This week on Zero Punctuation, Yahtzee reviews Paper Mario: The Origami King.
I think Paper Mario might be my Sonic the Hedgehog; every time they bring out another one, I go, "Maybe this time, it'll be good again!" and dutifully jam my dick in the beehive, and I'm beginning to think that the one time I didn't get stung on the piss hole might've been the outlier. The first three Paper Marios was like there was this one really cool teacher at Nintendo High School, then one time, he showed up a little the worse for drink, and after that, he mysteriously vanished and his classes have been taught by one poorly informed substitute after another. "Okay, apparently, you were working on this thing where everyone's made of paper; I guess you were doing stationery?" No, we were doing a party-based RPG based around fun, interesting characters! "Uh, I don't have any notes about that; let's just do stationery."
So once again, we're basing the game around one of the fundamentals of paper-craft; Sticker Star was glue, Color Splash was paint, now Origami King is about paper-folding, and I seem to remember calling this in my Color Splash review. I also made a silly joke about fighting a boss fight against a hole punch. Well, guess what? In Origami King, there's a boss fight against a hole punch. No, really, there actually is. And if the games industry is taking ideas from my sarcastic, exaggerated examples of things that would be stupid, that would fucking explain a few things.
"Anyway, might as well recount the plot," he said, with the air of a bored local newsreader who once had bigger dreams. Evil origami comes to the paper Mushroom Kingdom; people get folded into evil brainwashed origami versions of themselves with an actually kind-of-disturbing "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" vibe; Princess Peach gets done over; Mario has to go on an epic journey to save her, teaming up, of course, with the usual "glorified mouse pointer" support character who does all the talking, which has been a particular creativity vacuum zone in every Mario game for some time. They take an object related in some way to the game's theme, stick eyes on it, have it float next to Mario's head, and knock off for lunch; Mario Odyssey had a hat, Color Splash had a paint bucket, Origami King has an origami thing.
So far, you're probably picking up on a negative tone to this review. "Oh, perish the thought, Yahtzee! I just assumed you'd eaten the wrong end of last night's kebab for breakfast." But, I actually liked Origami King a bit more than the last few Paper Marios; original Paper Mario's still not showing up to class and was probably walled up alive in the school basement, but he managed to dictate a few more notes through the brickwork this time. So again, 90% of the characters are generic Toads and monsters and whatever else hasn't yet been deleted from the art asset Dropbox to make room for more Bowsette lewds, but, "Oh, it looks like you were doing sidekick characters with your old teacher, so let's have some of those."
In the second chapter, for example, you partner with a Bob-omb - not a unique, quirky Bob-omb; just a Bob-omb - and you don't control them in combat, and they don't have special abilities that open new areas, and they just sort of drop out of the game the moment the chapter's over, but it does superficially resemble the old partner system enough that the trailers might sucker some old fans out of their money. Still, it's a step in the right direction; there's something nasty on the step, but it's a step. Also, there's generally a bit more energy and vitality in the design of the world and the setpieces; it's not just "grasslands, desert, ocean, jungle, etc." There's also Shogunate Japan Land in there, to completely fuck up the rhythm. Speaking of rhythm, the game has an odd habit of breaking into energetic musical dance numbers every now and again, which I find it impossible to be grumpy about; it'd be like going to an orgy and worrying about the state of the carpet.
Frankly, though, I don't know if Paper Mario is good again or if it just finally wore me down. It did, at least, ditch the godawful combat from the last two games based around disposable single-use items, which was both annoying and probably bad for the environment; now there's a rather odd combat system in which Mario sets up a giant dartboard cum lazy Susan, gets the enemies to arrange themselves on it - rather obliging of them, actually, especially in the heat of the moment - and then has to rearrange the board in a set number of moves to line the enemies into rows or blocks so you can then attack them all at once.
It's more of a puzzle game than an action or tactics thing, in which case, I wish it had gone the whole hog. When I line up four gems in Bejeweled, they all very swiftly and politely fuck off and let me get on with things; I don't have to go through the rigmarole of "Select the Jump Attack, select the row, press A in time with each bounce as we go along the factory production line". I guess they felt it wouldn't be Paper Mario without the timed button presses, but it's clear to me now: Cool Teacher Paper Mario wasn't fired or immured in the basement; he's being imprisoned in the biology lab to be the subject of Nintendo's cruel gameplay experiments. That would explain the way the game's generally a dog's breakfast of ideas; one chapter turns into a full-on open world ocean exploration out of nowhere, 'cos hey, Wind Waker was good. Feels like something like that could've been running through the whole game, connecting all the locations, but whatever; I don't dislike it.
It's the combat that continues to over-season my ringpiece, 'cos it doesn't fix the main issue with the sticker system: no character leveling means there's no benefit to getting in combat. Yes, our attacks aren't single-use items anymore, but after a while, the monsters have more health from all their paper CrossFit, and you pretty much have to use the stronger versions of your attacks, which are equippables that degrade with use, so yeah, getting into random fights is still a net loss. I don't know why Nintendo's gotten so sniffy about character leveling; feels like "fight more, get stronger" is pretty much perfect as formulas go. It means even random fights progress us forward in some way, and if you ever need to unwind, you can go back to the starting area and laughingly cut a swathe through once-difficult enemies with a single swing of your titanic trouser turnip.
It's not exactly pioneering, but some things don't need further experimentation. Cheerios has been using the same recipe for decades 'cos it's fine; it works. They don't need to see if it works better with the oats taken out or mixed with push pins. Actually, you do get coins from getting into combat, but coins are everywhere; it's the fucking Mushroom Kingdom. People insulate their fucking houses with the things. You can spend them on equippable accessories that improve your character in some way. "Oh, I see you were doing a nuanced and interesting badge system with your old teacher; let's have some token accessories. Like, five or six of the buggers."
So, yeah, it's an improvement on the last two, but still the clueless substitute teacher. My main takeaway is that they used my idea for a hole punch boss monster, 'cos I didn't realize I had that kind of power. I think the next Paper Mario game should have a boss fight against a giant battery-powered dildo, that can only be defeated with the legendary special move "Send Yahtzee Croshaw the Password to Your Checking Account".
- Calls 'em and folds 'em: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- Frankly I was buggered if I was going to try to get through Ghosts of Tsushima in one weekend
- In my head I always pronounce "origami" like that one guy from We Love Katamari