I know what you’re thinking: How do they do it? How can the Nintendo gamemakers keep cranking out all the various Mario titles (we’re up to game number six in the Paper Mario spinoff series alone), making them interesting and fun, while always folding in a clever new twist from what’s come before? I guess only Mario knows for sure.
Paper Mario: The Origami King is the latest entry in the 2-D paper cutout branch of the Mario gaming tree. And as the title would suggest, it’s taken a very logical step and made origami paper-folding the central papery focus this go ‘round. It’s also revamped the gameplay, shifting the action away from stickers and cards and to something closer to a puzzle adventure with mini-game-like battles. Oh, and the mushroom-headed Toad folk step up to be the game’s jokebook kings.
Yep, things begin as Nintendo vets might imagine. Our favorite mustachioed Italian plumber, Mario (in paper cutout form), and his brother Luigi get an invitation from Princess Peach to join her for a party. She’s throwing an origami festival wingding over in Toad Town.
But when the bros tootle into town they find a, uh, princess-pilfering-plot unfolding. It seems the Origami King, Olly, has blown into town as well. He essentially transforms Peach, Bowser and his army, and the whole town full of Toads into his idea of folded-paper perfection. And in the process, he ensnares Peach’s castle in paper streamers and relocates the entire shebang up on a distant mountaintop.
Mario then teams up with Olly’s sister Olivia—who refuses to fold to her heavy-handed brother’s wishes—and they set off to explore the surrounding world, destroy the castle-entangling streamers at their source and, well, rescue Peach and save the day.
Instead of having individual worlds to best, like you find in many Mario games, Origami King sends Mario and pals off into what feels like an open land full of areas that need exploring and conquering. There are mighty forests to trek through, stage shows to dance through and Indiana Jones-like tombs and temples to sift through. There’s even a mystery that you must solve involving a seemingly abandoned cruise ship.
While untangling the castle streamers in each area, you gather confetti and coins to help with patching rips and tears and purchasing better boots and battle gear. And, of course, there are koopa baddies, folder soldiers and origami big-boss-beasties to battle along the way. Those combat moments are played out on a roulette wheel-like board with rotating rings that you must use to line up and bop your enemies.
All of those places and battles involve elements that parents will want to be aware of, but generally nothing that would really crumple up a mom’s brow. The battles, for instance, involve Mario thumping enemies with a big hammer or stomping on them with heavy-soled or even spiked boots. He also reaches out at times with a set of expanding folded-paper-arms to throttle and yank at any given baddie.
But none of this pummeling is ever bloody. And the papery scoundrels he’s hammering simply crumple up or poof out of existence when beaten.
Those above-mentioned temples and tombs contain large statutes of “Vellumental” dragons and other creatures that are part of the environmental puzzles and battles. And they could be seen as something close to idols. You encounter origami ghosties here and there, too. But again, it’s all done up in cartoony colorful paper and never plays out as anything dark or dangerous or creepy.
In fact, the most disturbing wrinkle in this game is the fact that two different characters heroically give up their lives (a bomb-like fellow and a central origami lead) in order to save others and right the wrong that the Origami King has caused. Little ones playing their way through with Mom or Dad could be a little upset with the loss. (The dialogue is also primarily read here, requiring a parent’s eye for some young gamers, too.)
Ultimately though, you’ve got to admit that Paper Mario: The Origami King is creased and crafted with special kid-friendly care. Once again, those cunning Nintendo gamemakers have whipped up a pretty fun game out of what looks like little more than cardboard and craft-paper. A Mario-sized feat, to be sure.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.