To unfold and fold,
An entire world torn apart,
Paper puns are hard.

Ahem, while not the most eloquent haiku ever written, there are more pressing matters at hand, such as the unfolding of the Mushroom Kingdom itself in Paper Mario’s latest barmy adventure for Nintendo Switch.

Has Paper Mario: The Origami King got what it takes to uncrumple our Sticker Star tainted hearts, or is it better off chucking into the waste paper basket? Find out in our review after the break!

Paper Mario: The Origami King
Nintendo Switch
Developed by Intelligent Systems
Published by Nintendo
Released: 17th July 2020
Review copy provided by Nintendo UK

The story begins with Mario and Luigi driving their way to Princess Peach’s castle for the Origami Festival. Arriving in Toad Town, the duo starts to feel concerned as the once-bustling town is now empty and dilapidated. Upon entering the castle, Peach herself comes to meet the heroes, though once again something doesn’t seem quite right… definitely has nothing to do with the fact that she is now an origami figure, not a chance. Either way, after answering a few bizarre questions, you soon find out that Peach definitely is no longer herself.

After being thrown into the dungeon and rescuing a folded up Bowser, as well as another strange yet perky individual, you’ll eventually meet a rather odd yet dashingly handsome bloke, who goes by Olly the Origami King. Olly has infiltrated the castle with a plan to fold the entire word, all inhabitants included, into origami. His first plan of action? Oh, nothing big, just casually tearing up the castle, wrapping it in streamers, and plopping it on top of a volcano! Once again, it is up to Mario to save the day; perhaps it’s also worth pondering if it’s worth holding all these festivals seeing how they always attract trouble.

Luckily, Mario isn’t entirely on his own in this adventure. Remember that perky individual I mentioned earlier, that happens to be Olly’s younger, yet less evil sister, Olivia. Very similar to previous Paper Mario games, Olivia acts as a guidance partner, someone who may offer a nudge in the right direction when called upon; she also allows you the use of some pretty nifty abilities. The first ability you’ll unlock, and one that you’ll be using quite a lot, is the 1000-Fold Arms. If you see an orange Magic Circle, just walk on over to it and press the prompted button to fold up and extend your arms to rip, tear, and knock down parts of the environment to discover new secrets or pathways. This ability does use motion controls, but that can be toggled to more traditional controls at any time in the settings menu. You are also given a confetti bag that you can use to plug up holes, which will sometimes be blocking your path. Olivia can also get in on the fun by transforming into various Vullemental beasts once you’ve defeated each one in battle, which was all very epic and vastly fun to take on.

For the first time since Super Paper Mario (which released in 2007), Origami King features other partners which join your party as you progress through the story. It’s worth mentioning here that they work a little differently compared to previous titles. Unlike previous games, all the partners beyond Olivia only join your party on a temporary basis, in addition to this, they unfortunately do not grant you additional abilities on the field (for the most part) or in battle, I assume this is due to their temporary nature. Though partners do not come without their caveats, I still think they are something pretty special. I love how well they fit into the story as well as how they facilitate progression. Without spoiling too much, I will say that Intelligent Systems does something with partners which hasn’t really been done before in a Paper Mario game and that alone really made me appreciate them further; you’ll know what I’m talking about when you get there.

To some fans, this next subject may be considered a complete outrage, nonetheless, Toads have of course returned, and once again there are loads of them that require saving. Some may feel that Toads have been completely overused in a lot of these games, and I would have to agree to some degree, however I felt that Origami King did a pretty good job at giving them more varied personalities, at least most Toads are actually dressed for the occasion this time.

You will be wanting to save as many Toads as you can though as they will definitely come in handy during your adventure. Some of them unlock different services, such as the Battle Lab or various stores, and the more Toads you save, the more they will help out in battle when called upon. Some of these Toads are hidden pretty well too, I especially love the little origami figures some of them have been folded up into. Luckily there is a tool which can help find the most well-hidden toads. If you are tired of Toads, you’ll probably be happy to hear that not all NPCs are Toads this time round. As Bowser actually isn’t the main villain, a lot of his minions will actually be roaming throughout the world to talk to, and maybe even partner up with. I especially adore the Snifits!

Snapshot from a video capture

Let’s take a moment to talk about the battle system, the system that is seemingly dividing the Paper Mario community. Once initiated, Mario is placed in the middle of four layers of rings while folded soldiers, Bowser’s minions that have been turned into Origami fiends, are scattered across different panels. Before combat, Mario has to rotate the rings and slide panels to move around your foes, if you can sort all the enemies up in a combination of lines or squares, you’ll be granted a 1.5x damage bonus for that round. There are a couple catches to the ring phase however, you’ll only be giving a certain amount of time and ring movements before the hopping and bopping commences.

Boss fights work a little differently in which Mario starts outside the ring and you’ll need to rotate and slide markers to direct Mario towards the middle, or an attack icon. Arrows will change the direction Mario is walking, letters will give you hints on the boss’ weaknesses, blue icons will give you an additional attack, red icons will increase your attack power, and chests will release various items including recovery hearts, coins, and attack panels. There are also panels that allow you to use your 1000-Fold Arms or Olivia’s Vullemental abilities as an attack, though these first have to be turned on by walking over the On panels.

Once the ring phase ends, it is then time to fight. Depending on how many line ups you fulfil will affect how many attacks you can make. From here, you’ll then have to choose whether you want to use your hammer or boots for each attack. Your boots will let you hop across a line of enemies, whereas using your hammer will bop a 2×2 grid of enemies directly in front of you.

As you progress through the world, you’ll likely pick up variations of the weapons you already have, such as the Iron Boots or Shiny Hurlhammer, depending on which you choose will attack enemies in a different way or with more oomph. Be warned, thanks to Nintendo’s recent addiction to breakable weapons, these items too have a limited life expectancy. There are also various items, such as Fire Flowers, POW Blocks, and Mushrooms, which can help you out, and your current partner will also try to perform an attack automatically at the end of your turn. As with other Paper Mario Games, Origami also allows the use of action commands. These essentially allow you to put more welly into your attacks of blocks if you press A at the right time.

Personally, I absolutely love the new ring-based battle system though I do wish the game came with a more diverse range of weapons and items to use. I really enjoyed having to solve these little puzzles, even if I failed miserably in some. Additionally, solving these surely must be working the part of the brain that deals with spatial awareness, I’m sure Dr Kawashima would be impressed; wouldn’t mind seeing him as a boss fight either! As much as I love the battle system, I can see how fans may also disagree, especially if you are not fond of time-based puzzles. To some, the time limit may add too much pressure to line up enemies sufficiently. There are a few accessories you can equip to help you out though, think of them like badges from the original games. Some will increase the amount of time given, whereas others will increase your health. There are also HP+ Hearts you can collect which will increase your health and damage. I feel that if there were an accessory that completely removes the time limit but yields half as many coins as usual, that may put some people at ease.

Another qualm that people may have is that they may find most battles pointless without an EXP progression system. I agree to an extent with this, however it’s worth bearing in mind that coins make a mostly decent alternative. Origami King has quite a rich economy with some pretty pricey weapons, items, and accessories. Luckily the battle payout is pretty high too, giving a bit of an incentive to go into battle. These coins can also be used to increase the timer as many times as you want, or even pay Toads you have rescued to give you a helping hand, they’ll even partially solve the puzzle if the price is right!

If you are still struggling solving puzzles, then may I recommend paying a visit to the Battle Lab once you rescue its owner? The Battle Lab offers various facilities to train your ring-based combat skills. The Ringer presents you with ten puzzles to solve as quickly as you can without failing, if you do fail however, a solution to the puzzle will be revealed so you know how to take it on the next time you encounter it. There are three different difficulties to The Ringer. Speed Rings simply presents you with a random selection of puzzles to complete within a 100 second time limit. If you wish to take on any of the previously encountered bosses, you can head over to the Bossatronic to do just that, you can even take on the Paper Macho Bosses too! Not only do you have access to these facilities, but the Battle Lab will also reward you with a few items which are incredibly useful in battle as you reach specific milestones in the story. One will automatically spend a specified amount of coins per round to extend your timer when it runs out, and the other will offer suggestions on how to solve battle puzzles. Both items are completely optional and can be toggled at any point once they have been obtained.

Not only do I really like the battle system, but I also think the boss fights are a lot of fun too. At first glance, half of them are just gigantic pieces of stationery, yet Intelligent Systems does a fantastic job releasing their potential for boss fights… there’s something I thought I would never say about stationery! Each of these battles, including those outside the League of Stationery, have a lot of strategy involved. Some will use whirlpools to literally wash markers away, others may throw rubber bands to knock you down a layer, and some lay traps that will whoop your paper butt when you pass over them. You have to plan carefully which panels and layers you move, I often got caught into the trap of accidentally moving a marker I didn’t mean to because I wasn’t paying enough attention. You also have to bear in mind that certain bosses need to be attacked in certain ways… you do realise those boots can’t solve all your problems, right? Luckily, most boss fights come with a generous ring phase timer, so I didn’t feel too much pressure having to organise my route that much. Of course, there are still plenty of items to help you out if you do start to struggle.

Not all boss battles are fought on the ring stage, there are also paper mache behemoths known as Paper Macho. These are essentially giant paper mache versions of regular enemies that use the same battle system as a non-RPG Mario game. You’ll need to watch these folks carefully to be able to whack off their King Olly Seal of Approval. Once again, these were all a blast to fight.

Origami King really outdid Colour Splash on the music front, a title which I still think has some of the best tunes in a Paper Mario game. Each track fits perfectly within the environments they represent, and the composers even go the extra mile by creating different variations of each battle music based on the level you are in. One of the biggest reasons the yellow streamer section is my favourite is all down to the music; I really dig that Thills at Night track. Best of all, assuming you’ve been filling those torn out holes with confetti, you can listen to any track from the game in Toad Town’s museum!

Similar to the music, Origami King also has a fantastic range of areas to explore. Some of the levels are absolutely stunning, especially Autumn Mountain and Sandpaper Desert. As ironic as it sounds, there just seems to be so much depth into all the environments, and they look so beautiful on the Nintendo Switch. There are also various puzzles and tasks to complete while progressing through the story. I really enjoyed trekking through the temples and boss areas, at times, it even felt like I was playing a Zelda game; I would definitely love to see Intelligent System’s take on the series.

The way these levels are interconnected with one another is brilliant, the series has finally gone away from using a world map that became the norm since Sticker Star. It is very much appreciated that there are a lot of shortcuts that can be unlocked. Not only is there a Warp Zone in the museum that connects to each streamer once unlocked, but you can also travel to various other important points through services like Fax Travel and the tramline. Previously, backtracking often became tedious and boring in games like The Thousand-Year Door, but these additional services make travelling the world a delight.

Aside from the main adventure, which took me approximately twenty to thirty hours to complete, there are various other activities to take part in too, mainly by populating the Toad Town museum. There are various wings to this museum which can be filled in different ways. Each Toad you rescue will grant you a few Toad Points, these can be exchanged for pieces of concept art. There is also a variety of treasure hidden throughout the game to collect, and if you perform enough difficult feats, such as collecting EVERY coin down the river rapids, you’ll also unlock some trophies too. There are also various minigames to play, such as the shuriken dojo, fishing, and scuffle island. Essentially, there’s tons to do outside the main story.

Paper Mario games are known for their fantastic writing, and Origami King definitely doesn’t disappoint. There’s just so much personality crammed into each and every character, even simple pieces of stationery aren’t exempt… by the way, Rubber Band is a total diva! I quickly grew a fondness for every interaction I made to the point where I was willing to speak to every single NPC, something I rarely do in a widely populated RPG. I also found that ridiculously brilliant things would develop just out of nowhere; I honestly live for that. Throughout the kingdom, you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll even boogie!

Paper Mario: The Origami King isn’t The Thousand-Year Door, nor is it Sticker Star, I feel it is something else entirely, something that combines a bunch of the best parts from the franchise and does something brand new. Sure, it doesn’t land all of its hits as eloquently, but I can at least see they are trying, and I honestly think Intelligent Systems is doing a good job. The ring-based combat system definitely won’t be for everyone, I may enjoy it, but someone else may not, especially if you aren’t fond of time-based puzzles mixing with combat. There is still a lot of fun to be had in this hugely beautiful world full of personality and wit, and would recommend at least giving this title a chance.

Final rating – 4 out of 5

Paper Mario: The Origami King is out now exclusively for Nintendo Switch family systems.

Leon Fletcher

I am a huge Nintendo fan, hence why NintyBuzz exists. I especially love all things Zelda and Metroid. NintyBuzz was started by me back in the Summer of 2014, it started out mainly as a hobby, though the site has gradually grown, and I hope it grows for many years to come!