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Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Paper Mario: The Origami King Review. How does it compare to Color Splash?

By LUDWIG VON KOOPA - I try to unfold this Paper Mario game.

Once upon a time, a game called Paper Mario: The Origami King came out. I was asked to write a review on it. After sitting on the request for ten months, I've decided to now do so.

Unlike its prequel, Paper Mario: Color Splash, there wasn't a big gap between Paper Mario: The Origami King being announced (May 14, 2020) and when it was released (July 17, 2020). Just two months, really.

I 100%ed the game a very long time ago. As in, around August 29, 2020. (I have a date because I publicly bragged about it.) That's given me a long-term perspective on Paper Mario: The Origami King that isn't influenced by a honeymoon period. ...Well, the real reason I didn't write this review in a more timely fashion is because I don't like writing reviews, but it's also given me time to think about what I think about Paper Mario: The Origami King. If you read the following review and want to know even more, please comment in the comments section!

This review avoids spoilers as much as possible.

Fast Facts

Name
Paper Mario: The Origami King
Console
Nintendo Switch
Developer and Publisher
Intelligent Systems and Nintendo
Genre
Action-Adventure
Space Required
About 29 MB of update data; 8.3 MB of save data; digital download is 6.5 GB
ESRB rating
E, for mild cartoon violence
Number of Players
One
Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price
59.99
Demo?
None

The Story, Characters, and Writing

Once upon a contemporary time, Princess Peach holds an origami festival in Toad Town. Surely, she's learned that holding once-in-a-whatever events like this in Toad Town is a bad idea? ...Of course not. Princess Peach is actually held captive by King Olly of the Origami Kingdom, a place very much unlike the Mushroom Kingdom. Olly wants to rule over the paper world, and he also holds King Bowser and his minions captive as well. Olly's good-hearted sister, Olivia, unites with that punk plumber Mario, and for one of the very few times in his life, Mario (and Luigi) actually do heroic things that Koopa Kingdom approves of and leads the remaining paper residents against this origami threat. He has to return to Princess Peach's castle, which was placed high on top of a volcano by five coloured streamers. (Like, giant ribbons, not some Twitch diversity initiative.)

As a result of this alliance, Mario has far more friends in Origami King than in Color Splash, when he really only had Toads who were degenerate enough to consider him a person worth speaking to. King Bowser's remaining paper army, as well as many other paper characters, will also chat with Mario and sometimes directly cooperate with him (see gameplay below). Basically everyone has some kind of extremely witty quip to offer, with the franchise's humour once again showing up for hundreds of quotable lines. The game rewards you for doing pro-social behaviour, rare for a Mario game, such as visiting the first character you'd meet in a chapter at the end of the chapter (which requires several minutes of back-tracking) or for parking your car in the designated spot when you're able to park it anywhere. There is a lot of thought and attention to detail put into the world of Origami King and I find that pleasing.

Paper Mario The Origami King Snif City nice job parking Boot Car
People appreciate when you use up the only parking spot in the city, as opposed to leaving your car somewhere else.

Paper Mario The Origami King Whispering Woods beginning tree did you come back here just to talk to me
This tree is totally out of the way to return to in Whispering Woods, and they greatly appreciate the conversation.


Pro-social behaviour vs. anti-social behaviour is actually a major theme throughout Paper Mario: The Origami King. While there is the front-and-centre story is about King Olly and the Origami invasion, the extended Mushroom Kingdom has had many problems long before the Origami were ever involved, and much of Paper Mario: The Origami King's background story goes into that. Basically, Toads are awful, nasty people and have created many problems (for other Toads, for other species) but generally aren't held accountable for them. Mario rescues them, but they're more allies of necessity, not because they deserve it. If you pay attention to the details and read between the lines, you can understand a lot of King Olly's motivations and perhaps even agree with them. ...Well, there's something to be said about his motivations, but that's quite spoilery, so I'll stop there. But let's say that if you're a Paper Mario fan who hates all of the Toads in Paper Mario: Sticker Star and Paper Mario: Color Splash, Paper Mario: The Origami King will give you a lot to think about.

But with regards to the main storyline, despite the game returning to joined areas without an overworld map (again, see Gameplay below), the game is quite linear. You will be actively stopped from straying and exploring where the story does not want you to by some obstacle or another, including the physical streamers themselves. The linearity is in service of strengthening the story, but it does make the gameplay shift a farce.


As for the quality of the writing and storytelling, it's probably the best since Super Paper Mario, if not the best in the whole series. While I'd say line-by-line humour is slightly stronger in Paper Mario: Color Splash, the fact I just wrote about overarching themes encompassing the whole game makes The Origami King more ambitious. By comparison, Paper Mario: Color Splash is more character-driven, and some people might prefer that.

As for how much I like the characters... well, the likes of the Koopa Kingdom cast (Koopalings not included) have far bigger speaking and active story roles here than in previous games that introduced newer characters, so I'm very biased to be favourable towards that. Olivia is fine. There's a specific character that The Origami King tried to have a very character-driven side story and development with, but while I see a lot of fans think it was done amazingly... I'm less convinced and think that part is very overrated. In fact, I was glad when that character was no longer part of the story. I don't HATE them or anything, but... I don't like them.


Graphics

Did you like Paper Mario: Color Splash's graphics? Then Paper Mario: The Origami King is pretty much more of the same, but maybe marginally better somehow because it's on the Switch? But there's a big difference this time: the character designs of the origami characters. And they are... quite hideous compared to the paper characters. That's intentional, of course. They are an invading and unnatural force, after all.

Paper Mario The Origami King Folded Soldiers Hammer Bros. Shy Guy Goomba Bowser's Castle dinner table
These Folded Soldiers are disgusting. I'm happy to endorse their destruction.

Besides the blights on society that are the origami, the environments are colourful and bright and clear. While Color Splash focused on painting white spots, Origami King focuses on filling gaps in the environment with confetti. It's a lot easier to notice these gaps (see screenshot above... they're black and have unnatural things inside) than it is to notice the white spots, so props to Origami King for figuring that out.

Music and Sound

Paper Mario: The Origami King already won KoopaTV's Best OST of 2020 award. In additionally, we advertised a fan-made concert production for it, Line Them Up! A Paper Mario Concert. The fact that well over 100 artists came together to make such an event is itself a testament to the quality of the game's soundtrack. It's filled (according to one OST video, it's about eight hours of music) with a lot of one-off tracks that have a lot of effort put into them, though the game's reoccurring themes (like standard battle and area music) are excellent.

Limiting myself to the early game to minimise spoilers, listen to Overlook Tower for an exploration theme:


As for the battle music, even Nintendo wanted you to listen to it, since they actually posted the Red Streamer Battle theme on Twitter:



The Red Streamer part of that name means, yes, there are different battle themes for different areas of the world. They follow the same tune, but are heavily remixed and with local instruments. Origami King goes into guitar riffs more than any other game in the Super Mario franchise, especially with some of its boss music.

With regards to comparing the soundtracks of The Origami King and Paper Splash, my preference is whichever one I've listened to more recently. For the purposes of this review, I'd favour The Origami King's soundtrack, if only slightly.


Gameplay

I will split “gameplay” into the same headings I did for Paper Mario: Color Splash, since they're all applicable to Paper Mario: The Origami King.

The Battle System


Just like for Paper Mario: Color Splash, how Paper Mario: The Origami King handles combat is the most controversial aspect. Just to get this out of the way, every enemy you fight is 3D origami and you never fight paper, so I'm quite convinced that the ring battle system is canonically justified as Mario unravelling the origami folds in a way that Mario wouldn't need to do for 2D paper foes like in previous games.

We knew from the trailers how it works. For standard combat, Mario and his traveling non-Olivia partner, if he has one, stands in the centre of a big ring, which has four rows and twelve columns. Gone is the Mario + partner versus line of enemies format from previous Paper Mario titles. Mario gets a certain number of ring adjustments per turn, mostly two to three. Groups of four or eight enemies will appear at a time, and Mario needs to adjust the ring by sliding a column or sliding a row so the enemies get into either a Jump formation (four enemies along a column or line) or a Hammer formation (a 2x2 group of enemies, or two enemies each on the inner two rows). Mario is on a timer to solve the puzzle. Once the adjustments are made, Mario can then attack multiple times a turn (usually) with Boots or Hammer, which never expire, or he can use a fancier weapon that will break eventually, but not right away. These all require Action Commands, as does guarding against enemies. There are only a set number of enemy formations in the game, and with enough practice at the Battle Lab, you'll be able to recognise them and complete the puzzles efficiently. As you might expect, the puzzles get more complicated as the game goes on. There are accessories and difficulty settings you can adjust to make puzzles much easier, or you can spend coins to have Toads solve them for you.


Paper Mario The Origami King Sidesteppers crabs Sea Tower battle start
You can see accessories and the Ring layout in this battle versus Sidesteppers.


Since there are many enemies on the field at once, they're fairly dynamic in their attacks, sometimes even doing group attacks. However, it's unusual to have to encounter these, because if you solve each positional “puzzle” correctly, you really should end most battles in one turn. The higher-power optional weapons are really if you screw up. See, when you solve the puzzle correctly and the enemies are lined up in the formations they should be, Mario will get a 1.5x attack boost, which is often enough to OHKO or 2HKO enemies at any point in the game. That means you use the more powerful weapons when you fail the puzzle but still want to end the battle that turn. (Occasionally you'll also use things like Fire/Ice Flowers or Hammers for elemental weaknesses.) Alternatively, you use them for boss battles.

Boss battles change how the ring battles work by placing Mario outside of the ring, while the boss is in the centre.

Mario has to adjust the ring to run along arrowed pathways to get to the boss in the centre and attack, picking things (some extraneous, like coins and hearts... some very necessary to progress in the fight and solve the puzzle) up along the way while dealing with environmental hazards. This is basically a whole other battle system than the normal one, and it requires a lot more thought. You can't just brute force your way through the bosses. It's a highlight. It'd be a pain if the whole game was like that, though.


Paper Mario The Origami King Bobby bob-omb tram special moves
Sometimes the story will have companions accompany you through an area. (But not through all areas...)
They can help out in battle, but you can't control their actions, and they move after you.
They really are just around to clean up after Mario if he hasn't wiped out the Origami. Sometimes.


Your rewards for completing basic combat are confetti (which you can also get from whacking the environment with your hammer) and coins. There's no character progression advanced through combat, unlike Paper Mario: Color Splash's experience points that could increase paint capacity. Enemy encounters are still based on running up to them (or them running up to you) in the overworld and can be largely avoided. However, there are a few reasons why you'd want to seek out combat anyway.

Oh, there is also another form of combat against “paper macho” beings, and this takes place exclusively in the overworld with Mario needing to dodge their patterns and hammer their weak points. They're even creepier than normal origami, but they also aren't really fun and I don't understand their gameplay existence, since the game would've been just fine without these.


Exploration


As I wrote before, exploration is quite different in Paper Mario: The Origami King compared to its predecessor. While Color Splash and Sticker Star had you choose from levels in an overworld map, Origami King has Mario walk around to get from place to place. (Or take a warp-pipe or fax machine after already visiting a location... to certain places.) But there are many things to find in that space aside from enemies.

Paper Mario The Origami King purple streamer map Full Moon Island
Despite this being a map screen, you can't just jump from point to point from here. You got to manually travel on foot (or boat, in this case).
But the map is handy to know relative locations of areas, as well as completion rates.


Specifically, you'll want to bash every ? block, fill every (not-)bottomless hole with confetti, rescue all of the Toads, and collect every treasure. If exploring every nook and cranny of the environment does not interest you, do not play Paper Mario: The Origami King. It's a hollow experience gameplay-wise if you aren't playing for completionism.

Fortunately, the museum (Musée Champignon) is dramatically improved over Paper Mario: Color Splash's Prisma Museum. You only have to encounter/beat an enemy for them to show up in the museum, as opposed to Color Splash's RNG-based card capture system. In fact, while a lot of the ways to complete Paper Mario: Color Splash 100% involve luck, The Origami King's completion is based on skill and it's the most straight forward and least frustrating to do. That doesn't mean it's easy. You'll have to master the minigames like Shy Guys Finish Last, which is... quite difficult. And you'll also have to master the game's Ring system as well.

The game's environments are more than just set pieces to find hidden things. They're nice to look at... though when you are just walking through them after having found everything (or when you're backtracking because you missed just one thing deep in a dungeon somewhere that you need to walk all the way to—which is not an uncommon occurrence), then suddenly it feels like there is a lot of empty space and Color Splash's are tighter and more pleasant to traverse. I don't see any benefits to the change.

The game has overworld areas as well as dungeon areas. Dungeons tend to have puzzles of various sorts. The Origami King has a trick where if you fail a puzzle several times, it becomes easier. For example, if you're supposed to memorise a certain safe path through an otherwise menacing terrain, but you keep hitting the hazards, the safe path might expand or give you more time to memorise it. In some instances where I guess the developers knew they had a tough puzzle on their hands, like a sliding puzzle, you can just ask Olivia to clear a puzzle for you. (Which I never asked her to do, but the option was there.)

Instead of putting Things in areas, Mario will find Magic Circles throughout the environment. With Olivia's help, he can stand on them to either activate the 1,000-Fold Arms to move things, or the power of elemental Vellumentals to change the environment. Those Magic Circles are also key to boss fights, by the way.


Paper Mario The Origami King Musée Champignon museum all Trophies completed
I'm just showing off with this screenshot.
If you don't take pride in this sort of thing, don't buy the game at full price. You won't get your money's worth.

Economy


So why gather coins? Coins can buy you those aforementioned special weapons (or health-restoring Mushrooms) to make combat easier. Coins are required for some of the trophies above. And perhaps most importantly, you need coins to buy collectibles (some can get very expensive) and accessories to help make finding collectibles easier, like the Treasure Alert that will notify Mario when a treasure is nearby. (There are those kinds of items for all the other categories of findables, too.) There are also accessories for increasing Mario's HP, increase his defence while blocking, and add more time to ring adjustments.

Even if you want to use a lot of special weapons, you should find plenty in ? Blocks for your needs. Not as plentiful as when the whole combat system depended on it like Color Splash, but since they aren't one-use (but aren't infinite-use, either), you can hoard them appropriately. You can also use coins to have Toads solve puzzles for you, but that usually will result in a net coin loss because the coins you get after a battle won't cover the coins used to pay off the Toads. You'll get bonus coins for solving the puzzles by yourself and correctly. You'll never need to grind for coins or for anything in Paper Mario: The Origami King, which is a positive change from Color Splash.

Conclusion

I was specifically asked for this review to compare Paper Mario: The Origami King with Paper Mario: Color Splash, and note areas of improvement and areas of stepping back. The improvements between games are marginal... until you get to the gameplay and combat system. How you like that will determine which game you like more. Overall, I like Color Splash more because, while neither game should be considered a JRPG, at least Color Splash resembles one more... and the exploration is overall better. While Paper Mario: The Origami King isn't a “must-play” game, it's still a satisfying romp!


Ludwig 100%ed the game in 50 hours or more, though you could easily do so in less time if you wanted to play efficiently. He didn't use a guide (with the exception of Shy Guys Finish Last's Sudden Death round, which was not game design that he appreciated) or the game's lower-difficulty mercy options. You're free to say that Ludwig is biased against Origami King because he doesn't appear in it.

10 comments :

  1. ...Ooooookay. Most of this review is good, but I was shocked to see not just one, but TWO glaring inaccuracies in the first paragraph. First, arguably the "Origami Kingdom" isn't really a real place--it's what Olly wants to turn the Mushroom Kingdom INTO. There wasn't really one that pre-existed.

    Second, the streamers don't hold Peach's Castle afloat for the whole game...they do lift it up and carry it to the top of a volcano, but it's only in midair in transit.

    It miiiiight have been a good idea for you to have replayed the game just a little while actually writing this, because I think a thing or two got jumbled in your memory there.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "This review avoids spoilers as much as possible."

      Nintendo.com description:

      "After investigating the eerily empty town, the duo finds a fearsome (and folded) Princess Peach—she’s been turned into origami by King Olly, ruler of the Origami Kingdom! With five giant streamers under his control, King Olly binds Princess Peach’s Castle and transports it to a distant mountain as part of his plan to re-fold the world."

      If you wanna doubt the existence of the Origami Kingdom in a spoiler-averse review, take it up with Nintendo.com.

      I mean, I figure the streamers do something non-trivial for structural support. Otherwise, why was the whole game around ripping them apart?

      I'll have you know I took the Sidestepper screenshot just for this review so I could remind myself of particulars around the battle system.

      Delete
    2. Ok, I'll concede the Origami Kingdom thing is Nintendo's stupid and not yours. But if the streamers did something for structural support, then removing all 5 would be harmful in some way and it's not. I'm pretty sure they just block the door. Which is pretty dumb, but meh.

      Delete
    3. I dunno, maybe Team Origami decided to do something with the castle as they noticed the streamers disappearing and make it less reliant on said streamers.

      But, yeah, I'd like to look into wot exactly the streamers actually do, and wot Team Paper thought they do.

      Delete
  2. Alright! Thanks for doing this! Now I’ve got some of my own opinions to share. So let’s jump right into it!


    Story

    The story was still very much lessened compared to games of yesteryear, but that’s okay. I can’t remember exactly, but I think that my initial thought for the main villains motivations was of complete annoyance. That part could have been revised as I’m pretty sure the reason was just stupid. It also felt like the last couple of streamers were gotten right after each other. Better pacing there would have been nice but otherwise I found the story acceptable enough. Better than sticker stars, about on par with color splash.

    On a side note I also backtracked and went back to visits the trees, and they look so much simpler than other paper Mario trees. Guess everyone got the “toad treatment”. Still enjoyed the song.


    Graphics

    Good as always. I do miss how buildings used to unfold themselves, but maybe that was something only really possible on the n64. Much more data to account for now.

    Music

    Music is AMAZING. I feel kinda sad that paper Mario has lost its weirdish sound that came with the first three games, but this new sound it’s got is pretty great too. I vividly remember pausing the game and going onto YouTube to listen to the autumn mountain battle theme. I had never done that ever before. The catchiness of these songs is on a whole mother level. Shogun studios, rubber bands intro, unsettling battle theme, so many great tunes. One thing I hope will return is different battle themes in different areas, or at least different variations of the same theme. I loved color splash’s battle theme but I know many people didn’t. Considering you lol be hearing the battle theme around half of the game, it’s a good idea to change it up every so often.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Characters

      At first I absolutely HATED Olivia. Fortunately I grew to like her, but I spent a lot of the early game worrying I wasn’t gonna be able to. Since Mario is mute, Olivia does a looooooooooot of talking. I still like Huey better. The other characters are interesting, but still shallow. The dialogue is funny, but the characters could be interchanged without really any difference. The amnesiac was interesting, but his gimmick was kind of annoying. Hard to get entirely attached when you literally have no personality to account for. The professor I enjoyed and was sad to see go. Maybe because it was the only character who really connected to the story at hand. The captain felt incredibly unnecessary. All these problems had the potential to be fixed if they were to join the party permanently, especially if the amount of party members was kept the same.

      This game made me realize just how much I miss the Peach only sections of the last paper Mario games. Or the Count Bleck monologue sections of super. There’s nothing to break up the usual pace of the story, no refreshing distraction/insight of a different caliber. Oh well.


      Gameplay

      It’s okay. I get the feelingly they’ll be changing the battle system for the next game, so I’m not too torn up. The ring system is unique but there really isn’t much strategy involved once you memorize the initial puzzles. Timed hits have less importance than they used to, thanks to that attack boost.
      It’s frustrating something to think that the battle system is more about solving puzzles than battling. Since nearly every enemy dies in one turn, there’s usually no need to even consider the counterattack or who to take out first. Compared to the first two papar Mario’s where you actually have to pay attention to who your attacking as you can only deal so much damage in a turn. That’s one of the best parts about paper Mario, damage dealt isn’t just some random number in the hundreds, you actually know the exact attacks necessary to take down the enemy as fast and productively as possible. But those were the old days, yada yada.

      The overworld is pretty good. No complaints. Finding the toads was very enjoyable to me, and completing every area 100% in terms of boxes and toads was also very satisfying. The confetti holes were indeed easier to find than the paint spots from color splash, but felt entirely shoehorned in here. I mean the reason those girls even exist is cause of some mindless paper Mache monsters. I actually liked those things, but it’s not like they had anything to do with anything at all.

      The “badge” system this game has is kinda lame but did give temporary joy. I liked that coins actually had a purpose, because it’s not like you ever Really had to heal. Another side note, somtimes Charecters

      At first I absolutely HATED Olivia. Fortunately I grew to like her, but I spent a lot of the early game worrying I wasn’t gonna be able to. Since Mario is mute, Olivia does a looooooooooot of talking. I still like Huey better. The other characters are interesting, but still shallow. The dialogue is funny, but the characters could be interchanged without really any difference. The amnesiac was interesting, but his gimmick was kind of annoying. Hard to get entirely attached when you literally have no personality to account for. The professor I enjoyed and was sad to see go. Maybe because it was the only character who really connected to the story at hand. The captain felt incredibly unnecessary. All these problems had the potential to be fixed if they were to join the party permanently, especially if the amount of party members was kept the same.

      This game made me realize just how much I miss the Peach only sections of the last paper Mario games. Or the Count Bleck monologue sections of super. There’s nothing to break up the usual pace of the story, no refreshing distraction/insight of a different caliber. Oh well.

      Delete
    2. Another side note, somtimes the world feels a bit flat and plain. No pun intended. the world feels a bit flat and plain. No pun intended. The backgrounds arrant as fanatical as past games and I wish they made the ground more uneven. I really enjoyed the big hill area of the first area, but they never really do anything like that again. Sure they did the desert and sea, but those aren’t things to traverse on foot. It’d be nice to have more open areas.


      Overall I enjoyed this game. I was markedly upset after the trailer, but came to terms with it all the same. I enjoyed color splash for what it was and also enjoyed this. I actually wouldn’t mind if there was a separate series that consistently tried new battle systems and gameplay styles, but why does it have to be paper Mario. I’d definitely recommend this game, but it’s only half a paper Mario game.

      Delete
    3. These last two comments got a little Glitchy, probably ‘cause they are so long. Oh well, you’ll understand most of it.

      Delete
  3. All I have to say is………. I miss huey

    ReplyDelete

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