Mario and Luigi are feeling a little flat. Perhaps a trip to Toad Town for an origami festival will cheer them up? Not likely… welcome to Paper Mario: The Origami King!
The sixth entry in the Paper Mario series, which debuted way back on the Nintendo 64 and brought a touch of RPG to Mario’s usual antics (as well as flattening the poor guy), this instalment certainly turns the papery love up to 11, with the majority of the many worlds in which our favourite tradie frolics the product of wire, glue and, of course, paper.
“‘Frolics” probably isn’t the most apt word however, for Mario has some serious Princess Peach saving to do – some things never change. The devious – and floppy-fringed – self-declared ruler King Olly has come to town, hijacked Bowser’s many minions to serve as folded soldiers (try saying that five times fast), turned Peach (and pretty much any other character that he’s encountered) into origami, spirited her castle away to a distant mountaintop AND bound it in several colourful streamers. He’s one evil dude!
“…Mario has some serious Princess Peach saving to do – some things never change.”
King Olly is so evil that even Bowser has partnered up with Mario, who also has some inside help from Olly’s non-evil sister, Olivia. Most notable assistance-wise is Mario’s new superpower – 1000-Fold Arms. Available in specific locations that usually require some form of trickery to unlock, these are big, stretchy arms that you operate via the Switch’s motion controls, to reach out and, usually, tear something. The result may be game progression, unleashing a baddie or freeing an imprisoned Toad.
Ah, Toad. So many Toad! But we’ll get to them soon.
Play commences in a flip-screen overworld with a whole bunch of dialogue to sit through. Ah, dialogue. So many dialogue… Uh, anyway, as expected players control the heroic Mario, who trundles about solving puzzles both fair and sometimes a little foul, while repairing holes in the world with readily-available confetti. Well, except for when he falls into one of these holes, as some are rather hard to discern. No matter, he has 50 life points (initially) to burn, and a quick rest on a park bench restores any lost points.
These overworld sections are an absolute delight, pulling many classic Mario movies, tunes, characters and vibes to lend an air of familiarity as you do your thing unlocking goodies, defeating giant paper “macho” minions and rescuing hapless Toads. So many Toa- sorry. That’s the familiar stuff, save perhaps for the whole 2D Mario in a 3D world thing, which can take a little adjusting to.
What will be new to many Mario players will be the RPG elements. In his travels, he’ll bump into various folded soldiers who are itching for a fight. Mario is all too happy to oblige, which means entering a Wave Battle. This takes place in a ring of concentric circles, in which several foes line up to face your centralised plumber bloke. The foes will scatter, upon which the player must reassemble them in the allotted amount of moves by rotating and sliding panels for easy turn-based whomping, be it by hammer, or boots or… not telling! The puzzles become increasingly trickier, and the events last longer as foes become hardier, but one thing doesn’t change: this part is really, really boring.
Well, we found it really, really boring, to the point that we’d do whatever we could to avoid confrontation so as to stay in the super-duper cool overworld. Sadly, however, some biffo is unavoidable. There’s nothing mechanically wrong with the Wave Battles per se, they’re slickly presented, but they just interrupt the gameplay flow and, at least in us, caused groaning every time they required doing. At least this emission of grunty sounds doesn’t apply to the clever boss battles, with a marvellous array of stationery (sic) foes ranging from coloured pencil boxes to a mega sticky tape dispenser and beyond.
Bopping back to the positive, Paper Mario: The Origami King really nails the out-there humour, from xylophone bridges to singing and dancing trees – and that’s just in the first 15 minutes.
There’s a point where one of the innumerable dialogue boxes declares, “Sure seems like a lot of weird stuff happening”. It sums Paper Mario: The Origami King up wonderfully perfectly. Our disappointment with the RPG elements may seem churlish when the entire Paper Mario series has featured similar challenges, but we still can’t help thinking that this would be a better game without the constant, essentially pointless (save for accruing coins, which can be exchanged for goods and services) ring battle outbreaks.
Oh yeah, we nearly forgot Toad! The more of the little mushy peeps that you free in your travels, the more who’ll be cheering you on from the stands in Wave Battles. This is the one very cool thing about them.
Your mileage may vary, of course, although we’ve an inkling that kids will be on our side. Still, we begrudgingly stuck with the Wave Battles for hours on end, simply because the rest of Paper Mario: The Origami King is just so gosh-darned good.
Paper Mario: The Origami King is available now, exclusively for Switch.