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Paper Mario: The Origami King review – a heartfelt creation that doesn’t quite stand up

There’s always been something unique in Paper Mario’s wafer thin worlds: a sense of place and personality, an ability to linger and explore, a chance to stop and befriend. In its cardboard castles and papercraft dioramas, Paper Mario’s mix of adventuring and role-playing has always managed to showcase Mario’s surroundings as more than just background scenery, spotlight sidekicks or rivals and make them more than just one-dimensional, and be that rarest of things for video games – frequently very funny. Within its creases and corrugated backdrops, Paper Mario has consistently shaped the Mushroom Kingdom and its inhabitants into something more textured and weighty than its materials might ever suggest. Happily, you’ll find much of the same heart, humour and character once again in The Origami King.

But Paper Mario has also experienced a tug of war between its adventuring and role-playing mechanics, with recent entries opting to fold away their RPG gameplay and keep it tucked out of sight. For many, this tussle goes beyond simple genre preference – it is central to Paper Mario’s premise, and to its ability to present Mario’s worlds and characters in a way only this series, which comes around rarely, is able to provide. As more of The Origami King emerged during its remarkably short route to reveal and then release, Paper Mario fans (and particularly those of hallowed GameCube entry The Thousand-Year Door) desperately tried to pigeonhole this latest incarnation as one thing or another – adventure or RPG? – to determine the kind of experience it might offer. In reality, it is an odd jumble of both. The Origami King does offer a few welcome concessions to its RPG roots, but it also shies away from growing these further over the course of the game, struggling to ever emerge truly distinct.

The Origami King’s battle system is a good example of all this. Its turn-based gameplay using well-timed jumps and hammer swings will be a familiar sight for Paper Mario purists, while the addition of a grid layout to rotate and shuffle enemies into more manageable groups adds a fun new puzzle layer. It’s a battle system you will see an awful lot of over the course of the game, but one which continually provides a feeling of accomplishment when you line everything up just right. There are a few items (Fire Flowers, POW Blocks and the like) you can use or mostly ignore, and a neat help system which sees you calling on the assembled Toad audience to jump in and mark out a route for you.

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