Bug Fables and The Origami King

Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door (TTYD) was the video game that got me to stay online. It wasn’t the first one to get me there–Pokemon LeafGreen gets that credit–but it was the one that directly took me down the path to where I’m at, writing about video games on a personal blog. I remember that the power was out due to heavy winds when I returned home from GameStop with TTYD, and took a rare nap to wait for it to come back on because I didn’t want to do anything else. I really loved the game. But I got stuck on some puzzle or another, and looked online for help. I found GameFAQs, a website that hosts text walkthroughs for video games written by users, and the guides were so helpful and funny that I stayed on the website’s forums and made great friends there that I’m still friends with some 15 years later. Heck, I even named my blog after a TTYD character (accidentally).

But that’s not what this is about. This is about Bug Fables. Bug Fables: The Everlasting Sapling is an indie game that is not just the spiritual sequel to Paper Mario 64 and TTYD, it is demanding its spot as the third game in the Paper Mario series. TTYD released in 2004. Bug Fables came out in 2019, 15 years later. It was a game developed via Kickstarter funding. I wasn’t the only person who loved TTYD and wanted a sequel, a community of people contributed nearly $25,000 to the Kickstarter to prove exactly that. Sure, the game doesn’t star Mario nor does it explicitly say it is “Paper”, but there are too many callbacks, references, or downright ripoffs of Paper Mario 64 and TTYD that anyone with even passing familiarity with the games will be able to understand that Bug Fables is a Paper Mario as well. Just as a quick example, compare the screenshots below, and tell me if you spot the copy. Bug Fables is on top, TTYD is below.

It’s quite subtle, so I don’t blame you for missing it if you did. Look at the pattern on the right of the Bug Fables screenshot. The little yellow-and-orange triangle pattern. Now, look at the bottom-middle of the TTYD screenshot. Do you see it? TTYD used these strange cutouts of a path with a yellow-and-orange triangle pattern below to indicate to the player that there’s a screen transition here, and that players can follow the path to another area. Bug Fables copied that exact idea and used an extremely similar pattern. No other game I’ve ever seen has done this very small detail. It’s one of many nods to Paper Mario that Bug Fables has, and I could spend this whole post listing them all… but I won’t. Just know that the intention of Bug Fables is to be the third Paper Mario game after 15 years of no follow up to TTYD.

But here’s where it gets weird. There is already a third Paper Mario game. It is called Super Paper Mario, it came out for the Wii in 2007, and sold over twice as many copies as TTYD. Not only that, there’s a fourth Paper Mario game, called Paper Mario: Sticker Star that came out for the 3DS in 2012 and sold 2.5 million. And a fifth one, called Paper Mario: Color Splash, that came out for the Wii U in 2016 and, well, we don’t need to talk about its sales. And, most recently and half of this post’s title, a sixth Paper Mario called Paper Mario: The Origami King came out in 2020 on the Switch and sold 3 million copies. Paper Mario has never gone away. So why is Bug Fables trying to revive something that isn’t dead?

Well… the answer is pretty simple. From Super Paper Mario and on, the gameplay of Paper Mario became radically different from Paper Mario 64 and TTYD. I’m sorry for hyping this up so much. Super Paper Mario was a bizarre hybrid of platforming from 2D/3D Mario, numbers/action RPG elements from Paper Mario TTYD/64, and stupidly overwrought emotional storytelling from Twilight. Sticker Star and Color Splash were strange adventure-game-esque experimental games that had enough elements of the old Paper Mario in artstyle, battle system, and, well, name to piss everyone off with everything else that changed. Sticker Star in particular was an extreme betrayal as it was originally planned to be similar to TTYD but Miyamoto kicked in the door to the development staff at UNIntelligent Systems and told them that he’d murder everyone’s pets if they didn’t make the game bad on purpose. Color Splash was agreed to be a much better game but by then the damage to Paper Mario had been done, and fans of 64/TTYD felt that there would never be a proper sequel ever again. So fans decided to take matters into their own paper hands.

And you can re-read the second paragraph of this to remind yourself of what happened. The Panamanian developers at Moonsprout Games were able to get enough angry nostalgic Paper Mario fans to fund their dream game. Now, I personally didn’t pay any money, as I had no idea it was happening nor have I ever paid money for a Kickstarter… except for when I paid $15 for Brawl in the Family’s “Too Bad, Waluigi Time” book because I absolutely adored the comic.

ANYWAY, my digital friends whom I met through TTYD also didn’t even know about it while the Kickstarter was going on. The direction the Paper Mario series ended up going has been a long, long point of contention between us. I personally think Super Paper Mario, Sticker Star, and Color Splash are all good games. I have one person on there who agrees with me. The other 7 range from “will never forgive Miyamoto ever again” to “will never touch another Paper Mario even though a friend gave it to him after said friend got divorced (don’t ask)” to “willing to play and able to accept new Paper Mario games as good games but still mad about everything they did to the series”. It’s rare for a video game series to reboot like this and receive such unending vitriol–even I was able to forgive Spyro for the sins of The New Beginning trilogy when the Reignited Trilogy was made.

All of this is to say that Bug Fables has an audience that will gladly eat up whatever PM64/TTYD sequel slop that might be there, good or bad. And I’m very pleased to say that Bug Fables is a very good game. Its letdowns are the usual Kickstarter indie problems of “lack of spectacle” and “weirdo NPCs that someone paid to get them put in”, as well as the unfortunate issue of boring scenarios and a very underwhelming main story. But that’s about all the game does poorly. The 2D “paper” sprites are extremely good looking and have awesome animation. The character writing is absolutely phenomenal as the writers wrote unique lines for every one of the three main characters for literally every room, every NPC, and even every enemy. And, most importantly, the gameplay core and loop is just really fun.

There are a couple of things about TTYD I really loved that Bug Fables gets right. Namely, that your characters unlock “field abilities” to make it through dungeons, grant them a new attack, and “unlock” new areas on the overworld. It is so so so satisfying to make a tour of Bugaria every time someone of Kabbu, Vi, and Leif can do something new, like walking on the spiked floors in the Golden Settlement with Leif’s bubble shield to get to a hidden boss and some badges.

Speaking of, the other thing Bug Fables gets right is the battle system. Even I will admit Sticker Star and Color Splash’s battle systems are pretty poor. Bug Fables evolves a little on the original 64/TTYD concept of Mario and a partner fighting enemies by having your trio fighting enemies, but it’s still the same core: your team goes first, your attacks require timed inputs to do increased damage, you have a shared pool of Team Points (Flower Points) to execute stronger attacks, you equip Medals (badges) to give your team unique abilities or strengthen their basic statistics, you press the A button while the enemy attacks to decrease the damage taken, etc. The most interesting evolutions are the Turn Relay system which lets one of your 3 party members pass their turn to someone else who already acted with the penalty of the new character losing 1 attack due to being tired, and that some moves are powerful team attacks that require multiple members to use up their turn to use. The numbers in battles are higher than PM64 or TTYD’s numbers but not overwhelmingly higher like the base triple digits involved in Final Fantasy games. And the battles themselves require more thought than a typical Paper Mario fight, which also makes sense–indie games love being just slightly harder than what they’re inspired by. Finally, the bosses are fun, and I really appreciate that there are a bunch of optional boss fights that you can fight really early for challenging fights or wait until your team feels strong enough to take them on. I think it’s more satisfying to do everything as soon as possible, so doing the Devourer after chapter 2 was quite difficult. Regardless, I’m getting a bit in the weeds–the battle system is fun because everything is slightly more difficult and complex than a typical Paper Mario fight was, but not in an inaccessible way.

To put a bow on Bug Fables (but not Bow, the PM64 party member), it is a fine indie recreation of the magic of PM64 and TTYD as games. But it is not as good a recreation of PM64’s and especially TTYD’s scenario design. Bug Fables has some interesting ideas, mostly relegated to the conceptual level: the central conceit of the setting Bugaria is that it is some random human’s backyard, the Great Awakening gave some bugs sentience but not all, the identity of what the heck the Dead Landers are… these are interesting concepts. Yet the actual pseudopods on the ground story of finding artifacts for the Ant Queen and the ways in which you get the artifacts are, well, boring.

Enter Paper Mario: The Origami King (TOK). TOK is an inverted Bug Fables. The focus of the game is on scenarios, spectacle, and jokes, while it mostly disregards its battle system and cares very little about in-depth character writing. Paper Mario games have made battles a lose-only proposition since Sticker Star. The only thing you get winning a normal battle in TOK is money; there’s no leveling up. At the very least, TOK’s new battle system is a step up from Sticker Star and Color Splash’s slogs of consumable-based fights. Every normal battle in TOK is designed to finish within 1 turn. Mario is placed in the middle of a circular grid and the player has a limited amount of time to manipulate the enemies into standing into particular ways that allow Mario to attack and defeat all enemies at once. It’s an interesting idea that just doesn’t get expanded upon at all throughout the game, making it stale within the second chapter.

Boss battles on the other hand are extremely interesting in TOK. They flip the concept of normal battles and now have Mario outside the circular grid manipulating said grid to lead him to the middle or other spaces on the grid to attack the boss. Again, limited time frame to do this, and limited moves of the grid. These are super fun other than two stinkers. They might be the best boss fights in any RPG I’ve played. Now, I realize I’ve spent a lot of time talking about something I said TOK “mostly disregards”, so let’s get back to what TOK actively regards while tying it in with the boss battles: TOK loves jokes.

The main force that Prince Olly sends after Mario is the Legion of Stationery, comprised of Colored Pencils, Rubber Band, Hole Punch, Tape, Scissors, and Stapler. And, no, these aren’t characters “inspired by” these tools. They are literally the tools themselves.

The nefarious Colored Pencils.

Each of these bosses has a bombastic personality with a bunch of funny jokes attached to them. I know Office Space fans reading this are hoping that the jokes get anywhere near as funny as “you have my stapler”, and I can tell you that the jokes “go up to 11”, to borrow another Office Space line. It’s a bunch of puns and one-liners, something PM64 and TTYD were really good at as well. The sense of humor for TOK is more than just these easy jokes. There’s great visual gags such as the premise for the White Streamer chapter beginning with Bowser Jr. literally drained of color and crumpled up after the Legion of Stationery struck him down. The game makes constant paper jokes, and most of them land (like a tree being cut for paper!!!!). There’s also running gags like Luigi spending the entire game searching for a key to a door in Peach’s castle and only finding unrelated keys that you needed. It’s great!

Even though I said that TOK is mostly about humor in its writing, it takes time to be serious. And the crazy thing is that I think it nails both of the main “serious” moments. Bobby the Bob-omb is mainly a joke character. But there’s a scene with him that made me (and many others) cry. And it didn’t stop with his scene–the part right after with Olivia coping with what had happened is very powerful too, as Mario becomes a silent therapist to help her work out her feelings. I don’t want to talk about it more specifically because it is the best piece of serious writing in any Mario game ever, and probably my pick for best serious writing in any game. Or, at the very least, up there with the Ace Attornies and Ghost Trick. But the crazy thing about it? A minute after the Olivia scene happens, there’s a gag about infomercials overselling the stupidest things and it’s very funny. This game is extremely well-written.

I’ll just briefly use this time to say that TOK writes very good scenarios. Just like Bug Fables and every other Paper Mario, you are to go to different locations to do something with the magical item deigned by the game. TOK makes the journey feel far more interesting than the typical “go here, do dungeon” routine that Bug Fables fell into. For instance, chapter 4 is a sailing chapter where you explore a vast ocean to find the magical item. Chapter 2 has you traverse a Japanese-style theme park that ends with a recreation of Swan Lake featuring Birdo. Chapter 5 puts you in Shangri-La, a heaven full of hot springs that requires you to team up with Bowser Jr. and Kamek, usually your enemies. And the end of chapter 5 has Bowser’s Castle and the creepiest things I’ve seen in any Mario game. Other than chapter 1 being pretty typical (but still has weird and interesting stuff like the trees that do a dance number), TOK is doing extremely fun and unique things and asking the player to join it.

Paper Mario: The Origami King sold well. It is the best selling Paper Mario game. Most people liked it. Yet there are those that continue to cling to PM64 and TTYD as the series pinnacle that refuse to give the game a shot. And there are those who played all three games and found themselves enjoying TOK but desperately wished it had been closer to PM64 and TTYD in gameplay. I know this because I’m in a Discord with all three of these types of people. Heck, the guy who refuses to give the game a shot got the game for free because his friend got divorced (true story) and his constant refusal to play the game led to someone else that we’ve all been friends with for 13 years to leave the Discord (true story) and then I found $50 and everyone stood up and clapped (true story).

And I think that the people who wish the game was closer to TTYD and PM64 in gameplay and in allowing-the-game-makers-to-make-creative-looking-character-designs are in the right. I genuinely believe TOK is the best game in the Paper Mario series because the writing is THAT good. But the gameplay other than the 15 or so boss fights is not very interesting. If Paper Mario simply hired Bug Fables’ team to make the battle system for the next game and the Paper Mario team took care of all the writing, I think the perfect RPG could be made. After all, that’s basically TTYD, and that’s why I’m still online.

I ran out of steam with this post around the TOK part, to be honest. Just to summarize my main points, Bug Fables is great for its battle system, world-building, and character writing. TOK is great for its jokes, scenario writing, and boss fights. I do worry that if the games were combined that everything would be perfect except for every optional quest would be a fetch quest that requires the player to go to every location in the game to talk to one NPC in a stupid, arbitrary row for no real benefit. Because that’s a real staple (Legion of Stationery joke) of the games.

About pungry

Making strained metaphors funny.
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1 Response to Bug Fables and The Origami King

  1. Hello, Pungry,

    Thank you! You are a fantastic writer! Love you….xoxox

    All the best,


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