Paper Mario: The Origami King – Four Stars

By far the most unpredictable Mario game, Origami King is a silly, abstract, witty adventure full of party poppers, piñatas, and papier-mâché beasts. Despite the name, it’s not about folding paper or exploring the geometry of shapes to think about things differently, but instead the theme is about transformation, of our flat hero, the paper cut-out version of Mario, interacting with a world turned into 3D papercraft structures and characters. 

To express that sense of transformation the game uses colour, an exuberant, often vivid palette that’s wider in range from what we’ve seen from Nintendo before. If Mario’s paper world was flat, not just in dimension, but in primary colours, the new world is alive with a spectrum used to shade and shimmer. An early autumn level delivers a celebratory cascade of autumn leaves that’s gorgeous. When the villain, the self-titled Origami King, binds the world with giant party streamers, they soar and fly through the air like bright banners.

As Mario finds that the villains have torn and shredded havoc on the world he uses confetti, which he shoots from his hands in explosions of colour, to heal the damage and then collects a constant supply of paper bits from those he bashes with his hammer.

Familiar conventions like pipes, mushrooms, coins, and fire flowers are still there, but they tend to take a back seat to the new ideas. Now when you collide with a turtle, the game shifts to a turn-based arena where Mario solves circular puzzle rings to form up his enemies for efficient group attacks. It’s a nice change of pace for Mario games, but time consuming when used for every random enemy and I’m thankful when the option is given later to just bash the common encounters like old times instead.

The humour is a bit more adult this time in the way characters, including a new origami companion for Mario named Olivia, comment about themselves and the situation they’re in, that they even take time to set-up a joke and it feels similar to the way animated films now include subtle jokes even if they go over the heads of the intended, younger audience. 

One idea I wished was used more often is 1000-Fold Arms a special mode where Mario’s hands stretch out on accordion-style arms. By swinging your controller about you can swing the hands to latch on far away and larger things, then grab and turn them with your controller’s triggers. You can even pummel things with this move, which makes for very active gameplay.

It can’t be easy to come up with fresh takes on the Mario formula especially when you have a hero who doesn’t speak and is the one element that changes the least. I admire the camaraderie Origami King finds between Mario, Olivia, and the countless Toads he saves along the way through humour and a fun sense of silliness. More than the innovative gameplay, it’s the game’s vibe, it’s sense of creativity that gives the game a new feeling that makes it worth jumping down pipes all over again.

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