The new paper adventure in the test
The first Paper Mario game actually only came on the market in the 21st century, albeit admittedly at the beginning of the century. The series feels much older, but that is probably only because it has become an absolute hit since its beginnings on the N64 in August 2000. From then on, different branches of the series found their way onto absolutely every stationary Nintendo console and it is therefore not surprising that Nintendo is now delighting the Switch with a new Paper Mario game. Just a month before the original’s 20th birthday, we can dive back into Mario’s paper universe with The Origami King. The title promises royal origami pleasure. Our test reveals whether this is really the case.
The story of The Origami King can be summarized relatively easily: Mario and Luigi are on the go with a kart to visit Princess Peach in their castle on the outskirts of Toad Town. The two brothers were invited to celebrate the origami festival with her, but before entering the castle it becomes clear that something is wrong. The entire palace and surrounding areas were raided by Olly, the Origami king who gave the title. The villain literally folded up and dragged the princess and Bowser away. He then turns Bowser’s sidekick into so-called henchmen before he quickly wraps the castle with colorful streamers and then transports it to the top of an active volcano – wherever else. To stop him, our favorite plumber joins forces with Olly’s little sister Olivia, who will accompany him from now on and supported with a lot of optimism and drive. Together they want to liberate the country from the bad cardboard comrades, put the castle back in its original place and of course save Princess Peach.
As is typical for Nintendo, the story is more a means to an end than really exciting entertainment, however, as in every Paper Mario game, there are innumerable funny dialogues that can have a lot of fun with lots of word jokes and creative sayings even without a speech. Many of these sayings come from Olivia, who like Navi in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is always buzzing around Mario and at the push of a button – or even without pushing a button – she gives well-intentioned advice and funny anecdotes. Like a good Pixar or Dreamworks film, The Origami King captivates with a charm that should appeal to both children and adults, although the game is clearly aimed at a younger target group. It is a shame, however, that apart from the nice main story, the sayings on the side and a few mini-games, there are practically no general actions. Sure, Paper Mario hasn’t been a thoroughbred RPG series for a long time, but one or two side quests would have done The Origami King good, especially given the more or less open world in which everything takes place.
Not only are the jokes flat here
Speaking of the open world: The world through which Mario moves consists of five imaginatively designed sub-worlds, all of which are connected by warp tubes and are not very large, but very compact. There are interesting, sometimes insane places to discover everywhere. So it can happen that Mario stumbles into a small café in the middle of a dungeon, where classic Mario opponents like Shy-Guy or Gumba withdraw from their stressful everyday life. A sub-world comes as a whole amusement park. All of this is presented in a colorful mix of typical Paper Mario characters, paper mache objects or creatures and folded elements. The latter make up the largest part of the game in terms of quantity, and so the surroundings are stylistically reminiscent of titles such as Yoshi’s Crafted World or the Tearaway series. Nintendo shows a lot of attention to detail here and this is how every area really looks as if it were actually made from folded or rolled paper. Even gold coins consist of yellow paper discs that were glued to corrugated cardboard.
When Mario strikes trees or flowers with his hammer, it rains colorful confetti that can be used to fill holes in the cardboard backdrops. These openings allow the player to see a wire frame that is hidden under the paper world. Closed holes allow Mario to enter previously impassable areas to advance the main story or to find one of countless collectibles. Most of these collectibles are not really items, but toads that have been folded up by Olly and hidden in various places. Some of the toads have been literally slid into or between the landscape and are very easy to find, while others require smaller puzzles to be solved. The good-natured mushroom heads are really hidden everywhere, and so the game more or less forces game players to knock off every stone and blade of grass, with a bell and a toad radar that make this hard work easier. Some saved Toads are traders and then sell items to Mario at stands that can be used during fights, but most Toads serve as audiences for those fights. In plain language this means: The more Toads we save, the more spectators we have in the fight against Olly’s villains. This not only looks funnier and increases motivation, but also makes sense in a playful way, because Mario can pay for powerful help from the audience.
In the wrestling match
For the turn-based battles, the developers have come up with a completely new system. When Mario encounters an opponent, the action changes into a kind of arena, from the center of which our plumber acts. Each arena consists of four concentric circles, and the rings thus created each consist of several fields, which are arranged in a radiation pattern in the arena. The opponents always come in groups of at least four fighters and must be sorted by moving the fields or turning the rings before each attack. We only have a limited amount of time to do this, but gold coins can be used for a more generous time limit and special brooches that Mario can carry with them also provide more time or other bonuses.
Enemies standing in blocks of four can be fought with the hammer by Mario. In contrast, he jumps on opponents standing in rows of four on the head. At first, that sounds very simple, but there are usually more than just four opponents in an arena and the overview can go down the drain. Certain opponents also require certain items or procedures. For example, Mario cannot just jump on red spiked armor – this can only be done with iron shoes. It is a little frustrating that these items, which are needed in the battles, have to be activated in the main menu beforehand. If you do not do this, you may have iron shoes or similar items in your inventory, but you cannot use them in a fight.
Basically, Mario is always in a position to defeat all existing opponents in a single attack wave by cleverly manipulating the arena and using suitable items and attack patterns. If he does not succeed, it is the opponents’ turn. Of course, these try to subtract Mario from as many strength points (KP) as possible, whereby Mario can block attacks by pressing the A key in time. Mario gets confetti and gold coins for a successful fight. Bonus payments are made, for example, when our plumber did not have to take any hits himself. Incidentally, there are no experience points.
Mario X Zelda
Mario starts his adventure with 50 power points, but can expand them by finding big red hearts almost like in the Zelda series. Equipped with more power points, he can eliminate weaker opponents later in the game without having to go into the arena. Small hearts fill up the KP display again, the same applies to red mushrooms, which are used like potions. Green mushrooms, on the other hand, function like fairies in bottles and serve to revive them. In general, Paper Mario: The Origami King comes across almost like a mixture of a classic Mario platformer and a Zelda game. As in Hyrule, there are different shops and characters that Mario can talk to. Apart from the graphic style and the residents, Toad Town would also feel at home in a Zelda game, for example. There are also temples that are somewhat reminiscent of old Zelda dungeons and each end in a boss fight.
Even in these fights, the game uses circular arenas, but the procedure is fundamentally different. Mario is no longer in the center of the arena, but the boss in question. Mario’s task is to manipulate the arena from above in such a way that he can use arrows to advance to the enemy. He then attacks various weak points at predetermined points of attack or at so-called folding circles until the final boss blesses the timing. The boss fights are again much more tactical than the normal fights and are like self-contained puzzles that loosen up the usual combat that can become boring after a while.
The folding circles mentioned above always occur outside of boss fights. Here Mario grows long paper arms with which he can firmly grasp and hit or tear away parts of the game world. Toads, hidden paths or items appear behind cardboard walls. The switch’s gyro sensors are used by default to move the arms, but the movement control is not really precise and offers no added value. Fortunately, it can be turned off in the main menu. Apart from that, Mario always controls himself perfectly and the other aspects of the technology offer little room for criticism. The graphics are not jerky, the loading times are nice and short, the soundtrack fits perfectly to the action. The latter can even surprise you with some familiar melodies from old Mario games. It is saved automatically before important scenes or when changing a sub-world, otherwise at save points that are marked with a brightly colored block.
Paper Mario: The Origami King is playfully anything but bad, but also not a revelation. The straightforward story is little more than a means to an end. The new combat system is also getting old relatively quickly and, due to a variety of help, as well as the simple puzzles, rarely offers a challenge until late in the second half of the game. But regardless of that, the game is highly entertaining. That’s because Paper Mario: The Origami King is bursting with creative ideas and surprises. Behind every bend there is a new place where new secrets have to be revealed. The world has been lovingly designed with lots of little details and the crazy dialogues and funny characters are super amusing in a child-like way – not to mention the dance and singing interludes and cool mini-games. It’s just fun exploring the paper world and chatting with Olivia and other crazy companions.
Paper Mario: The Origami King is a simple, beginner-friendly adventure; a good mood game that offers entertaining entertainment for around 30 hours and is almost fully recommended for young or young at heart Nintendo friends.