Paper Mario is a well-tested franchise for Nintendo to explore, and the company basically has it down to a science at this point. Ever since the original entry made its way to the Nintendo 64, fans have been conditioned to expect colorful characters, outlandish humor, and an RPG spin from the series. That formula has not changed a bit with the Nintendo Switch's Paper Mario: The Origami King, and that will come as a relief to most fans even if it disappoints a few others.
To set the scene, The Origami King follows Mario and Luigi on a family road trip to Princess Peach's Castle. Toad Town, the outlying city surrounding the castle, is preparing for its annual Origami Festival that has caught their eyes. When the brothers arrive to find the princess missing, they discover a maniacal origami prince named Olly, who rocks blond bangs, has taken over the kingdom.
In order to fold the Mushroom Kingdom in his image, Olly has turned loads of Toads and other characters into origami monsters. The jaded prince seems unbeatable, but Mario teams up with Olly's adorable sister Olivia to bring him down. The pixie princess holds much of The Origami King's heart on her folded shoulders, and I found her to be one of the best additions to the franchise in years.
Of course, the Nintendo Switch has the power to flesh out the paper-thin Mushroom Kingdom, and it does so with clean graphics. Each sheet is crisp with color and the areas that Mario visits are plenty big. The expansive terrain provides lots of challenges for fans to tackle, and they are littered with completionist treats. After all, the game asks players to find all the lost Toads whom Olly tossed away like garbage, and they are everywhere.
And yes, I mean everywhere! They are under rocks, in trees, on walls, and even folded into bugs. The game has plenty of menial tasks to keep fans engaged as they go through the beats of the main story. That isn't even to mention the Not-so-Bottomless Holes scattered around the levels which can be rather tricky to find.
The Origami King also has a perfect blend of emotional plot points and irreverent humor. It cannot be stressed enough that this entry is the funniest to date. The team at Nintendo went all out with pun-filled jokes and sarcasm. Each character you meet is more likely to sass you than save you, and that is refreshing to see. I laughed so hard at one line Olivia that it triggered my asthma, so that should tell you something.
As with any Paper Mario game, this installment does introduce a new gameplay mechanic, and it will endear puzzle fans. When Mario is asked to fight Olly's folded soldiers, he does so by entering a huge circle made up of ringed layers. Each segment of the board can be rotated in a circle or vertically. The goal is to line up the enemies just right so you can deal out maximum damage with the game's various items, and the puzzle is addictive. However, it does take some time to get used to, but the Toads you save along the way can make those battles very easy if you've got the coin to spend.
The Origami King has its fair share of frustrating moments outside of the new battle mechanic. One of my biggest pain points came in the Scorching Desert when a certain conman kidnapped a party member I needed, but I could not figure out their scam. It took me an hour alone to decipher the shady salesman, but the most frustrating element of The Origami King is its lack of RPG innovation.
Paper Mario is easily one of the most beloved franchises to feature the Italian plumber, but it hasn't given many updates to its RPG base. Mario does not gain experience, and while the game does show his progress in other ways, The Origami King lacks customization that comes with increased skill. This becomes apparent towards the end of the game as boss battles grow more difficult... but they aren't all that hard. The final two bosses you encounter were underwhelming in light of some earlier challenging ones.
While The Origami King can feel formulaic at times, the entry does more to reimagine the franchise than not. It won't impress fans who were hoping for a larger RPG focus, but its charming characters and story will keep fans hooked. Paper Mario has never felt so fun than with The Origami King, and its lighthearted feel is the perfect thing for gamers to sit with this summer.
Rating: 5 out of 5
Paper Mario: The Origami King is set to launch for Nintendo Switch on July 17th. A review code was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review, and it was played on a base model Nintendo Switch.
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