grind, there’s no leveling up system to speak of at all. And while I enjoyed the battle system at first, especially the puzzle-like aspect of lining up enemies correctly to knock ’em down, not to unlike having to line up origami correctly to get the perfect result – it still felt superfluous after a few hours without a leveling up system to boost my stats or experience.
It made battles feel more like a chore than a core part of the game; which is weird because the developers seemed to have put a lot of thought, time, and effort into it just to make it so irrelevant in the end.
The next hit to my enjoyment came from the fact that I began to notice that all the helper characters, which have traditionally been redesigned versions of classic Mario characters (especially enemies) were now simply base forms of classic Mario characters with little to no redesigns.
Don’t get me wrong, the writing for these characters is still full of life and personality, but nonetheless it does feel a bit underwhelming when they look exactly the same as always. Part of the fun of Paper Mario games was seeing how the developers might tweak basic Mario designs to create wholly new characters. Even if it was a small tweak, I always appreciated the little extra effort at putting out a unique product.
Compare the helper character Bombette from the original Paper Mario, with her pink coloring and yellow ponytail, to Bobby the Bob-omb in Origami King who looks like any other Bob-omb in the series. Again, it’s a minor issue, but an issue nonetheless. To have all of this obvious effort and passion put into the project, and then have it sterilized like that just felt off-putting.
Later it was confirmed by Origami King producer Kensuke Tanabe in an interview that “Since Paper Mario: Sticker Star, it’s no longer possible to modify Mario characters or to create original characters that touch on the Mario universe”.
Tanabe tried walking back the comment after fans expressed disappointment at the revelation, but it was too late, the damage had already been done. I could feel it in my gut as I was playing even before he mentioned it.
And the final issue I had with Origami King was the boss battles. I just found them repetitive and boring. Every time it became obvious that I was about to encounter a boss, I felt annoyed more than excited.
So yeah, sounds pretty bad, right? Well, not exactly. The gameplay is still fun as all get-out. I never once got tired of throwing confetti around. Nor did I get tired of hunting down the many secrets and collectables hidden throughout the game. And the consistently hilarious dialogue kept me invested in seeing how the story would play out. And as said before, the paper aesthetic has never been better realized than it is here. The origami idea was especially ingenious.
And, in the end, two of my three gripes with the game no longer bother me. In fact, I kind of like that the battles don’t have a more serious RPG system in place. It keeps things feeling light and fun. And while I hope Nintendo allows the developers to start modifying original Mario characters again in future installments, I can accept that it just isn’t the case for this particular installment.
Which just leaves us with the boss battles. They’re still a mixed bag and I wouldn’t be particularly interested in replaying most of them, but they’re not bad enough to drag the entire experience down.
Ultimately, Paper Mario: Origami King is a highly recommended purchase for Mario fans in general and is a step in the right direction for the Paper Mario series. While not eclipsing the greatness of The Thousand-Year Door, it is a worthy follow-up and one of the best in the series. Temper your expectations, and you will have a blast with it.
Paper Mario: Origami King for Nintendo Switch – Score: 7.5/10
Please note that some links on this page are affiliate links, which means if you click them and make a purchase we may receive a small percentage of the sale which helps support the site. Please read our FTC Disclosure for more information.