Paper Mario may not be dead and buried just yet

Paper Mario: The Origami King (2020)

I’m going to give you a fair advance warning on this one – this is going to get a bit depressive. Have you ever had to lift a coffin? I’m not sure if I’d go so far as saying that I’d rather be lying in the damn thing than carrying it, but I have to say, with all due respect, it’s one heavy bugger of a burden to bear.

I’ve had to carry a coffin before, although I’m being a bit generous to myself there because I basically contributed nothing to the lift at all, and it ain’t like we were burying Marlon Brando. I’m just wondering why they have to nail those things so firmly shut – I’m as proactive against zombie apocalyptic doom as the next person, but we ain’t expecting Thriller to play out some day, are we?

It’d also help if the coffins didn’t weigh a ton, thank you very much, because the grim reality is that I’m gonna be carrying more of them in the future. And, while we sometimes say we’d be willing to die for somebody, I’m afraid I ain’t putting my back out for any one of yous.

It’s thirsty work, the whole funeral thing, and a body well deserves a rake of drink and a few ham sangers at the afters – just don’t be one of those dreadful hangers-on who turns up at random funerals for the sandwiches and a day out. And especially don’t let yourself down totally by getting canned up before you’ve even buried the poor stiff. Although I will counter that by saying that early drinking is usually pre-emptive to the best type of funeral – an Irish funeral, Irish in that it features at least one scrap.

You may think at this point that I’m about ready to segue this whole funeral chat into the death of the Paper Mario series, the first two coffin nails having been hammered in by Sticker Star and Color Splash, but actually not. I’m sure a new Paper Mario title will eventually scale the heights of the N64 and GameCube efforts, even with all sorts of supposed creative restrictions placed on them by Nintendo top brass. You never know what’s around the corner, see, so do not fear – your favourite series is never truly dead. Except F-Zero, that one is dead as… well, the types of folks who abound coffins, usually.

I must say that it didn’t look too hot for Paper Mario: The Origami King on Switch, one of those delightful late surprise announcements that Nintendo have made a habit of. Instead of talking about the death of the series, I’m gonna be talking nonsense about dealing with death in general today, so you’d better brace yourself.

Gosh, I was as surprised as anyone that some death occurs in this game. No-one ever dies in a Nintendo game, you know. At most they get defeated, and that just means you won’t see them again until the next game. I’ve got to be careful with spoilers here of course, but the idea of the noble sacrifice, as it plays out in The Origami King, never really appealed to me. You probably don’t need me to tell you that I’d rather be a living chicken than a dead non-hero. I don’t think I’ve ever even broken the speed limit for criminy’s sake, and don’t the women just love me for that?

Well, I just have to hope that there’s some kind of 1-Up Mushroom or Reincarnation Fire Flower at the end of our eyeblink of a stint on this mortal curl, though I fear the reality is we’ll have to acquaint ourselves with the fact that we’re gonna be wormfood and be completely forgotten about pretty swiftly. But hey, look at the silver lining: it could be the hands of yours truly, leading you on your final walk.

Let’s get away from matters so morbid and get to PM: TOK, the guts of which you’ll be pleased to hear makes for a far less depressing subject. The pre-release attention was focused almost entirely of what the battle system would be like. If it were to build upon The Thousand Year Door, it’d be a certain winner. If it were to go down the Sticker Star route of pointless battle, however, it really would become a sort of slow death by tedium.

As it happens, The Origami King does what Nintendo almost do too much of, and innovates something entirely brand new and off the wall – a ring system, where you can swing the odds for yourself by lining up all the enemies before you whack them with your boots or your hammer. And, some bad news here, the boots and hammer can be either the basic infinite models or some finite deliberate yokes you can take with you to battle.

Truth be told, the battles do still lean a bit towards choredom. I enjoyed it, even though steering 3D objects in space is something I simply cannot do (hence they don’t let me carry coffins anymore, after the Glasnevin incident). This meant I could handle the easy stuff, but I felt a right pilchard in those more complex battles later in the game. Although at least there’s Toads on hand to help you, for a price, and mercifully the Toads all look different this time. Believe me, this means a whole lot to longtime Paper Mario fans.

And indeed, you’ll find many’s a Toad in all kinds of precarious and kooky situations in the overworld, and that’s really where the best part of the game lies – getting everything in the overworld, and reading all of the well-written, well-translated humorous text that comes with doing so. I might have liked to see more Bowser – always comedy gold in the Mario RPG games, but that’s just nitpicking. This is still one of the funniest games I’ve played for a long time, and I’m talking here about laugh-out-loud humour, not just your nose generating steam.

And in a world with death at every turn, we could all do with a laugh and a cheering up, couldn’t we? Hence, you should stick to the overworld whenever and wherever possible. It gets so that you’d rather give the battles a miss, because it’s just busy work by the end and there’s still no traditional level ups and experience points present. I still fought just about every thug I saw, if only to see what classic Mario enemies looked like in origami form, but I can easily see why this game was criticised for its combat.

Mind you, they could have slapped together any old origami and I’d have been convinced, because what on earth would I know about it? I actually did a bit of the old papercraft in school as part of a Japanese class – a mandatory class, before you put me down as a weeb – and my attempt at the old classic, the graceful swan, instead came out like a crippled goose and probably shat like one too. You’ll mess up reams of origami as you journey through PM: TOK, but even the much-vaunted boss battles, once everyone has stopped talking, are pretty annoying. And the less said about the gimmicky final boss phase, the better.

There you go, then, life and death in a nutshell. The busy work of battling in PM: TOK is a lot like the sad and impersonal aspects of burial; best gotten over and done with as soon as possible, before giving way to a bit of the old craic, some reminiscence of how things used to be.

For my money, Paper Mario: The Origami King was one of the real surprise hits of 2020, and one of my picks for the year. Not all of it will be to everyone’s taste, but I’m just glad that I’m not here today, speaking at Paper Mario’s funeral, saying how much we all loved it, past tenses all round. Call this game a rebirth – if not a glorious phoenix rising from the flames, because you know how bad paper smells when it catches fire.

7 April 2023

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