This post – about the upcoming new Paper Mario game – was inspired by a good read on The Wizard Dojo. Check out Scott’s thoughts (and blog in general) – it’s much better than what I cobble together here.
Anyway, there’s this new Paper Mario game coming out soon for the Switch, subtitled The Origami King. You may have heard of it. A lot of Nintendo/Switch fans lost their shit and got super-excited about it (good for them), while others have had a more lukewarm response to Mario’s latest paper-based spin-off. Where do I sit on this one? Somewhere in the middle. The trailer looked fun, but also disappointing. Maybe I’m just an crusty old entitled gamer? Perhaps.
But here’s the issue: The Origami King resembles Sticker Star and Colour Splash – not the first two Paper Mario games that fans desperately want to see a proper sequel to.
Y’see, the N64 Paper Mario and it’s Gamecube follow-up, The Thousand-Year Door, were such rich experiences. There was the captivating, absolutely gorgeous art style for starters. Then there was legitimately entertaining humour, fantastically-creative paper-based special abilities, and a recurring cast of original characters/races mixing it up with the classic Toads, Yoshis, Goombas etc. More importantly, there was the RPG style of gameplay which was both satisfying and challenging. PS2 and Xbox owners may have dismissed TTYD as “childish” in period (as with most first-party Nintendo games which were apparently inferior to murdering prostitutes, street racing, and worshipping enormous digital breasts) but there was a proper game there – style AND substance. Kiddy Nintendo game? Bring that perception with you and try to clear the Pit of Hundred Trials, or rock up to the final boss expecting a kid-friendly ride.
I received The Thousand Year Door for Christmas back in 2004 and I absolutely caned that game. I spent hours levelling-up and doing everything possible in order to collect the rarest and best badges. In fact, just writing about it makes me want to hook the Gamecube up and start a new save file.
A lot of people slate Super Paper Mario for the Wii and cite it as the beginning of the end. While I totally get that viewpoint, it was still a game that I got a heck of a lot out of. True, the hybrid RPG/platformer design was – in hindsight – the clear transitional period for the series, and the game is centred around the plane-changing
gimmick mechanic, but it still contained original characters, all the charm of the first two games, and those all-important RPG elements. No, it didn’t quite stack up against its predecessors, but it was far from a crap sequel. The only thing I despised about the game was the hateful lock-up glitch that plagued the initial print run.
Things didn’t really go downhill until 2012’s Sticker Star for the 3DS. This game had all the visual charm and humour that the series had become renowed for, but stripped away everything else. There was a greater focus on the papercraft-style world, the partner system was removed, and emphasis on a proper storyline was massively reduced. Worse still, the RPG elements were watered-down so much that it was impossible to consider Sticker Star an RPG in the same vein as the N64/GC games. The central gimmick this time was the use of titular stickers. Stickers were used to battle, and to activate set-pieces that would allow you progress through areas. As well as being a gimmick, it was hugely frustrating mechanic. Didn’t have the right stickers to deal with certain enemies? Well, you were screwed. The clues as to which stickers to use to transform the landscape were also often very cryptic, the solutions sometimes making little logical sense. And if you used the wrong one? It didn’t return to your inventory – it was lost. Ultimately, it meant tons of back-tracking and grinding to build a big enough collection of stickers to deal with enemies, as well as heaps of trial-and-error with the stickers needed to make progress.
The Paper Mario-specific characters and races were also conspicuously absent. This, the shelving of the RPG format, and the token story that nobody gave a fuck about, were all apparently the request of Shigeru Miyamoto.
According to an interview with some of the game’s developers, the partner system prevalent in previous Paper Mario titles was removed because it was found to often conflict with the sticker-focused gameplay and the developers were asked by Miyamoto to, “As much as possible, complete [the game] with only characters from the Super Mario world.” Miyamoto also asked the developers to change the gameplay and battles because he considered them to be too similar to The Thousand Year Door and asked the developers to greatly de-emphasise the game’s story, saying “It’s fine without a story, so do we really need one?” The world map and level system seen in Sticker Star was implemented so that players could easily stop and resume play at any time.Wikipedia
I don’t like to use the phrase “dumbed-down” but that’s exactly what happened here. Sticker Star was a Paper Mario Lite – a friendly, easy-to-pick-up game that didn’t place many demands on the player. Unfortunately, making the series accessible, nixing its individuality, and saddling players with the frustrating sticker mechanic was a toxic concoction that long-time fans didn’t enjoy the taste of. To make matters worse, there was no washing the bad taste away with the Wii-U follow-up, Colour Splash. While the game definitely had more meat on the bones, it still followed the Sticker Star formula a little too closely. Stickers were replaced with cards and touch-screen shenanigans on the Wii-U Gamepad, but the emphasis was still on the paperly style of the game world, and a more action-orientated approach.
In the interests of balance, I did play and complete both Sticker Star and Colour Splash. I also enjoyed them to a degree, certainly enough to see both games through to their conclusions. Contrary to many negative opinions of these games, I really dug the paper-based world design and the playful creativity that came with them. The visuals really grabbed my attention and made me smile, just as Nintendo stablemates Kirby’s Epic Yarn and Yoshi’s Woolly World did. These were real “only on Nintendo” moments that make owning their machines worthwhile.
But I resented the gameplay in both games and the simplification of what had once been an RPG series. Sticker Star and Colour Splash were both solid, enjoyable games that were built to the usual standards of reliable Nintendo quality. However, I cannot see myself ever wanting to play them again in the same way that simply writing about The Thousand-Year Door makes me itch to start it over. In fact, I would have happily sold both games on by now if it weren’t for the fact that they were gifts, leaving me with an irrational sense of duty to keep them on the shelf.
So I finally arrive at the incoming The Origami King. I had the old feeling of excitement when I saw that there was a trailer for a new Paper Mario game (even though I still don’t own a Switch!), but said excitement was immediately dampened. I like what I saw with regards to the visual style, origami elements, and humour. But – again – there were no Paper Mario-specific characters and not much in the way of RPGness. Obviously, it was a two-minute teaser trailer, so it’s clearly too early to doom-monger and confirm that The Origami King is going to be another disappointing entry, but what I saw was very Sticker Star/Colour Splash, and that doesn’t excite me very much.
The Origami King will be a fun, charming game (it would be silly to argue otherwise), and I would – regardless of reservations – like to play it. It will probably sell decently for Nintendo too. But I highly doubt that it will do much – if anything at all – to satiate the appetite of those who yearn for a return to the glory days of the N64 and Gamecube Paper Mario games. However, it’s important to remember that there are a lot of gamers who haven’t experienced those games so, while they don’t know what they are missing, they can also look at these newer installments with fresh, unbiased eyes and just enjoy them for what they are. And if they sell well and are received favourably then who are we to argue? Sometimes you have to accept that you are no longer the target audience for a videogame publisher, as disappointing as that may be.