Paper Mario: The Origami King is Nintendo’s latest major release for the Switch, and Paper Mario fans around the world are jazzed to pop back into this weird offshoot of the most famous game series of all time. If you’re one of the many people who snapped up a Switch during quarantine to play Animal Crossing or Ring Fit Adventure, and have no idea what this Paper Mario business is all about, fear not: here’s some info to help you decide if The Origami King should be the next game on your pandemic playlist.
The most important thing you need to know about Paper Mario is that it’s nothing like the Mario games you’re probably familiar with. It stars Mario, Peach and Bowser, but instead of a fast-paced platformer, it’s a slow, deliberate adventure. At its heart, it’s a role-playing game, broadly similar in style (but not in any way in execution) to games like Final Fantasy and Pokemon. That means it’s focused more on story and exploring than real-time action, and requires more of a commitment of both time and attention than Super Mario platformers. If you don’t like games that are slower, more methodical, and require talking to characters and searching for specific items, you might want to steer clear of this one. If you aren’t inherently opposed to that kind of stuff, though, you’ll hopefully find Origami King to be a fun, charming, legitimately funny adventure, much like the Paper Mario games that came before it.
How did Paper Mario get here, you ask? The Mario universe is a sprawling, tangled mess of spinoffs and spinoffs of spinoffs, landing on almost every possible game genre at one time or another. Paper Mario’s provenance is a good example of how knotted this history can get. The original Paper Mario, which came out in 2000, started as an official numbered sequel to 1996’s Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, but during development was given a new name that wound up spawning what is effectively a separate Mario series. Super Mario RPG then gave birth to a second long-running spinoff in 2003, the Mario & Luigi series of handheld games. There’s never been a Super Mario RPG 2, but at this point there’s been five Mario & Luigi games and, with the release of The Origami King, six Paper Mario games, making this little cluster of loosely related role-playing games one of the leafier branches on the Mario tree.
The reason we can classify Paper Mario as its own standalone series, distinct from the Mario & Luigi games, is right there in the title. The major conceit behind Paper Mario is that, for whatever reason, Mario and his familiar friends and enemies from the Mushroom Kingdom are all two-dimensional paper cutouts. This isn’t just an aesthetic choice, but a crucial aspect of the games’ world-building and character development. Paper Mario games get a lot of mileage out of it, with the properties of paper influencing not just game design decisions but also leading to tons of jokes and gags. None of this is a factor in Super Mario RPG or the Mario & Luigi games, and so Paper Mario is a similar but fundamentally different evolution of the Mario brand.
Paper Mario has drifted far from the original combat mechanics of Super Mario RPG; Mario & Luigi, likewise, has blazed a different trail despite starting from the same point. Besides that common ancestry, the only two things these series still share is a great sense of humor and the concept of Mario and Luigi having to explore a large world full of non-playable characters that need to be interacted with.
In keeping with tradition, Paper Mario: The Origami King is overflowing with charm and humor. Mario doesn’t say anything, but every character he runs into, from working grunt Goombas to Koopa cultists, from the endearingly goofy Luigi to the utilitarian Toads, spool out long streams of verbiage. Much of it is actually funny, in a silly, self-aware way games rarely are. Meanwhile everything on screen is adorable, much of it with the look and feel of paper—be it the flat paper stock of Mario, the elaborately folded origami of the enemies, or the papercraft atmosphere of the world itself.
That charm and sense of style are the most rewarding reasons to play The Origami King. The actual combat scenes are a little simplistic and repetitive; there’s a short minigame before every fight where you have to line up enemies by sliding rows or columns around a circular field, and then there’s a rhythm game component, where you can do more damage if you tap a button at the right moment during Mario’s on-screen attack. It’s a little too easy and doesn’t have much depth, but there are a variety of weapons and enemy types that vary it up over time. The puzzles are rarely that difficult, and hidden objects and other collectibles are typically easy to find. If you’ve ever played an RPG before, odds are this one won’t be too great of a challenge.
Still, it’s worth playing because of how beautiful it is—because of how delightful it feels to hang out in this world and talk to these characters. There is a lot of dialogue to read through, and although certain characters are bummers who are there mostly for exposition or guidance, The Origami King does an amazing job of establishing unique perspectives and personalities for most of the major characters. Even if you’re the kind of player who likes to skip directly to the action whenever a cut scene pops up, you’ll likely find yourself awaiting new characters and new story beats in Origami King with excitement.
That’s pretty much what you need to know about Paper Mario: The Origami King if you’ve never played a Paper Mario game before. Don’t expect Super Mario World or Super Mario Odyssey; expect something slower and more story-focused, but with a weird and legitimately funny sense of humor. If you’re feeling burned out on Animal Crossing: New Horizons and need something new for your Switch, and don’t mind games that aren’t focused on action, you might dig Mario’s latest 2D adventure.
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.