Last month, Nintendo revealed that some of Paper Mario: The Origami King’s boss fights would be against office supplies instead of traditional Mario villains, and a new interview sheds some light on why.
“Since Paper Mario: Sticker Star, it’s no longer possible to modify Mario characters or to create original characters that touch on the Mario universe,” Kensuke Tanabe, a developer on the Mario franchise since 1988's Super Mario Bros. 2, told VGC in an interview published yesterday. “That means that if we aren’t using Mario characters for bosses, we need to create original characters with designs that don’t involve the Mario universe at all, like we’ve done with Olly and the stationery bosses.”
Basically, it sounds like Paper Mario developers can either mine the Mario universe for existing bosses, like they did with Gooper Blooper, a giant squid enemy originally from Super Mario Sunshine who re-appeared in Sticker Star, or they can create drastically new ones with no apparent basis in existing Mario lore, as they chose to do in the The Origami King. At one point in that game you fight a giant ball of rubber bands, and meanwhile Olly, the main antagonist, is a prince from another kingdom made of paper with no obvious connection to the greater Mario universe.
In the past, these creative restrictions have been treated like a mixed blessing. Here’s Tanabe and fellow Sticker Star designer Taro Kudo discussing them in an old Iwata Asks interview (via Nintendo Enthusiast):
Tanabe: But being unable to use new characters is pretty strict. Of course, we could not make any new enemy characters, and as for allies among the Super Mario characters, there’s really only Toad in various colours!
Kudo: But personally, the more restrictions there were, the more excited I got. They may look the same, but we put in some elements in which their personalities are slightly different, so you can tell the difference and you think, “Hey! Are you that Toad from back then?” Toward the end of development, I could feel that I became one with Toad! (laughs)
An army of Toads is one way to try and keep a lid on the ever expanding world of Mario. As the series nears its 35-year anniversary, there have been a lot of games, a lot of spin-offs, and a lot of changes. Once upon a time the Koopalings were also Bowser’s kids, but Nintendo later retconned that to try and simply things. At the same time, these restrictions also seems limiting, especially when it comes to a role-playing spin-off series like Paper Mario that seems overdue for some deeper and more ambitious world building.