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Paper Mario is dead… now is the perfect time for Paper Zelda

A Paper Zelda game has never made more sense, with Zelda’s stock at an all time high, and my faith in Paper Mario shredded beyond repair.

Paper Zelda: A papercraft Link pulls the master sword from its pedestal

 The header image and many images featured in this article come from the 64 Bits Paper Zelda concept video. You can find a link to this at the bottom of the article.

Let’s get this out of the way. I absolutely adore Paper Mario. Not just The Thousand Year Door, not just the original Paper Mario, I love every single entry in its own way (except for Sticker Star, but let’s not dwell on that). The series loves to experiment, and entries like Super Paper Mario, Paper Mario: Color Splash, and even Paper Mario: The Origami King all have their charm.

However, Nintendo seems very reluctant to return the Paper Mario series to its turn-based RPG roots, even with the death of AlphaDream, the studio responsible for the Mario & Luigi series. I’m very sad to see such a talented company close, as I also love the Mario and Luigi series, but my one hope was that some of the developers might join Intelligent Systems, and bring the RPG elements back to Paper Mario after Origami King’s…experiments.

That’s why the most recent Nintendo Direct was such a surprise, as Nintendo unveiled an absolute wild card with its remake of Super Mario RPG. I’m elated it’s happening, but my confidence in Nintendo releasing another Mario-based RPG anytime soon evaporated. I just can’t see a Super Mario RPG remake releasing near a Thousand Year Door remake or a new Paper Mario RPG. So instead, I think Intelligent Systems should move on to Paper Zelda.

I recently rolled credits on The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom – it’s an astonishing achievement in game design, and a grand, sprawling epic adventure. It took me about 150 hours, though, so I’m pretty ready for something smaller. I’d love a top-down or 2D Zelda much like the remake of Link’s Awakening, but developer Grezzo is busy with its Apple Arcade title Jet Dragon. Plus, I can’t see the Nintendo Tokyo team and Eiji Aonuma having the time to pump out a smaller title alongside Nintendo’s biggest game ever.

Paper Zelda: A screenshot from Paper Mario the Origami King shows Mario walking through a brightly lit desert town

So, here’s the pitch. Intelligent Systems can make absolutely beautiful games. I may not like Origami King’s ring-based combat, but that game is drop-dead gorgeous with incredible art design and water so good looking it went viral. In fact, Origami King employs a lot of game design ideas very similar to dungeons. There are overworld enemies, you must use your abilities to reach new areas, and there’s a boss waiting at the end of each tricky area.

What annoys me about Origami King is its lack of a clear identity. It doesn’t feel like a Mario game, and it doesn’t feel like a Paper Mario game. It’s a weird mash-up of disparate ideas, most of them half-baked and with very little in the way of satisfaction. Strip out the awful ring battles and I already think it’s a much better game. Add in more overworld enemies, and now we’re cooking. More abilities? Here we go, we’ve got a stew going.

Paper Zelda: A paper style shows Link and Zelda travelling underground

But, while I envisage that idea for the next Intelligent Systems game, It’s not Mario I can see headlining such an adventure. It’s our favorite Hylian Link, and I think it’s about time someone else had a pop at the ‘Paper’ aesthetic. With Nintendo clearly very reluctant to return Paper Mario to its (much better) RPG origins, instead, maybe let’s see the team push things even further, but with a whole new IP to play with.

When it comes to Zelda games, I regard The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds as one of the very best, 3D or otherwise. My worry nowadays, though, is that Zelda is so expansive and time-consuming that the main Nintendo studios are simply too busy to work on something smaller. Meanwhile, the days of lending the IP out to studios like Capcom are well and truly over. The Zelda brand is very precious to Nintendo, and I don’t want to change that.

Paper Zelda: A papercraft style shows Link riding a Loftwing

What makes the idea of Paper Zelda so appealing to me is that Intelligent Systems has possibly the highest hit rate of any of Nintendo’s close partners. Its work on Advance Wars, Fire Emblem, WarioWare, and of course, Paper Mario is absolutely stellar. But I think the push to make Paper Mario different from previous entries is forcing the studio to create lackluster products, throttled by a need for innovation, with no opportunity to improve on previous elements when everything must be new.

A Paper Zelda could strip back the RPG elements that the Paper Mario series clearly wants to shake off, and instead focus on pure adventure and spectacle, which is where Paper Mario: The Origami King shows flashes of brilliance. Plus, The Legend of Zelda franchise is absolutely begging for a ‘Paper’ adaptation, as Link and his many funky abilities and weapons are so ready to translate into the many paper abilities that the former series employs.

Turning into a paper airplane? Link basically does that with his paraglider. Twisting the perspective of the level, you mean like Link’s ability to enter the walls in A Link Between Worlds? Turning into a boat, oh you mean like The King of Red Lions? Rolling up to move around, yeah, Link already does that with the Goron mask. Name the Paper Mario ability, and Link has done something similar at some point.

Paper Zelda: A papercraft Link meets the Link Between Worlds Link who is fused into a wall

Another (very selfish) reason I think Paper Zelda is the next logical step for the series is because I don’t want to wait another six years for a new Zelda game. The wait between Skyward Sword and Breath of the Wild was a tough one, but the release of A Link Between Worlds definitely softened the blow. Between Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom, we had a few nice remakes like Skyward Sword and Link’s Awakening, and even spin-offs like Age of Calamity and Cadence of Hyrule, but a new, smaller Zelda title would have been such a delight.

I don’t see a world where the next 3D Zelda game is smaller than Tears of the Kingdom. Eiji Aonuma and the Nintendo EPD staff keep taking the series from new heights to new heights, with their ambition only growing between entries. Branching the series out into a paper Zelda game gives another team a chance at making a beautiful, inventive, and possibly hilarious entry, and one that shouldn’t take the better part of a decade to make.

Paper Zelda: A paper style recreates the ending of Wind Waker, with Ganondorf holding the triforce in front of Zelda and Link

Also, my favorite Zelda game is The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker. It’s a gorgeous game that uses a unique cel-shaded art style to give characters more charm, humor, and emotion. A Paper Zelda could very easily play on the quirkiness of the series and poke fun at the many strange characters (cough… Tingle… cough) that so many fans love, but perhaps don’t fit alongside the grandiose epic of Tears of the Kingdom.

Basically, I think Paper Mario is creatively over. I can’t even muster up the energy to be excited about possible new entries, as despite the beauty and incredible writing of Origami King, the ring-based combat ground me down and sucked any enthusiasm out of my experience. It’s funny, it’s gorgeous, and the overworld battles rule, but it doesn’t make up for the absolutely pointless slog that is the ring battles.

Paper Zelda: a screenshot from Paper Mario and The Thousand Year Door, Mario wanders around a brightly lit village

Plus, before that, we had the card-based system of Color Splash, the sticker system (sigh) of Sticker Star, and the experiments in platforming found in Super Paper Mario. It’s clear Nintendo doesn’t want to make Paper Mario an RPG, but it doesn’t know what to do with the series instead. Each entry introduces a new experiment, and not a single one is anywhere near as good as the heights of The Thousand Year Door’s incredible rhythm-based RPG battles, badge system, and incredible cast of party members.

Instead, it’s time to say goodbye to Paper Mario, and let another series invigorate itself with fresh ideas, and a smaller, much more silly entry. Paper Zelda is the perfect way to carry on the incredible legacy of more modest Zelda entries like Oracle of Ages/Seasons, Spirit Tracks, and A Link Between Worlds. Plus, the Paper visual style is just begging to have a crack at something like the world of Wind Waker.

If I have to wait another six years for another 3D Zelda game, so be it. They’re worth the wait, and I just cannot imagine Nintendo making a smaller entry after the success of Tears of the Kingdom. So let’s bring back the spirit of 2D Zelda, infuse it with the Paper charm, and let Intelligent Systems get creative with a different IP, finally.

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The potential is there, the Zelda series needs a way to bridge its huge development gaps, and Link and his many, many abilities are already ripe for the Paper series treatment. I want Zelda to think a bit smaller again, I want it to go back to being kooky and funny, and there is room for that alongside the main entries. So yes, Paper Mario is dead… long live Paper Zelda.

As a final note, many of the images from this feature come from the incredible 64 Bits Paper Zelda concept video you can watch over at YouTube now, or with the included video above. Please give them a watch and a like, as the concept video is absolutely phenomenal.