Paper Mario: The Origami King is a pretty good game in itself, but let’s be real: it has been year because we’ve had a game that captures the magic of the first two titles in the Paper Mario series. Where Origami King makes fighting more of an action-oriented puzzle, Old School Paper Mario games were deeper role-playing games with light action elements. Fortunately, there’s something there that picks up the torch, and it’s on the Nintendo Switch to boot.
Bug Fables: The Everlasting Sapling is a highly rated adventure RPG that has been out on PC for a while and was recently released on consoles. The Paper Mario influence is obvious from the start, thanks to an art style that makes everything look like a two-dimensional cardboard cutout. It looks better in motion than in screenshots, trust me. The battle is also a turn-based deal where good timing can help you hit or defend a little harder. Some ideas are also similar: I̵
It would be a mistake to call Bug Fables a pure imitation, though. Instead of just recreating an experience you’ve already had, Bug Fables takes the original Paper Mario formula and expands on it in large and small ways, which ultimately creates a wonderfully unique experience.
Part of that is the basic premise: You play as a group of bugs that live in a larger insect world, just as you do in the equally excellent Hollow Knight. This fact alone provides Bug Fables space to experiment with characters we don’t usually see in games that often. I’ve killed a lot of zombies, rubs and people during my annual games. Here I am more worried about things like mantis, parasitic wasps, beetles, moths and all kinds of ants. Even better, the larger kingdom has its own policies and cultural preferences to worry about.
One of the playable characters is a bee rebellion from her mother, who would rather see her play a predetermined role in the hive, as all pollinators do. Exciting, the only types of bugs I have not seen are cockroaches, but it is intentional. Cockroaches, in this world, are an ancient civilization with advanced technology that other insects are still struggling to understand. I’m only about 15 hours in Bug Fables, but I have a feeling I’ll find out what happened to the otherwise ubiquitous real pests. At the moment, I leave myself wondering about politics on a smaller scale, for example why ladybugs are not allowed in the swamp.
I also regularly enjoy how the developer, Moonsprout Games, plays with the great setting. There are times when it becomes obvious that you are a small creature living in a huge world. For example, there was a section where I walked into a museum that proudly displayed a set of jacks and rubber bullets that were speculated to be remnants of an ancient war. Shops and houses are made of things like old boxes and soda cans that borrow Bug Fables and worn, inhabited look.
Combat will be familiar to anyone who has played Paper Mario before, but there are some twists and turns. Instead of having two characters in the field, you have three. Your positioning determines who is hardest hit by the enemy, even if you have to change order halfway through your turn. Characters can also give up in turn to give another teammate a second action, but the trade-off is that each attack becomes slightly weaker. Enemy placement also makes a difference: If your rival, for example, flies, only certain attacks will land … unless you manage to drop them to the ground.
I am also regularly amazed at the complexity of the action commands – many hours in, I still have to actively pay attention to what the game wants me to do. The window to land a hit will be constantly changing, or the button asking for specific attacks will change from turn to turn, so I can not just turn off the brain after memorizing how it works. I can – and do – move with basic commands when I get sloppy. On the flip side, though, it’s extremely satisfying when I’m able to accurately predict the time of an enemy attack, allowing me to ignore its damage.
Oh, yes: there are statistics and numbers to worry about. When planning, you have the choice of adding your HP pool, increasing your special command skill points, or increasing the number of “medals” you can equip. Just like brands in Paper Mario, medals affect all sorts of things in battle, so you can tailor the experience to which style of play you think fits. Right now I’m wearing a medal that allows one of my characters to hurt an enemy every time I successfully block an attack, and another that immediately kills low level opponents without having to go into battle. I try to save for a medal that enables follow-up attacks.
Bug Fables is also full of the kind of side content that makes RPGs sing, from select missions and bosses to secret shops and even a full-scale card game that uses all the characters you meet along the way. I have participated in a play, and have returned an apartment worth of lost items so far. There are a number of “bounties” I have no idea how to complete yet. There is even a cooking system with dozens of recipes that can buy your items in new and unexpected ways. I have not done much yet, but Bug Fables also introduces a charm system where you can pay a mystic for random, temporary buffs during battle. And if the basic experience is not enough of a challenge, Bug Fables also gives you two difficulty options via medals that make the battles more difficult, but the rewards also greater.
Perhaps my favorite mechanic is the dedicated “gossip” button, which you can press at any time to get your characters to comment on the colorful role they encounter along the way, or the many discoveries that occur during your adventure. Let me tell you, it’s a perverted pleasure to stand in front of someone and then decide to talk shit about them, just because you can. When social distancing has reduced the chances of hot gossip, it’s a fun relief to blow away some steam like this in a game. More games should have a cord button like this. It’s brilliant.
All this is to say: If you want a real Paper Mario experience, you can have it. It only costs $ 24.99 – less than half of what Origami King do – you can take it with you when you’re on the go, and it’s a blast. It’s just not made by Nintendo.