The horrible Origami King Oly has taken over the world of Paper Mario. He has begun folding all of its paper residents into his origami slaves, in the hopes of showing the world how wonderful being folded can be. Using mystical streamers, he has spirited away Peach’s castle and it’s up to Mario, his sister Olivia, and a bunch of new companions to save the day.
As usual Paper Mario: The Origami King is a bit of a tongue-in-cheek game, and that’s one of its major strengths. It consistently takes potshots at the Mario fanbase and gamers in general, with one enemy going as far as to say “you were better as a side-scroller.” If I were to base The Origami King on its wit and writing alone, it’d get a perfect score.
But unfortunately, there’s a game here… and that’s where things start to get sticky like a dropped glue-stick.
What is this game?
The Origami King is a lot of things. It’s a puzzle game. It’s a mini-game compilation. It’s a hidden object game. What it’s not, however, is an RPG. Not even a little. Not even close. Yes, damage is done in numbers and yes, there is something like items and equipment, but all of this is just a vague façade over a game where all the things you would usually do in an RPG really don’t matter.
Don’t get me wrong, Paper Mario doesn’t need to be an RPG to be good. One of my favorites was Super Paper Mario for Wii, and that was basically a platformer. The issue is not that The Origami King isn’t an RPG. The issue is that it’s not an RPG even though it’s trying to be, and that holds back a lot of its better parts, like the stellar writing and music.
Let’s look at a few examples. You probably heard by now that there is no XP system in The Origami King. The only thing you get from battles is coins. The issue is that you also get a TON of coins from just wandering around the overworld and progressing the story. I consistently had tens to hundreds of thousands of coins without even trying.
Now the battle system itself is cool. Basically every enemy is positioned on a number of concentric rings and you shift them around to line them up and take them all out at once. Solve the puzzle and you’ll easily take every enemy out. Don’t, and they will survive and attack you. Do very well, and you’ll get extra coin bonuses.
Which is cool… except as I said before, you are overflowing with coins even if you don’t take part in battle. This makes battles nothing more than a nuisance, which means the correct thing to do at the start of every battle is just run unless you are running short on coins, which you won’t be.
And this, this right here, is the one weakness which causes everything else in The Origami King start to crumble.
There are a lot of delightful things to do in The Origami King. The major “sidequest” is to rescue a bunch of hidden Toads. Each one you rescue eventually shows up in the stands during battle and you can “cheer” for them to heal you and give you items and deal damage to the enemies for you. Except, as I said before, battles are best when avoided.
Many of them will also return to Toad Town to set up shops that will sell you weapons and accessories. Weapons are really more like items, in that they are used in battle and break eventually, going away forever. They increase your damage or give you special properties, like being able to jump on spikey enemies without getting hurt. Except you never have to use them because your basic attacks finish off enemies provided you solved the ring battle puzzles correction… and again battles are best when avoided. Accessories also increase your stats slightly, but there are only 18 accessories in the entire game and you can easily buy them without getting into a single random battle. So with no real reason to battle and no real need for coins, there’s no real impetus for finding Toads.
Another sidequest has you filling up holes in the environment with confetti. Doing so gets you… coins… which once again you are never in need of.
Another has you opening chests for collectible statues of the game assets you’ve already seen. These do nothing and are blatant asset re-use. Unless you are a completionist you can skip them.
This means that Paper Mario: The Origami King is best played while making a beeline straight for the game’s bosses and encounters. These are also interesting, as you use the ring system to build a path from Mario to the boss, powering up using the icons he steps on along the way. The thing is, these encounters are completely independent of your equipment, as the most damage can always be done through special ability tiles strewn around the map, which don’t increase in power based on what you are carrying. Once again, coins are useless even in boss fights.
I cannot stress enough how hard the game stumbles to this one hitch in the progression system. Nintendo could have done a lot of things to improve. They could have made coins less plentiful on the world map. They could have made enemies tougher, making your equipment more important. They could have… just given us XP. However, as it stands there’s basically no reason to interact with The Origami King. It’s most fun when you play the least of it, which means skipping battles, paying to complete puzzles, and avoiding sidequests.
But here’s the weird thing. That doesn’t mean it’s not fun. In fact, if you do speedrun this game like a maniac, it’s a TON of fun.
Sights and sounds
You see, everything else about The Origami King is exactly what you want. The writing is on point. Every third line is another joke. Some are corny but some are genuinely laugh out loud funny.
The environments are fantastic. In fact, this is a Paper Mario game with an emphasis on the paper. It feels more at home with the “craft” series, like Kirby’s Epic Yarn and Yoshi’s Crafted World than in the “Mario RPG” series. It’s great to see whole environments made out of papercraft, especially since the origami theme has given everything a slightly Japanese influence.
Oh speaking of Japanese influence: the soundtrack. This soundtrack is AMAZING. From the relaxing calms, you get walking through fields, to fantastic battle remixes, of which there is a different them for EVERY different area of the game including dungeons, to the tense parts which suddenly amp everything up with some kickin' guitar lines. It’s just fantastic.
Here's the thing though, Paper Mario: The Origami King does not, in any way, reward you for playing it. So many games try to craft this reward cycle where everything you do gives you a reason to move forward and keep playing. Not so with The Origami King. You fight battles only if you want to. You engage with sidequests only if you want to. Everything that makes this game what it is, is experienced on an “only if you want to” basis. You can just head from boss to boss and your play experience would only be the smallest bit different from someone who grinded at every possible point.
Is that a good thing? Is it a bad thing? I’m not sure. It’s certainly an experimental thing. Most games I feel like I have to play start to finish before I pick another one up, but not The Origami King. It was almost a non-entity in my life, able to be played alongside any other game or activity. It just existed.
While that might be preferable to people who use their Switch more casually, it also prevents The Origami King from being anything like the most well-known, loved, and revered Paper Mario titles, the original and The Thousand Year Door. It is far more engaging than Color Splash or Sticker Star though. It COULD have been an amazing game… but Nintendo doesn’t seem interested in that. They don’t want to make epic Mario RPGs anymore, even simple ones. They want to make simple, easy to pick up, easy to put down, casual experiences, and The Origami King is definitely that.