It's Mario's 35th anniversary, and the Nintendo Switch has a new Mario game. But it's not what you might expect. Paper Mario: The Origami King isn't a platform-jumper like , or a 3D world-exploring experience like Super Mario Odyssey. It's... an RPG, sort of. Or a story-based journey. It's like Pokemon? Not really. It's like Zelda, a bit. It's like older Paper Mario and Mario RPG games. But also not. It actually reminded me of .
If you have a young kid who loves Mario and wants a low-key RPG to play this summer, well, this is that game. Go get it. But is it everything I wanted? Maybe not, but I'm not sure it's even meant for me. Playing a Mario game always feels like revisiting a million old memories. There have been so many, of so many weird types, that a new one starts to feel like a game of "What does this remind me of?"
The last Paper Mario game was on the Wii U in 2016 (Paper Mario: Color Splash), but the one I fell in love with was on the Wii in 2007, called Super Paper Mario. It was a game where 2D Mario (made of paper, naturally) explored a 2D world that sometimes turned into 3D, almost like the indie game Fez. It was weird and addictive and broke the fourth wall, in storytelling and literally in the game's shifting dimensional design.
Paper Mario games were spinoffs of the Mario RPG games that blended leveling up, hit points, weapons and items, and Mario characters. Paper Mario works in the weird idea that Mario and his friends are all 2D stickers. In Paper Mario: The Origami King, these stickers live in a 3D world, but also an evil being has folded creatures into origami and paper mache enemies. I can't explain why, just go with it.
I've played through a chunk of the game, and the structure is: Talk to things, find hidden Toad sticker-people in secret places, find your way to a boss temple, unlock the next set of areas. Levels are laid out in 3D, and there's some basic jumping and platforming, but battles are all turn-based, in an arena where enemies have to be lined up in patterns like a puzzle. Parts of the open worlds have gaps where the paper surface has broken apart, and Mario collects confetti to spray on these areas, unlocking extra secrets. Also, Mario can sprout giant folding paper arms that can tear away parts of the world. OK, it's all a bit weird.
Paper Mario's world-exploring can feel like Mario, or like Zelda, but in a much simpler way. Moving around sometimes feels too slow for me. There are lots of conversations to click through. You may be asking right now: Scott, if you don't like these types of games, why play? I'm not sure I don't like it, I just don't love it. The gameplay felt repetitive. And still, I moved along. Note: I feel this way about, too, and they end up sucking me in. And many people love Pokemon games.
Mario can't level up exactly, but there are lots of weapons and items, and there's a town where secrets, a museum, and new items open up. Mario gains more hit points (hearts) over time, and can add extra attacks and powers. So it is like an RPG, after all. Just a low-key one. I can already tell this is a game full of little unlockable Easter eggs to discover, too. It feels like a big book I'd read to relax... a sprawling beach read, something you just have to move through at its own pace.
Paper Mario games are often weird and fun. So far, this one hasn't been as weird as I expected, but it is cute. My kids looked at me playing and wanted to try. I played because I needed to log some hours for this review. I'll let them dive in next.
But this is a single-player game, and there's only one save slot per Switch player profile. So, families... set up a profile for your kids, or make them wait until you've finished playing, or play on a second Switch on Wi-Fi and don't set up cloud saving.
Younger kids will likely have a hard time with its puzzle-based battles, which are timed and require spinning rings to line enemies up for optimal attacks. Some of the game's storylines are also a tiny bit hard to figure out, although a pop-up origami friend gives hints at the press of a button, constantly.
As I mentioned above, I kept thinking about Tearaway, a 2013 PlayStation Vita game also set in a papercraft universe that also had a partially torn-away world you could repair. It, too, was a combination of 3D action and RPG. Paper Mario: Origami King is Nintendo's Tearaway, sort of. I would have liked a game that went even further with the ideas, but maybe that's still to come. If you're all out of Mario and need some weird Mario for your family... this is your best bet for a while. But with games like Super Mario Maker 2 and Super Mario Odyssey already out there, it's lower on my list.
Paper Mario: The Origami King arrives on the Switch on July 17. As I expected, even with my mixed thoughts, I already like it more than when I started. It may not be the Paper Mario or the regular Mario game you dreamed of, but it's got its own weird charms.