On March 10, in our Mario series power ranking, I wrote that I would "spend hundreds of dollars if Nintendo promised me that, today, they could deliver me a Paper Mario on the Switch."
Two months later, Nintendo delivered for a much lower price with a title that looks like a promising return to Paper Mario's Nintendo 64 roots.
Paper Mario: The Origami King is scheduled to release July 17. The trailer seems to harken back to great times gone by, and for Paper Mario fans, that means two things: turn-based combat and role-playing game mechanics.
In its most recent iterations, the series has focused more on action-adventure elements, and while The Origami King is listed as an action-adventure game on Nintendo's official website, the trailer has me holding out hope that the developer will lean into what drew so many fans to Paper Mario in the first place: humor, a nice spin on tactical turn-based fighting and the RPG elements that fell to the wayside in Super Paper Mario (2007), Paper Mario: Sticker Star (2012) and Paper Mario: Color Splash (2016).
But what made the old system so great? Why does the combat and progression from the original N64 release and Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door stick out so much in players' minds? Are we letting nostalgic fondness get the best of us, or were those games really the 2D masterpieces we thought they were?
I dusted off my old N64 and busted out my Paper Mario cartridge to see if the game, which I got on my 10th birthday, holds up nearly 20 years after its release.
Short answer: Yes. Longer answer: Hell yes.
And here's the full answer.
The first thing to remember when playing an N64 game is that there are cords involved. The second thing to remember is to keep those cords out of the reach of everything else.
My Paper Mario experience started with the titular character losing a battle against an invincible Bowser, which starts the whole thrust of the story: You must save the seven Star Spirits to gain the power to beat the new-and-improved baddie, who is drawing on the stars' power to remain invulnerable. The game abruptly ended, however, when my five-month-old puppy decided the N64 controller cord would make a good snack, snagged the cord and attempted to run away with it.
A clatter. A crash. The game freezes. I hold my breath. Is the adventure, and the life of a decades-old system, already over?
Luckily, the N64 is an absolute unit capable of taking lumps better than any modern-day system. They just made 'em better back then. I give the cartridge an old-fashioned puff of air into the underside, and we're back up and running.
After that mishap, I finally got to experience some of the minor things that I didn't remember about this game. The fantastic battle music and sound effects. The variety of teammates and strategies you need to employ with them. The Flower Power and Badge systems that keep combat fresh and challenging without overwhelming the player. The one-liners that induce chuckle after chuckle, even in the midst of peril for your paper pals.
The delight of nailing action button sequences during combat also sprung back into my memory.
Paper Mario sits alongside the God of War series in my mind as the titles that best use the press-a-button-to-do-more mechanic. In God of War, it leads to visceral beheadings and carving up of Greek gods. In Paper Mario, you get to bop an enemy on the head with your boots a few extra times.
Very different, but very satisfying, just like Paper Mario as a whole.
At the time of its release, there really wasn't anything out there like Paper Mario, and there really hasn't been any competitor that rivals the series' mix of humor, star power, gameplay and, bizarrely enough, character building.
Seeing Peach assist Mario from afar throughout the N64 game was both touching and a nice break from the typical action. Watching your companions grow bringing new personalities into the fold, however simple, was also gratifying. I, a 29-year-old playing a children's game, took pride in landing all of my jumps on the head of a hapless Goomba while sending Bombette in to clean up with a full-screen explosion.
The fervor around The Origami King feels a lot like what came with the Animal Crossing: New Horizons announcement. People cling to that nostalgia. They feel those old moments of joy in their bones and long to find them again, be it with updated graphics or a few folds added to their favorite 2D characters.
Those past experiences are a pro and a con for Nintendo; the fans who are most passionate about Paper Mario are certainly looking for something new, but at the same time, they're harkening back to those old familiar sounds and gameplay loops. The things that made them smile the first time around. The comfort food that is slamming down a Quake Hammer to throw four Koopas off their feet and then using Kooper's Power Shell to clean up the mess.
Nintendo has struggled with the delicate balance between old and new in the past, particularly in this series. That said, the developer hasn't missed often since bringing games into the next generation with the Nintendo Switch.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, a massive departure from the franchise's roots, is debatably one of the best video games of all time.
Pokémon Sword and Shield, despite some controversy over the developers cutting out nearly 400 Pokémon, gave players a ton of features they'd wanted for years, all while bringing in a setting and graphics that made the Pokémon titles worthy of an HD screen as well as two expansions for the game.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons has become ubiquitous in the time of coronavirus quarantine with island layouts, fashion creation and in-game homes becoming canvases to go with the wholesome crowdsourcing that helps players make their islands and bank statements bigger than ever before.
Paper Mario: The Origami King has a chance to take advantage of the same moment that inspired me to play the original game. We're all stuck inside, and we're all looking for outlets, and maybe, just maybe, a fresh look at a storied game series can make Paper Mario as big of a sensation as the Switch sequels that came before it.