Yes, you know the one: that cranky guy peering out on message boards who's always moaning and whining about how Paper Mario lost its way and hasn't been the same since the good ol' days, dag-nabbit! It's not that the new PM games are bad--I even finished and kind of liked Sticker Star--but they don't really play like the original two at all. They're kind of a different sub-genre, like comparing Mega Man to Mario, which means that very specific PM64 style of RPG has not had any representation at all since 2004.
Indie darling Bug Fables is very much a love letter (occasionally derivatively so) to the classic style of Paper Mario, and let me be the first NWer to say that it actually does a great job scratching that specific itch! The strategic, low-HP, badge-centric gameplay is present and accounted for, with some nifty new wrinkles all wrapped up in an enjoyable story. I'm a couple chapters in and am very much enjoying what this game brings to the table, so let's discuss it here for anyone who's interested!
Yeah, I've heard great things about Bug Fables from Thousand Year Door fans. It's on the list!
Tbun, I hope you're planning on checking out Origami King eventually. It's really good! And this is coming from someone who was never the biggest Paper Mario fan in the first place (including TYD… M&L Superstar Saga was better).
On my twitter feed, Origami King has also won over big time Thousand Year Door/Bug Fables fans. It's that good.
I consider myself kind of hard to please when it comes to games that obviously wear their inspiration on their sleeves (this is something that sort of bugged me about Stardew Valley, in fact). But Bug Fables does a great job adding to the PM formula so that it mostly doesn't feel like it cribs too heavily from it, and it helps that we hadn't gotten a game in that specific style for 15 years. The combat feels very strategic and refined and there're lots of extra challenges and incentives (in an already fairly challenging game).
As for TOK, I'd still like to try it one day. The music in particular is better in these newer PM games than the old ones. I really miss rental stores because this would definitely be one I'd enjoy renting for a week rather than diving in at full price.
I haven't played Origami King (yet), but if it's like the last couple of PMs, it's more of a sort of adventure game, I think? But not a Zelda-style one? The battling and general RPG elements (like growing stronger and customizing your character) are very very light, with the focus mostly on environmental puzzle-solving and quirky scenarios. Also, the soundtrack is pretty great.
But for me personally, I greatly miss the style of RPG that the original Paper Mario and The Thousand-Year Door on GameCube provided. So if you're like me, Bug Fables really works as a spiritual successor to that type of gameplay, with a few caveats--as an indie game, it's not quite as polished, and there are times when it flits too closely to the source material. However, it's challenging, strategic and charming with plenty to do and lots of optional hard stuff, so I definitely recommend it for people who want another game like the first two PMs.