1-underscored Paper Mario Origami King review
CNN  — 

It’s been almost 20 years since the original Paper Mario debuted on Nintendo 64 in 2001. It was a departure for Mario fans, who had only experienced the RPG treatment for their favorite plumber and his friends with Super Nintendo’s Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars.

The first tale found Mario and the gang transformed into 2D, paper-like representations of themselves journeying through a traditional role-playing game with action elements, sprinkled with puzzles. It was a hit and spawned several additional Paper Mario titles.

Paper Mario: The Origami King is the sixth game in the Paper Mario series and the first to land on the Nintendo Switch. Once more, you take on the role of, well, Paper Mario, traveling with brother Luigi throughout a world rife with paper characters and structures.

It lands on July 17 for $59.99 as a physical copy or a downloadable title.

It’s a journey through a whimsical world that both newcomers and veterans alike will enjoy, from creepy paper Goombas to bendy arms and puzzle-focused combat. Here’s what you can expect from Paper Mario: The Origami King.

A perplexing paper caper

9-underscored Paper Mario Origami King review.

Mario and Luigi are minding their own business when they come upon the castle and notice something isn’t quite right. Luigi is captured by a strange looking enemy apparently made out of paper and Mario is left to explore the area before he’s also stolen away by enemies that look, well, off for some reason.

Before being thrown into captivity, Mario learns that King Olly, the Origami King, has taken over the Mushroom Kingdom with one nefarious goal: turn the entire world into origami. He has seized Princess Peach’s castle and started turning every member of Bowser’s army into creepy, origami-like versions of their original selves.

With the help of Olly’s sister Olivia, Mario and friends (even a folded-up Bowser) must work together to stop Olly and his henchmen, the Legion of Stationery, who have Princess Peach’s castle tied up with lengthy, colorful streamers — or they’ll all be turned into Folded Soldiers.

Using Mario, you must explore the land of the Mushroom Kingdom and beyond to rescue everyone who’s missing. Unfortunately, anyone who’s been turned into a Folded Soldier will remain that way, as it’s not something that can be reversed.

Thankfully, many of Mario’s acquaintances are simply folded up and discarded around the land, so you can rescue them from their frustrating fate.

As usual, it’s up to Mario to save the day.

Paper problem solvers

6-underscored Paper Mario Origami King review.

The game lets you explore an open world fraught with Folded Soldiers, with Olivia guiding you. More than an RPG or platforming title, it feels like an adventure game.

Sometimes you need to find a specific title to move forward, or you need to talk to an NPC for a clue. It should feel familiar to Paper Mario fans while dotted with inventive additions.

As you make your way through the land, you’ll also have to fill the spots that have had entire chunks removed. King Olly wouldn’t be pleased, but you can have Mario throw confetti at these spots to restore them to their former glory for bonuses in each area or to solve puzzles where you have nowhere else to turn. You may have to rebuild a bridge, for instance, or fill in a missing part of a mountain to reach a specific ledge.

Olivia can also let Mario use the special “1000-Fold Arms” technique, which turns the plumber’s arms into folded-up accordion-like apparatus that let him manipulate parts of the paper environment to reveal hidden areas. For instance, he might be able to tear apart a section of the world to reveal a friend trapped behind a wall, designated by glowing areas.

You can complete these puzzles using the Joy-Con’s motion controls or without them, but it’s more satisfying grabbing hold of a part of the environment and pulling back with your Joy-Con, if they’re available. These areas feel few and far between, but they’re a delightful addition to the narrative and feel like fun rewards.

Charismatic combat

7-underscored Paper Mario Origami King review.

While there are fun, paper-related exploration moments throughout The Origami King, one area in which it truly shines is within its unique blend of puzzle-solving and combat. Battles begin when you run into an enemy on the overworld. You can jump on them for a head start or you might even be ambushed by a few enemies at once.

The game’s ring-based combat system pits Mario (and some of his buddies) in scuffles with enemies throughout the world. When you enter battle, your enemies will be distributed throughout several rings. Using your action turns, you need to rotate the rings to line up enemies in straight lines, formations of four or otherwise arrange them in the most accessible way for a possible butt-kicking.

You only have a few seconds per round to solve each puzzle and arrange your enemies just so (with items you can equip to extend this time, or spending coins to extend it). If you complete this puzzle and line up your enemies, you receive a combat bonus so Mario will do extra damage.

This adds an intriguing strategic element to battles that would otherwise likely adopt the same predictable pattern other games have where one player strikes and then the enemies take their turn. The Toads you rescue throughout the game will run to the bleachers to watch Mario fight and lend their support, and if you pay enough coins, they’ll even jump in to lend a hand.

5-underscored Paper Mario Origami King review.

Other instances of combat are fought within the overworld, such as battles with larger enemies that look like papercraft versions of familiar foes. But those can’t hold a candle to the boss battles that you must complete when you reach one of the areas keeping Princess Peach’s castle in place with streamers.

You’ll go up against bizarre, yet hilarious, enemies, like a set of colorful pencils and a tape dispenser. They may not sound like much, but when you have to battle the more challenging enemies, simply arranging Goombas in a line isn’t going to work. You need to create a path to the boss by moving the ring to allow Mario a strategic lane to defeat each larger enemy.

This can be frustrating, but it’s different than just swapping rings and choosing the right weapon for the occasion. Without ruining all the surprises, expect plenty of evil office supplies to try and ruin Mario’s day, and you’ll have a blast when they do it.

Treasure and trinkets

2-underscored Paper Mario Origami King review.

You’ll also collect coins and items that can be used inside and outside of combat. There are even hidden Toads to be sussed out throughout the game, all tucked away in cleverly hidden locations.

You can also go on the hunt for special treasures hidden in chests and tucked away here and there. These can range from fun decorations from the game or trophies resembling other characters. To break up the adventuring, you’ll also engage in mini games, which are few and far between, but enjoyable.

Collecting everything is part of the fun, so if you’re looking for a game that lets you snap up items and hoard them (like confetti, which you need to refill by hitting things like grass or trees with a hammer) The Origami King should scratch that itch.

Unfold a great new Mario adventure

8-underscored Paper Mario Origami King review.

Paper Mario: The Origami King is an excellent addition to the Paper Mario series, and it’s rife with things to do and areas to explore. Add a madcap adventure to the mix with everyone’s favorite Nintendo characters and you have a recipe for a satisfying Switch title.

Here’s hoping the series continues with more inventive twists on narrative, combat and exploration — and we get more creative bosses like those seen here. Who knew a tape dispenser could be so intimidating?

Note: The prices above reflect the retailer’s listed price at the time of publication.