Most roleplaying games can be divided into two core sections: overworld exploration and combat. The puzzle-RPG Paper Mario: The Origami King is no different. While I’ve already discussed the surprisingly deep puzzle combat, there’s a whole ‘nother aspect of Origami King that makes up a significant chunk of its gameplay. Overworld exploration in Origami King involves its own variation of puzzle solving and fighting but also involves searching the world for collectibles and working to restore it to its former glory. You accomplish these tasks in a wide, interconnected world with few unique areas but lots of ground to cover and impressive density within those areas. In this article, I’ll be discussing each of these aspects of the overworld as well as discussing my overall thoughts on this significant portion of Origami King’s gameplay.
The events of Origami King are set in the Mushroom Kingdom, a location we’ve explored not only in the original Paper Mario and Sticker Star but also in a wide number of other Mario games, including other RPGs. It’s a world that should feel familiar but a concept like “canon” is not enough to keep Nintendo from taking creative liberties with what that world is made up of. You won’t see the Forbidden Forest or the Dry Dry Desert, but there are certainly woods and a desert to explore. The set pieces themselves are for the most part pretty standard, with a notable exception in Autumn Mountain and the ninja theme park upon it. What makes the world stand out a bit more is just how full of stuff to do it is compared to previous entries in the series.
Origami King’s world is something of an oxymoron, feeling big and small all at once. There are fewer unique areas to explore overall – the first “chapter” of the game (Origami King is not formally divided into chapters but I find that language useful shorthand for referencing the distinct stories and environments around each streamer) has two sections which each connect to structures that for ease of reference I will call “dungeons.” But that’s it. Picnic Road and Overlook Mountain are each one screen, and outside of the dungeons connected to them those will be the only overworld areas you explore during the first chapter. What makes Origami King different is how massive these areas are and just how packed with stuff to do they are.
I’ll use Autumn Mountain as an example here. Autumn Mountain is one “section” of the map – it is independently tracked on the game’s map with its own set of collectibles, and can all be experienced in a single screen (by which I mean no loading screen transitions). Yet within Autumn Mountain alone you’ll get to see and explore a tram platform and waiting area surrounded by colorful fall trees, the bottom of a drained lake, a large wheat field, a bridge leading to an enemy-infested clearing, and the grand entrance to a mysterious temple. Each of the areas I just named are filled to the brim with stuff to do whether it is fight bad guys, find missing Toads, discover treasures, and even get a party back together. Most of the game’s map sections are like this, bigger and denser than what we’ve seen in Paper Mario before.
What makes these areas dense are the various tasks you’ll be accomplishing as you explore the overworld. Each unique map segment tracks four types of action: filling not-bottomless holes (yes, that’s the name they went with), rescuing Toads, finding collectible treasures, and hitting all the ? blocks. Not-bottomless holes are tears left in the world by the Origami King’s minions, and fixing them generally gifts you with coins. There will be some holes that have to be filled in so that you can clear a path to where you are going, but for the most part fixing them is optional. These holes are the sole purpose for your confetti bag, which stores confetti farmed from objects in the environment (primarily trees, plants, and enemies) and grows larger over time. Occasionally, there’s a sort of environmental puzzle with the confetti where figuring out where to find more so you can fill the holes is part of the challenge of a section, but these moments are few and far between. But even though filling the holes doesn’t come with a particularly big reward there’s a sort of lizard-brain satisfaction that comes from seeing a tear in the environment and then taking the time to fix it.
Crumpled Toads have been shoved into every nook and cranny of Origami King’s setting. Many of the “animals” you see in the world will be Toads folded into origami. You’ll also find them rolled up and shoved into holes, crumpled in trees or trash cans, stuck onto the back of signs, buried in the ground – these suckers are everywhere and many of the tasks you accomplish in the game will rescue at least one of them. As you rescue Toads, they return to their proper place in the overworld but also join your audience in battle. Bribe the audience with coins and they’ll do things like deal damage to enemies, restore your health, or move the rings in battle to help you solve a puzzle. Sometimes rescuing specific Toads will unlock other features of the overworld like opening a previously-closed shop or granting you access to a blocked area. Because of this, rescuing Toads consistently feels worthwhile.
? Blocks come in two varieties: ones you can see and ones you can’t. The hidden ones are generally telegraphed but some are significantly more subtle than others, making the task of finding hidden blocks totally on your own a rather daunting one. Luckily the game comes with some help for that in two forms. The first is an accessory that chimes whenever a hidden block is nearby (there are similar accessories for Toads and treasures, too), letting you know that you are within a few steps of a hidden block. Once you locate the general area of a block, you can bust out your hidden block radar which vibrates the controller when it points in the direction of the nearby block (there’s a similar radar for Toads). You don’t get these tools right away, but their presence in the game makes what would otherwise be a daunting task pretty realistic to accomplish. ? Blocks are mechanically worthwhile most of the time because they grant coins or items – in fact, during my “post-game” exploration to find the blocks I missed, I actually found two brand new weapon types I’d never gotten during my initial playthrough. So these blocks are worth your time to search for.
The acts of filling holes and rescuing Toads have an immediate mechanical payoff that make them worth doing, but both actions also tie into a deeper thematic reward that really didn’t hit me until I did the aforementioned post-game exploration. After beating the game, you are reset to right before the final boss fight (with a new convenient fast-travel pipe to get out of the dungeon quickly) and can then go and explore the world at your leisure to locate any collectibles you missed during the first go-around. It was this act of revisiting all the areas from the game that really helped me to see the long-term payoff of filling holes and rescuing Toads. Because when you return to these areas, what used to be a broken and abandoned segment of the world is now whole and lively.
There’s a unique satisfaction that comes from returning to a previous area and seeing that your actions had a tangible effect on the place. Segments of the world that were once abandoned, infested with enemies, and riddled with holes are now bustling with people, safe, and clean. A new music track plays with a high energy, joyful melody as you walk about and see the positive impact of your efforts. It’s a second emotional payoff to go with the more tangible mechanical one, and for me it was the moment that helped me to realize that I cared about the world of Origami King. This version of the Mushroom Kingdom matters to me a little more now because I was given the responsibility of putting it back together.
This experience of revisiting all the previous locations in the game is made a lot easier by the thorough fast travel mechanisms available in this game. There are essentially two different fast travel mechanisms (one cleverly called fax travel) in the game and each one connects a different set of locations, and of course both connect easily back to a central hub where you can switch from one to the other. This was definitely convenient during the postgame for finishing off my collectibles and getting to see the world I’d restored, but even in the midst of the game it is highly useful for getting around. A few times in the game you’ll find a rare item that has a helpful bonus if you take it back to a previous area to “unlock” its potential, and the deeply interconnected fast travel system makes those trips a breeze rather than an agonizing chore. Getting around the Mushroom Kingdom is easier than ever before, which is key for giving you opportunities to see the positive impacts you’ve made on the game world.
There are a few notable aspects of overworld exploration left to touch upon. One feature you may have seen in trailers for the game is the presence of vehicles. There are two chapters of the game which each center vehicle travel, one the boot car in chapter three and the other the boat in chapter four. Both vehicles operate pretty similarly to one another: they increase your speed of travel in an environment meant to be sprawling and allow you to plow through overworld enemies to avoid getting into combat. I think the choice to put the two vehicle chapters back to back was less than ideal – it would have been nice to have these segments more broken up, as having both of them shoved into the middle of the game made things a bit tedious once chapter four got going.
I mentioned earlier the presence of dungeons in the game; dungeon in this case being shorthand for “a unique area within the game which ends in a boss battle.” The dungeons in Origami King are quite small compared to the dungeons in other RPGs and even compared to the dungeons in previous Paper Mario games. Like the typical RPG dungeon they feature a series of navigational challenges and puzzles, are sprinkled with enemies, and they end in a confrontation with a boss. While the boss fights that end off these dungeons are a blast, the dungeons themselves are generally unremarkable. Most of them have some kind of cute hook that are good for a chuckle – like the earth temple having donation boxes all over with museum style audio descriptions of the attractions – but the puzzles themselves aren’t anything to write home about. Dodging fire in the fire temple, rerouting water in the water temple, sliding on ice in the ice temple – if you’ve ever played a JRPG you’ve done this before. A notable exception is chapter two AKA the blue streamer, which forgoes a traditional dungeon for an experience that is unique and fun in both presentation and gameplay.
Finally, the overworld has its own form of unique combat separate from the puzzle battles which I discussed in my previous article. There are enemies in the setting made of papier-mâché who are referred to as Paper Macho enemies. You fight these enemies in real time in the overworld, which means that you’re moving, jumping, and swinging your hammer in real time not unlike Super Paper Mario. Of course these battles are in a 3D space whereas that game was a 2D platformer. Paper Macho enemies generally have one or more weak points indicated with Origami King stickers which you have to strike in order to make the whole body vulnerable. Once they’re exposed, you can attack them anywhere on the body (there are some Paper Macho bosses who function somewhat differently, too). Most of the Paper Macho enemies have an attack pattern you can memorize, so fighting them consists of learning how to dodge, avoiding attacks until you find an opening, and then laying the smackdown with your hammer. This generally takes 3 to 4 strikes per enemy, and Paper Macho enemies generally appear one or two at a time. They’re a fun way to change up the game and to incorporate combat scenarios that are a refreshing break from the standard combat. (I want to be clear though, Nintendo – A BREAK. Please don’t pull a Super Paper Mario and make this the entire basis of the next game. Thanks.)
Origami King’s setting is a bit of a mixed bag. The environments are mostly familiar themes and the dungeons within them are the most standard imaginable JRPG fare. But the activities you perform in that world are rewarding both mechanically and emotionally. The theme of restoration as you both literally and figuratively put the broken world back together really comes through when you revisit previous environments, and a robust fast travel system makes that act of revisiting easier than ever before in a Paper Mario game. Individual scenes are bigger and denser than ever before, giving you a ton to do in a given area, and yet the overall low number of areas keeps an intimate feeling to the world, a coziness that works well with the sense of joy that comes from putting that world back together. It is similar to prior entries in the Paper Mario series in the sense that the standout areas really stand out while the rough ones may feel like they hold the game back at times – you really have to take it chapter by chapter in that regard. When it was all said and done, though, I had an affection for this world that came from being directly responsible for putting it back in order.