Massive spoilers for Origami King and the rest of Paper Mario series.
I’m mostly doing this for myself as a place to gather my thoughts on what I find to be a pretty special game.
Origami King reaches some of the highest highs of Paper Mario and Super Mario as a whole, all of this despite some of its corporate limitations in creativity. So I want to talk about that, in a very ramble like way. The first two sections will be very light on spoilers, just about covering the start of the game and the general structure of it and everything after will be nonstop spoilers in a sort of narration and opinions about most aspects of the game. I’m not here to put some galaxy brain take or stuff that you may not know about the game, this wall of text is mostly me appreciating most of the elements the game brings to the table.
- Back to basics: Toad Town and the Mushroom Kingdom
The hub and different areas in how you approach narrative progress were perfected in Paper Mario 64, Toad Town had a clear structure and you can easily remember where every next area is going to take you, the world felt connected and tangible, the right amount of size and personality to feel big without it being confusing, a nicely done theme that would diversify in different variations depending on the place you were, it was simple and effective, what a good hub should be.
This was subsequently botched in just about every other entry, Rogueport in TTYD, while unique, is not clear in its structure, besides a handful of areas, everything else in mobility is broken up in a very frustrating sewer system where everything looks the same and makes the world feel too broken up in parts, it feels less cohesive than 64’s world despite being generally more interesting and It damages the overall game, because even when it is less organic, is not to the benefit of gameplay due to the sewer system. Flipside didn’t fare much better in Super, with different floors breaking up the pace of exploration, plus the 3D mechanic that breaks it up even more, but at least the world system while It doesn’t make it more connected with the rest of the levels, it at least serves the gameplay well by having all of them in a single space. Decalburg and Port Prisma in Sticker Star and Color Splash respectively were more serviceable in gameplay, they were small and got to the point and the rest of the world was broken up in a level selection screen like a more traditional Super Mario game, they have nothing special going for, but they aren’t annoying to navigate either.
Origami King, takes a good look back at the best hub and world of them all and brings back the quality of 64’s Toad Town, is just big enough to feel like a tangible place, the music has variations depending on the place you are, like the café, museum and port, on top of that the theme progresses the more you complete of the game, you have a clear road to move forward to, the connects to the prologue, red, blue, and purple streamer efficiently and contains a fast travel system that remains in a single point, the fast travel itself doesn’t damage the fact that is a very well-constructed and organic world, thanks to a simple yet effective pointer.
In every area you’ll find the next objective in the distance, that is what helps the most with the world being connected, halfway through your first streamer, you’ll get a sight of the next one, so you know the more you advance, you’ll always find another streamer, while the general progress is more akin to a straight line, this little detail makes it still feel organic and one of the best representations of the Kingdom in the series.
- The first hour of the game
First impressions are very important and Origami King makes some very sensible choices to make that feel special and prove itself as something far more unique than Sticker Star and Color Splash, and enough to also differentiate itself from the first 3 games.
The game opens up on the very unsettling conversation between Peach and Mario from the initial trailer, not only setting up a more different game tone, but also giving hints to one of the major motivations of our main villain, which I’ll ramble about later.
This throws Mario into the dungeons of the castle, in which we witness some unsettling in concept moments, like the shadows of the Bowser Minions being turned into basically zombie Origami beings. We also get to walk around with our new companion Olivia and Bowser, another very good idea, this is the first time in a while where Bowser takes a more companion like role in a Mario game, and the game makes that clear by allowing you to escape with him following you around, again a way to help Origami King set itself apart from the more basic stuff from SS and CS, after escaping the castle we meet King Olly and we get thrown off the castle and land into a forest.
Another of the most sensible parts of the opening act, the big takeaway from this is that we have a charming forest filled with talking trees with a bit of sass and get treated to one of the best sequences of the game, setting a trend within Origami King.
The lyrics, incredibly catchy music is all part of making this experience unique, the most important part of all that I have mentioned, is that none of this opening part of the game features a Toad in it, we do get a small section with some of them after the forest but everything previous to that doesn’t have a single Toad, Toad Town in the start of the game, is already a barren town, much like some of the later writing in the game that I’ll talk about, I feel this was intentional from the developers, that despite the fact we’ll still see plenty of Toads for the rest of the game, this is a quiet and more original way to open the game with nothing but Mario, new characters, Bowser and his minions.
Music is one of the key aspects of the game, is kind of obvious to say such a thing, but given the variety, quality, and quantity of this game far surpassing not only games within its series, but the media as a whole, is all the more important how much of a crucial part it plays into making Origami King as great as it is, already mentioned one of the lyrical tracks, but I want to put some attention in this section about 2 other tracks, the title theme and the first time we enter Toad Town.
Title themes are important, they also can set a first impression very well for the game you are about to play, within the Paper Mario series, I’ll argue that every title theme is pretty good, they are catchy and energetic enough to know that you may have a pretty fun time with them, what Origami King’s theme screams more than just a very uplifting sounding track, is that it oozes with a feel of adventure, is grandiose and gives you the sense that you’ll go in a grand journey, is a perfect theme to represent the entire experience.
The Toad Town theme at the start, once again showcases a tonal shift in the game, a very dramatic piece, especially when the violin starts to kick in, it elevates the moment, not only because is a great piece, but because is in a Mario game. Much like something akin to Kirby, it uses its surface level status of a E rated, happy franchise to be able to surprise newcomers and veterans alike with tonal shifts in narrative, visuals and music.
- Paper aesthetic advantages and horror elements
From this section and on I’ll start to dive into major spoilers of various points of the game, so yea, horror in my Mario game.
Is pretty easy to dismiss most disturbing moments in fictional media as long as it has a more appealing and cartoony art style, a point which I’ll always defend about titles like this is that, no matter it looks, you can always tell a sensible story or delve into interesting points no matter the demographic or style, how subtle or in your face one makes it is up to how actually good the designers of the game are, and Origami King takes full advantage of that fact.
I already talked about one of these moments at the start of the game, the whole idea of pretty much making an army of brainwashed origami zombies working to destroy the fabric of the world at the orders of Olly in itself is rather disturbing, the idea in itself is rather tame compared to other moments.
The prime examples of these are the Punch Hole, Scissors and King Olly sequences across the game.
Punch Hole makes a hole in the sun, plus taking away the faces of the Toads, that is all gruesome despite the funny nature of the Disco sequence in the Pyramid, the fight itself revolves around the boss making holes across Mario’s body, weakening him to death essentially.
The Scissors are one of the peaks in this whole idea, they are essentially the most dangerous thing in the Paper Mario universe, it pretty much kills anything instantly, doing so against Bowser Jr., Kamek and most Bowser minions, is ruthless and sadistic, going as far as leaving pieces of the fallen companions across the halls and even mashing them up in a single Buzzy Beetle entity, while still being conscious about being cut up like that. In itself these moments are really looked into deeply by the game, but the notion sticks with you. The Scissors also act as the mad scientist of the story, with the Handaconda and the paper cutouts enemies being created by them, which are also a very unsettling enemy design. Plus, it has a very taunting personality, knowing full well how mortal its strikes can be against Mario in the boss fight.
The other peak happens right at the final battle, when you reach the throne room of King Olly, you get to see that he went as far as stitching Peach’s body to the wall of the castle, again, you may not think about it because is just paper, but the idea in itself is terrifying, making Peach’s unconscious and at that point lifeless body part of the Origami Castle itself.
- Bob-omb and betraying expectations
On the topic of good writing, I present to you, what is possibly the greatest partner in the series, this Bob-omb, which Olivia refers to as Bobby, or Bombi in my translation.
Bombi is a Bob-omb with amnesia, he joins Mario and Olivia at the start second chapter/streamer of the game, he doesn’t have a fuse, so he can be clumsy in battle, being only able to headbutt enemies most of the time during combat, this is also a very fleshed out part of the game for a reason, Bombi gets to have input in most situations of the second chapter, you get to know him, appreciate him and fall in love with him with his antics, Chesnut Valley being a perfect example of how well the friendship goes along the way, after a while Bombi gets thrown off the main path going into a particularly hilarious sequence chasing him around in the Valley, with a very Mario Kart/Super Mario Bros. 3 tune making a companion piece to the absurdity of it all, there is even a gag that achieves a similar punchline to the General White sequence in TTYD, but without being the worst joke ever designed gameplay wise. You get to spend more time with him as you complete the main part of the chapter, Shogun Studios, after completing the chapter we get a bit of foreshadowing that he may have recovered his memories, Olivia insists that Bombi accompanies them toward the next area, after reaching the starting point of it, they are attacked by Olly, blocking the path with a giant boulder in an attempt to kill off his sister for good, Bombi tells Mario of a way to save her but we need to go to the Eternal Ocean, after a nice section in The Princess Peach boat, we retrieve a special box and go back to the boulder.
At this point I figured since Bombi didn’t have a fuse, in a very humorous way the box would contain some dynamite or another similar gag to round up this trip, how wrong I was.
After explaining his entire story to Mario about the friends he lost at the boat we are treated to a shocking sequence, Bombi explains that the life of a Bob-omb in itself is quite short and that they try to make the best of their lives by making an impact, something important, in this case is sacrificing his life in order to save Olivia, he is gone for good. This is a moment both impactful for newcomers and veterans alike, some may want to argue that this moment is as impactful or as dark as something from TTYD, Super or Color Splash and I disagree entirely, is far more than that.
Death in itself is not something Mario is keen on touching, it plays around with those concepts in a more meta way in Super Paper Mario with the Underwhere and Overthere, as they call a literal game over among other details like that, it also delves on sacrifices but nothing is ever something definitive, besides Dimentio and the Shadow Queen, and that is more just for the sake of being the main villains.
Sacrifices in Paper Mario aren’t permanent, anything from Super, including the destruction of the Sammer Kingdom, while poignant in the main story, is reduced in impact in the grand scheme of things due to the fact that it comes back anyways, even the fate of the likes of Blumiere and Timpani is that they left to another world, Huey in Color Splash is left with the hope that he may actually come back. One of the best moments of Super is the sacrifice of Luvbi to become one of the Pure Hearts, but she comes back anyways if you go back to the Overthere in the post-game, all nice moments but nothing feels like an actual tragic moment at the end of the day. Even TEC and Grodus from TTYD, survive.
Death can even be used as a gag in TTYD, with the father of Koops and the brother of Jolene coming back no problem, the only permanent death there and is not even something the player experiences by himself is the backstory to Admiral Bobbery.
The Bob-Ombs of previous Mario games also help build up the moment of betrayal of expectations for seasoned players, we have two of them, Bombette and Bobbery, both have the ability to explode to open new paths for Mario and these games trained us to always expect them to come back no matter the times we blow them up, It was a mechanic that is ingrained in our brains from playing these games, this is where Origami King flips that concept.
The aftermath of it is nothing short of excellence, I’ll go as far as to say that it would fit perfectly in a Mother 3 scenario, given how similar it can be to that game and how it handles its tragic moments so well.
After his death and Olivia realizing they lost Bombi, she runs away crying, another important aspect to all of this, is how Mario acts, Paper Mario isn’t particularly expressive, besides a handful of emotions like surprise and pain from attacks, he doesn’t show much even on very important moments, here we get to see Mario actually sad, putting his face down with the hat covering his eyes, is a simple yet effective way to show that yes, even Mario is feeling sad about all of this, the fact that Mario never has any dialogue in these games, can also elevate this, making him seem solemn about the whole deal, we even saw him running towards Bombi trying to stop his explosion.
In the way to Olivia we come across a more quirky moment, a tunnel full of Monty Moles going about their business, this is the Mother 3 part of it, we see characters acting normally in the middle of a heavy moment for the player, showing that the tragic event that happens to these characters happen only to them, the rest of the world moving forward, unaware of such events, is not a tone deaf moment, It elevates everything about it, between the funny dialogue the feeling of uncomfortableness and sadness hitting stronger, we have a small moment with Olivia explaining how she doesn’t feel like keep going in the adventure after losing their friend, Mario leaves again and now the Moles have piled up the rubble, when we go there we get a call from Bombi, at this point you may feel somewhat relieved and mad that you went through all of this for a gag, but no, is only his spirit talking with you one more time, at this point it finally sank good for me that I actually experienced such a moment in Mario, sadness hitting all over again, Bombi asks you to cheer up Olivia to keep going, repurposing a previous moment in the game to round up this moment, you make Olivia laugh with a Goomba prop you got in Shogun Studios that made her laugh the first time you used it back then, making an incredibly heartwarming moment after one of the boldest and saddest moments from Mario and one that was handled so brilliantly.
Even when you go back to the rubble, his spirit is no longer there, but there is another bittersweet detail, there is a photo booth in Shogun Studios, going back to it after the death of Bombi, whenever you take a picture, he will be there in spirit, showing that long after his passing, he will still stick with you, like a true friend and comrade till the very end.
Bombi is not amazing just because of his death, but because his concept, personality, development and execution of the idea of Bombi is so well done.
If I can narrow down my favorite new element of Origami King, it may just be the Elemental Gods, besides their kickass theme and temples that may as well be Zelda dungeons, is such a bizarre, fitting and unfitting thing at the same time for Mario, they add a mystique to the world that while the devs didn’t need to do at all, they did anyways, more world building to the proceedings of the game and it leaves a healthy deal of speculation as to what these creatures are, besides controlling the elements, we can also see Koopas treating the elemental of earth as some sort of deity, again adding more flavor to the already great world the game presents. The real world textures of their arenas create a perfect contrast between the crafts world and their mystique, there are even some implications that these may not even be their actual forms, as they were made into origami as well, the actual elemental gods may even have a more realistic form to them, to accompany the textures but is not something the game will answer and that is a good thing.
- The Legion of Stationary and its context
The Legion of Stationary while ridiculous in concept, its execution works too well for me to be mad at the absurdity of fighting office tools, while I think these could use more flair to their designs, they still work well within the context of the game, and playing with conventions and mechanics of the previous 2 games.
I’m not very fond of the Things in SS and CS, a lot of them only serve to create a more obtuse way of puzzle solving at worst with somewhat ingenious uses at best, but their general execution is not worth the hassle, and while they have cute animations in battle, they served no strategic purpose besides making boss fight more obtuse a lot of the times.
As such instead of being items to help Mario, they are repurposed as the major enemies of the game, bringing about some of the most interesting boss battles as well, despite being office tools, they actually get enough fleshing out and anticipation for their inevitable confrontation through some nice visual cues and their dialogue or lack thereof in the case of the Stapler. Their animations are also so good that they can express exactly what they are with just that, the Scissors taunting with its little dance, the animation of unsheathing its blade is satisfying to look at, you have Punch Hole as a disco dancer, Tape a motorcycle delinquent, Rubber Band a theater actor, the Stapler a doggo and the pencils an arrogant artist.
The Scissors prove to be the best repurposing of the Things from previous games, these were absent from Color Splash but were the first object you used against Bowser Jr. in Sticker Star it was funny in that game, but here is much more gruesome in its implication, which goes to show how a simple tonal shift can make the same idea work with completely different meanings depending how you execute them. Once again noting how much attention to ideas from previous games can make Origami King shine once it starts playing around with the conventions of them from previous games.
The context in which their existence comes into play is also something I like, in another of the most important scenes in the game, the Craft Master House in the Eternal Ocean.
You land in this island in the middle of the ocean for one of the continuous gags of the game and you come across a basement with a lot of Origami, in which we get the revelation that Olivia was actually born from being made with the Fold of Life a technique that brings origami creations to life, we also know Olly came from here and we meet what is essentially their father, the Toad Origami Craft master, this moment also foreshadows the Stapler fight if you stop to read some of the books in there, which contextualizes the Legion of Stationary as actual tools to make Origami, not only for the craft master but also for how Olly made his entire army, is a little touch that goes a long way to make the ridiculous concept all the more believable and to the narrative, they aren’t just tools for the sake of being there or bosses to be fought, they have a purpose in the story.
- Variety and charm
Origami King is a game that shifts its setting into more incredible and/or downright hilarious situations with each chapter, all without feeling heavy handed or the need to backtrack to previous areas, is all well-paced and elevates itself quite nicely across the game, as a short summary of every main chapter.
The red streamer is the basic Paper Mario first chapter, getting used to a nice grass area with music that you would expect from a Mario game, this being the first time in quite a while that the first main area is not a rendition of 1-1 from Super Mario Bros. first time since Paper Mario 64, even this area throws some minor curve balls across the area, with the earth elemental and Koopas replacing the typical Koopa village and adding something different to the universe, the chapter ending on a commercial center tower on a climb towards the colored pencil, is charming just how much mileage one gets out of a simple commercial tower feeling like the base of a main boss fight.
After the warm up is where the blue streamer starts kicking things up a notch, first you are blasted with a fantastic oriental track accentuated by an Erhu in the main melody as we go to a new area, the Autumn Mountain, music and visuals come together to create something truly breathtaking for this area, we go through the water elemental temple with an even stronger atmosphere than that of the earth elemental, Chestnut Valley with Bombi, a rapids minigame till we get to the streamer area, Shogun Studios, a theme park of ninjas which is appreciated that a lot of the workers there have costumes that help them stand out, the Studio itself has a lot of nice distractions, minigames like the Shuriken one, the ninja house and even a photo booth, the boss area being in this case a theater in which you go through a variety of styles within such a small time frame, even more so taking into account how much different feeling areas you get within a chapter span to begin with; you go in the theater with a western style play, a thrill in the night, ending on a literal Swan Song rendition, and finally fighting the Rubber Band.
Yellow streamer kicks off with the sequence of the death of Bombi, with a well done tension filled area that is the Princess Peach Ship, after that the small Tunnel and we are treated to a more open desert area where we get to solve some puzzles in order to find the pyramid of an ancient civilization, very adventurous area perfectly fitting with Professor Toad as a companion, we go through the fire elemental temple and some curve balls in the form of Snif City, one of the most personality filled towns in the series and the disco show off in the middle of an ancient pyramid exploration with a fight against the Punch Hole.
Purple streamer makes the biggest change of exploration, turning the game into a lite Wind Waker, getting to chart unexplored islands all with challenges with each of them, finding treasure through logical spots and saving Toads to get more treasures marked like you got a treasure chart. The idea of adventuring as a pirate is not a new concept to Mario, it was touched on very briefly as the set-up of one of TTYD’s chapters and is explorer more in Color Splash, but the level structure didn’t let the idea really flourish, Origami King perfects the concept and gives a really nice sense of a denser, smaller adventure within the overall story.
The main story point is getting into an island with temples to solve puzzles related to courage, wisdom, and power, the Ice Elemental temple and culminating in Mario’s very own Tower of the Gods, with a thematic that can even go up against Zelda’s very own best dungeons.
The Sea Tower is one of my favorite locations in the game, is themed after the 4 Elemental gods, with different sections that belong to each elemental, changing the music variation as you go along and climb the tower, is a place with such a great atmosphere that feels very alien to Mario, but that is why the inclusion of such a place, makes it all the more special. Is a bit of a shame that is not longer, because while I was satisfied, the idea is so good that it would have been even cooler to have a handful more floors with more complex navigation and puzzles, ending on a fight with the Tape.
The end of the tower gives us a portal into the final streamer and another nice area twist, we find a paradise that is ran as a business, Shangri-Spa is a literal spa paradise run by Toads, this is also our run into Bowser Jr. and Kamek that kick off both a nice sequence across the different hot springs trying to restore Jr., a game show and culminating on Bowser’s Castle which I’ll talk about in more detail later. One could also make a point about borderline slavery going on between the Toads and the Bowser Minions but that would be too political for this ramble.
The Game Show is fantastic, is a great challenge and it does all its mini games rely solely on repurposing the main mechanics of battle in the game, meaning that nothing really feels out of left field gameplay wise, but rather puts a twist in how you manage the same rings you have managed for the rest of the game, is also put into a great spot before the game kicks off the endgame, making sure the players are more familiar with the main mechanics before they reach this level.
Within every chapter after the first we also get very cute café sequences, these are locations separated from the main story, generally giving more interactions between Bowser’s Minions which go a long way of establishing more chemistry and personality through this seemingly out of place locations, is the little touches like these that don’t add or subtract anything substantial to the main game, but their inclusion makes the overall package all the more charming.
- Other companions
Mostly referring to the least developed but still fun enough companions that come along the journey that aren’t Olivia, Bombi or the next section. That leaves us with Luigi, Professor Toad and the Toad badass enough to get his own name, Captain T. Ode.
Luigi’s main point of contribution are keys, after being saved at the start of the game, he sets on a journey to find Peach’s Castle key, very much a Luigi’s Mansion reference, is a running gag in each chapter as he fails to provide said key, but gives Mario other keys necessary for progress in the main adventure, is funny and paced well across the game.
Professor Toad serves a mostly mechanical purpose in the yellow streamer chapter, he can translate ancient writing and has a shovel to dig up shiny spots, he has enough personality to be entertaining even with lack of a major character arc, he is also very relatable for a teacher, since he wants to discover great things about the ancient civilization so more students sign up for his classes.
Captain T. Ode similarly serves a mostly gameplay purpose, you need him to navigate the Eternal Ocean and get his navigation chart, he has a cool demeanor and while it again doesn’t translate to an arc, he is entertaining enough in his introduction to be memorable and he is not a nuisance to the general gameplay flow.
- Bowser’s Minions
Now is time for the good stuff, the most exciting takeaway from the initial trailers is that Bowser and company would get to interact with Mario to stop a bigger threat, because that would open more room for new and entertaining moments, Origami King doesn’t disappoint in that sense.
This incarnation of Kamek and Bowser Jr. are the best yet in the series. They accompany you across most of the green streamer, Kamek’s personality being of a more cynical, tired caretaker that no one listens to, that gets surprised every time Mario and Olivia follow his suggestions because how used he is to Bowser not listening to him, Bowser Jr. is adorable, being energetic and a worried son trying to save his dad from his situation at the castle, plus he also gets almost killed twice by scissors, cause attempted child murder.
The rest of the minions are excellent too, you get to talk to them around the Spa area and it culminates on an assault to take back Bowser’s Castle, again a situation only possible in such a set up that Origami King takes advantage of to the fullest extent. I’ll talk about Bowser himself in a later section.
Another element I love is that, just like the first 2 games, we have enemy species not being actual enemies this time around, the most prominent example of this being Snif City and the Earth Elemental Temple, we have Koopa and Sniffits just hanging around with Toads, no ulterior motives, more spark and magic of Paper Mario shining through.
Super Paper Mario introduced the idea of having at least one main partner to flesh out over the course of the game in the form Tippi, it works well to form a deeper connection and give a partner that in terms of quality of writing, goes far beyond most of the cast, Huey was a great partner too in CS and Olivia is another excellent addition, up there with Tippi.
Olivia is a child, as previously established she was born in the Crafts Master house, she was actually made by Olly himself, it explains her lack of knowledge of the world, she hasn’t been here for a long time, the naiveté of her personality is cute and never overbearing, she experiences a lot of things across her adventure, including the loss of a friend, absolute fear like in the Handaconda fight, but also a lot of happiness and nice moments, all of this helps her resolution to stop his brother Olly all the more real and tangible.
Her character doesn’t go through a lot of twists and turns, but the joy of having her around with the great writing and all the situations that keep building on top of her makes her a companion that you want to see her journey all the way through the end, one of the best characters in the series.
- Battle at Bowser’s Castle
After getting Bowser Jr. back to full strength, is time for the last sequence of the green streamer, a full on assault towards Bowser’s Castle, with the minions in toe, is a very epic set-up in which you can even take your time to help them out in their individual fights, we require the key to the Throne room, after a gag with Luigi for the key, we get into the paper cut-out enemies, which I mentioned previously and the Handaconda, an unsettling fight that also brings back an idea from Color Splash, the boss fight for the most part is pretty standard, the gimmick being that you can only hit it from at least 2 spaces afar within the rings, after recovering Olivia, the battle turns into a rock, paper scissor fight, which is a funny turn around for a creepy boss design, bringing back Roshambo from CS. What I love the most about this section is the whole tonal shift between an epic assault to a creepier, unsettling atmosphere by the end, being able to fight alongside what we usually have as Mario enemies also perfectly encapsulates the potential that spin offs have over the mainline titles.
After that all is left is the combat against the previously mentioned Scissors, its added gimmick is excellent, being scissors, if they manage to strike you is an instant game over, adds so much tension and the only way to survive its strikes is by actually evading it by jumping over it, instead of blocking like any other Paper Mario attack.
- The Origami King
In this section I’ll talk about the endgame, Bowser, the final battle itself and the ending.
But first I want to say something before going into it. Bowser is one of my favorite characters in the Mario series and his potential is usually not fully realized across the Paper series. In 64 he worked perfectly to tell the eternal Mario vs. Bowser in the best context possible for a RPG, it did its job very well while also fleshing out Bowser’s personality more. TTYD, Sticker Star and Color Splash are the worst examples of his, TTYD treating him as a literal joke, just to be a gag for a boss fight after Grodus literally adding nothing to the story, lack of any sort of personality in Sticker Star, had some dialogue in CS but nothing to write home about while also being possessed by the a very big missed potential of a villain. Super did it nice enough to make him a permanent partner with some nice moments, both kicking off the events of Super and also being one of the 4 heroes. That being said, this endgame gives me what is possibly one of the best if not the best execution of Bowser across the entire franchise.
The endgame starts right after the green streamer removal, starting with Bowser giving some words of encouragement to Olivia about the fact that she doesn’t have to fight Olly alone, showing not only his sympathetic side, but his leadership abilities as well.
He brings Mario to his secret hangar where he has a giant ship ready to go, there is another nice moment here with some Bob-Ombs, surprising Olivia and thinking for a moment that it was Bombi, something that will also change the perspective of a moment coming up.
They all go board ready to take the fight directly to Peach’s Castle, ensuing a really epic shoot em up section (very Kirby guys, well done), in which you are actually firing Bob-Ombs at upcoming paper planes, contextualizing the fact that you are pretty much using the life of these Bob-Ombs to fulfill their impact on the world, bringing the whole experience closer together.
Mario, Olivia, Kamek, Bowser Jr. and Bowser all fall off the ship after a surprise attack from the paper planes, kicking off another part of the greatest build up to any final fight, Hotfoot Crater.
Channeling his Super Paper Mario, in this section we are running upwards a volcano with rising lava while we are chased around by the paper mache soldiers, another poignant scene elevated by the music, it has some real tear jerker moments, Kamek using some magic to try to stop the soldiers and failing, Bowser Jr. helping you keep going despite the fact that he is also staying behind, it does what most of Count Bleck Castle did in Super in this 5 minutes sequence and it just showcases how much you care about these characters after a chapter full of nice interactions, Bowser gets a nice reaction out of this, shouting for Jr. and helping out from afar with fireballs, after a nice dialogue related to his son, we shoot ourselves into the outside of Peach’s Castle, here we have the end of the Luigi key gag as he follows Mario, Bowser and Olivia into the castle, after being dispatched quickly of Luigi (he’ll be important later), the castle gets transformed into the Origami Castle, kicking off one of the greatest final levels in Mario with one of the best final level themes to any game ever.
Now this is channeling the spirit of the Kirby series, once again visuals and music you don’t expect to see in Mario come into play here, the music was already varied to hell and back, and even then the Origami Castle stands tall as one more slap to the players’ expectations. The origami fortune tellers are creepy and take 100 points of your health if they manage to hit you, the atmosphere with the purples on the floor, the lanterns adding a subtle light to the blue walls helps with the atmosphere for a castle that feels climatic as hell, the motif of the main theme and Olly's theme come together to create a theme that feels both triumphant and disturbing, the fact that no other theme overrides it, during the whole thing, not even a victory jingle during battles, gives it the push of excellence.
Origami Castle in itself is a really good endgame level in Paper Mario from a design standpoint, other ones had good music, but were always too short or dragged too much, in the case of something like TTYD, completely uninteresting right after the much better X-Naut Fortress. Origami Castle hits a sweet spot of challenge, interesting level layout, great pacing and length, amazing presentation, and the exceptional music.
After the castle we fight the last member of the Legion of Stationary and finally get Bowser back in shape, ready to take on the final boss alongside us, before this there another fantastic scene for Bowser with Olivia, cheering her on to keep going this last battle, and how much her brother doesn’t scare him because he has to take care of a child as a single parent, is just incredibly wholesome and showcases just how great of a character Bowser is.
Now is time for the final showdown and we get a really cool and at the same time absurd revelation of Olly’s intentions.
Olly hates Toads, after the origami craftsman wrote something on top of him, that is in the end revealed to be a nice message, while ridiculous, it makes sense on a lot of aspects, Olly is also a child, this is akin to throwing a tantrum, on the most extreme scenario that it makes genocidal against a species, he is pretty much blind with rage and arrogance as he believes as an origami being he should be superior, and not be touched by the hands of a paper character, like his creator.
Part of the dialogue of Olly is how he cannot see the differences between the Toads, they all look the same to him, if you see one you see all of them, this commentary can be taken into a very meta situation.
On one hand it could represent the fans of the older Paper Mario games, that have an attachment to the more diverse shapes and designs of characters from the original games and, despite Toads in the later games having more personalized dialogue to exude personality without the need of a unique design, still aren’t able to see that.
On another hand it could also be a cry from the developers, in a way to express that yes, they cannot do the things they could before with the established Mario universe, as both as complain to the more corporate decisions of Nintendo about it and partly a message of understanding from the players as they try to their best to give the characters enough personality on their own without a visual cue.
It could also just be racism to be honest.
Onto the actual battle.
Final battles sometimes can be challenging, other times flashy, sometimes both, Origami King lands more on creating a spectacle for the player, akin to what you would get from Kirby, including the repurposing of main mechanics in the most satisfying, over the top way possible.
The battle starts with a sort of boss rush of the Vellumentals, there is a cool added tension to the fight, as Olly controls the pure state of Origami itself, he can actually regain health while you are planning your moves, is a cool twist that makes sense within the fight. It also means that you can end the boss rush early if you are good and fast enough.
For the second phase is the turn of the 1000 fold arms technique to go over the top, with the absolute legend that is Bowser. This is another important point of Origami King, is the first Mario RPG title to not feature a fight against Bowser (is also the first Paper Mario since 64 where the established main villain isn’t usurped by another lesser villain or is just Bowser possessed), instead you get fight alongside him, marking the first time in a while I’m happy to see Mega Bowser, but now as an Origami craft, he will fight off Olly in a giant Origami Sumo match, while you help him get the advantage by pounding the ground with the fold arms tech, a really satisfying moment.
We have the boss battle ring, the fold arms, all that is left is putting the normal battle ring mechanic to it’s over the top conclusion. Giant Olly comes with lethal gas as you are on a timer to use Olivia’s Final Magic Circle, an ability given to her by the Craft Master, as you evade the attacks of Olly in the only time I’m happy to see QTEs in my Mario games, they are used only here and accentuate how epic the moment is, having Paper Mario actually dodge for the second time in his life, the fight ends on satisfying giant hammer smash.
The hammer hit Olly so hard he finally chilled, dying in Olivia’s arms as he leaves her his paper to complete the technique of the 1000 paper cranes and get a wish granted, Luigi comes in bringing Kamek, Bowser Jr. to safety and also bring the Craft Master, who teaches Olivia how to fold the paper crane to fulfill her wish, she gives one final look at Mario, before wishing to undo all the Origami creations from his brother, including herself, sacrificing her life to bring the kingdom back to shape, she experienced a lot and lived little, but was one of the best companions I could ask for.
The ending cut scene features the origami festival, free from any evil origami creature, you see the ensemble of the cast all celebrating, before one final look at the origami diorama the Craft Master made for the festival, Mario thinking about Olivia, the game ends on a nice paper lantern ceremony, thanking all paper and origami people alike, before letting them go and ending on fireworks and the credits start playing.
If you 100% the game you get one more cut scene with the Craft Master adding a figure of Olly and Olivia in the thrones of the diorama, lifeless but smiling, giving a bittersweet end to the death and sacrifice of these characters and closing the story of Paper Mario: The Origami King.
- Gameplay and untapped potential.
The gameplay is for the most part is actually pretty good, I mentioned how the world is very well designed, every part of it feels organic and with a great flow to it, on the exploration aspect every part of it is also filled to brim with stuff to do, be it hidden pathways to treasure chest, finding Toads, filling patches with confetti, fishing at some points, some mini games, there is no shortage of stuff to do within any given moment, there is always something on the lookout to do, with its compact yet dense locations.
Exploration is rewarded with useful things for the sake of completion and progression, for example a lot of health upgrades can only be found through optional objectives, be it from specific Toads and the like, this conditions you to take the time to thoroughly scan the area worth it, the game is also good at keeping track of everything you do and give you a check-mark of 100% in every section, adding to the feeling of reward and accomplishment, further creating this condition of wanting to explore. I think a missed opportunity here to have more variety within characters, was to have some Bowser’s Minions being rescued alongside the Toads.
Another important aspect for progression are coins, which are also rewarded from exploration and in higher quantities from battles, it may seem somewhat excessive, the amount of coins you get from the initial hours, but is off set to an extent by the accessories and items to further upgrade yourself being expensive, among other uses of coins like in the battle system, it feels like a promising exchange from the traditional XP system, it just needs to tie the coins a lot more to elements like some basic stats and even more equipment, but also give them in less quantities for a higher sense of challenge and meaningful player choice in how to spend their coins, is a system that has a lot of potential, because XP isn’t the end all be all of how you can achieve tangible progression in an RPG, something akin to how Dark Souls ties Souls as both currency and progression, coins could play a similar role.
The battle system is a new take in turn based combat, essentially making every fight a puzzle, you spin a slide rings to align enemies either in a line or a 2x2 shape, this will give you extra attack power upon doing it successfully, the game is really good at easing you in this system with its initial fights where you would only get punished for failing the puzzle arrangement, if you succeed you basically won’t take any damage, this changes as the game introduces enemies with more health in the later parts of the first chapter. To attack you have a basic Jump and Hammer attack but can use stronger ones as you equip them as items, these items have a degradation system, you can buy plenty of them and some stronger ones can be found through the world, so is recommended that you use them as you please and maybe save the more powerful ones for tougher enemies and boss fights. There is also another items such as fire flowers and raccoon tails that are also very useful. The system itself is very engaging with more complicated set ups for lining up foes as you go along, part of what makes it so good is the timer, you have a time limit to line up your enemies, from the outside 30 to 60 seconds may seem like a lot, but once you are into the game and figuring out how to best line up opponents, it can get stressful, there is also some help to work around the timer and puzzle solving.
As a fan of capitalism this is a cool feature, you can spend coins to increase your timer and if you save enough toads, they actually help by throwing around stuff at enemies to damage them, heal you and make the puzzles easier depending on how much money you give them, another aspect that makes your money useful. Is a cool risk versus reward system that would be even more tight and exciting if the game would ask you for more money in order to get that help, an element that could be further explored if they stick to this battle system and mechanics.
The enemies themselves are pretty standard, the only real difference among them is the ones that are spiky or airborne that you need to think about who to line up for a hammer attack or a jump, with some interesting exceptions like the Boos, the combat in Bowser’s Castle, and the paper cut Scissors soldiers, that we don’t have enough of in the main game, there isn’t much in the way of status afflictions such as paralysis or sleep with the basic enemies, which is a shame given that some of these have had variations in the past that can inflict those properties, it doesn’t take much away from the engagement of the puzzle solving, but is a missed opportunity to create more interesting battle situations, they could have even included gimmicks such as how some bosses can change how you think about the puzzles and movement to the normal enemies, to create ever so more engaging and dynamic fights.
Another missed opportunity are the partners themselves, they auto-attack after your turn, while is not the worst thing in the world to do, it feels like they could have done more with them combat strategy wise.
Another problem is the use of the magic circles within normal battles, sometimes you’ll get wave of enemies and after Olivia gets the power of the elementals, there will be times where you can use their powers against normal enemies by defeating the one holding the magic circle, is basically a screen clearing move, but you cannot save it for another wave, you have to use it as soon as you get it, it limits strategies and it doesn’t feel like is adding much to the normal fights, given that the standard fight don’t cause a change within the rings to use them as a cleanup of hazards or effect changes.
Boss fights are a nice change of pace, given their bigger size, they take center stage and now your objective is to slide and spin a path for Mario to reach the boss, this gives a lot more interesting combat scenarios, such as fire attacks leaving leftovers on the ring that can burn Mario or ice patches that can freeze him, the type of stuff that would have been cool in the normal fights as well. The rings are now filled with arrows to move Mario around, power ups to double his attack power and even allow you to attack twice. They are a big improvement over the boss fights in SS and CS, because while they are puzzles, I don’t need outside items and can’t get stuck in a battle one can’t win because you used a special item at the wrong time, plus one can always pick up hints across the rings if help is needed from the game to solve the puzzle. There are also some contextual actions one can pull off in boss fights with the folded arms ability.
The folded arms are a new main mechanic for some puzzle solving and boss battles, giving Mario the ability to manipulate certain parts of the environment with over-sized arms and also laying the smack on a boss with a simple QTE like mechanic, is contextual and doesn’t overstay its welcome in its use, so is another good addition overall, it also had some more potential, given that the Origami Castle will have you using this mechanic with more thinking power in some of its puzzles.
Another element of combat is the paper mache enemies in the overworld, they are more of a real time deal, evade them by moving around, then whack them with a hammer, they were a pretty good change of pace from the turn based combat, makes me wish there were even more of them with trickier strategies, as it stand is another good addition that served the game well and leaves itself open to more potential.
Overall gameplay wise, Paper Mario finds its footing again, more important than anything, both the experience of the writing and presentation with the gameplay itself, feels even in terms of what is pushing you forward, an improvement from more awkward experiences of the last 2 games and to an extent Super in its extreme simplicity, where the writing and presentation felt like it was what is pushing me forward, not so much the gameplay.
The score of Origami King is as close as to what I can call perfection, there is a great sense of not giving a single fuck about how many songs they need to produce and use them for a single cut scene, it also goes back to the basics, of the grandfather of the excellent Paper Mario OSTs, 64, a soundtrack that is large and also doesn’t mind dropping tracks for single cut scenes that won’t be heard ever again, Origami King takes this idea and pushes it to the limit with an incredibly varied soundtrack in terms of genres and styles across the entire game, giving every area an even greater sense of individuality, that going also for single rooms.
Is also a soundtrack that feels like it celebrates the entire Paper Mario series, with songs very reminiscent of the style of instrumentation you would listen to in 64, Super, and even TTYD, but with actual memorable melodies in this case, and of course the jazzier and generally diverse styles from SS and CS respectively, plus its own share of tracks that make Origami King stand on its own style and identity, helped by a good number of motifs that play across the game, while also picking up and changing things from previous titles.
A highlight of this for me is Bowser’s theme, the initial assault on Bowser’s Castle is an amazing arrangement of the Giant Arises, his theme and motif across SS and CS, but once you rescue Bowser and he gives his encouragement speech, he is given an entirely new motif that will play in his Castle post-streamer and will continue to play in his key scenes at the Origami Castle.
Battle at Bowser Castle https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y4X2SyZwPKU
Bowser's Encouragement https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VaHcN41rT5I
The amount of variations is a welcomed element as well, I already mentioned Bowser’s Castle, but every main area has a both pre and post-streamer theme, to create an even better sense of progression and the fact that you are piecing the world back to normal, little by little.
The main battle theme gets remixed with different instruments in each chapter, making it fit better with each main area.
Also one of my favorite moments of just not caring at all about how many pieces they created for this game comes from Snif City, you get into the city and get your main theme, you go inside the hotel and for the single room of a pool party, they get a completely different sounding theme, that still keeps the motif of the city, walk further and you into this calm piano rendition for the hotel room, so much care back to back in such a small amount of time, and yes, all these tracks are very memorable.
Pool Party https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ysbRJJsrBzg
Much like the more recent mainline Mario games, Origami King and Color Splash featured live instruments, but this doesn’t make them limit everything to that or just orchestral pieces, they still maintain a good amount of synth and different styles of music that fit well within every level and set piece, which is something I always commend to the sound team of Mario games.
Truly most of Three Houses’ budget went into paying for the soundtrack of Origami King.
On the whole, Paper Mario: The Origami King is one of the most interesting Mario games with a lot of untapped potential within its gameplay that still manages to deliver a solid experience while giving a spin to traditional combat, is the most impactful RPG from Mario I have played since Partners in Time and Super Paper Mario and I can only look forward to an even more crazy adventure if they decide to make another Paper entry with a similar level of passion and care that went into almost every aspect of the game. Its strong character moments and exciting gameplay set pieces are exactly what I like to see from the media, how much the game swaps between locales and music while always feeling cohesive even at its biggest twists is what makes this a very special game for me, if given more freedom to create new characters, include the least used species from other titles or even create new said species to add to the universe like the elemental gods, it would stand up to par with the likes of Odyssey in giving Mario that push of discovery and inventiveness, as it stand is still one of the greatest and most creative adventures of the series and what just may be my favorite Paper Mario.