Super Paper Mario is the latest a series of innovative Paper Mario games, but it is the first that I’ve had the opportunity to play. Like many, some of my first and most memorable early video-game experiences were spent sitting in front of my neighbor’sNES jumping on goombas and koopa troopas. Now, many years later, I find myself a long-time RPG fan, focusing mostly on computer games but also on the occasional console title. Super Paper Mario does an admirable job finding an improbable mix between the genres of platforming andrpg’s. You could certainly call it a platformer for rpg fans…or, conversely, the rpg for platforming fans.
From my perspective, it’s more platformer than rpg. You do have HP, you do gain XP, and you do have a small inventory to cart around various damage-dealing items and healing potio…er…shrooms. And there is a story with lots of dialogue. But once you get past these elements, the game is essentially a 2Dsidescroller with some extremely cool bells and whistles. The bells a whistles are what is most innovative about this title, of course. But the keygameplay element in this game is its sidescrolling action, and I found it to be an absolute blast. The action is often very true to the early games of the series, with Mario’s jump attack remaining a potent weapon throughout most of the game. The controls feel crisp and responsive, helped in many ways by the fact that you simply hold theWii-mote like a 2-button nintendo controller for most of the game. In general, while I found the game challenging, it rarely was so difficult to become frustrating. The availability of HP helps a great deal, as I’m not one who finds restarting levels because you didn’t quite make that jump to be enjoyable gaming.
Graphically, the game is beautifully cartoonish, especially in 2D mode, with extremely creative style. It is intentionally thick with nostalgia for fans of the Mario franchise, with early games inspiring the art and music in often highly-creative ways. Several level segments are taken straight out of the original NES title, but they are nicely interwoven with the rest of the setting. Many of the traditional power-ups still exist within this game, though they work differently now than before. Perhaps the most enjoyable is the Star, which, instead of making Mario merely invincible to enemy attacks, now transforms him into an invincible, enormous, full-screen sized 8-bit Mario with whom you can easily plow through an entire level’s worth of enemies. Furthermore, you’ll encounter almost all of the various enemies and obstacles from old Mario games, as well as a variety of new foes who you’ll meet as you travel among the various worlds of this game’s often bizarre universe.
The story itself is reasonably interesting, though its execution is not always well done. The dialog and cutscenes are, at times, exhaustive (the opening sequence itself is something on the order of 10 minutes long!!), and it often focuses more on making little jokes or verifying the two-dimensionality of the various enemy sub-bosses than on actually enhancing a player’s immersion in the story. Some of the humor is extremely clever and funny, but this is not a tale that involves much in the way of suspense. As such, the story seems, for the most part, to be an excuse for the excellent and wonderfully creative platforming action. To me, that’s disappointing, though I guess it’s in keeping with the traditions of the Mario franchise.
The biggest innovation in Super Paper Mario, of course, is the ability to flip from 2D to 3D. This ability, which is granted only to Mario early in the game, figures prominently in everything from puzzles to boss fights, and it’s exceptionally well done. Every single area within the game can be "flipped," often revealing hidden treasures and passages…or even just surprising arrangements of the objects you’d seen from the side. The process becomes second nature to you as you play through the game, but never ceases to be interesting. Other innovations include an interestingpixl system. Pixls are small, wire-frame beings that can perform various tasks for Mario. Boomer, for example, allows Mario to drop time-bombs on the screen. Another, Carrie, transforms into a sort of small hovercraft that allows Mario to travel quickly and over some terrestrial hazards. Finally, you’ll be able to switch between any of (eventually) four characters as you play, allowing you to take advantage of Mario’s 3D flipping ability or Peach’sparasole -aided long-jump ability depending on your needs. Often, especially in later levels, you’ll find yourself switching characters multiple times per minute. The interface allows this to be done quickly and efficiently, though swapping between characters andpixls can occasionally become tiresome.
Overall, I’ve had a great time with Super Paper Mario. It combination of wonderful nostalgic feel, excellent controls, and extraordinarily creative level design makes for great gaming experience. If you’re anRPG fan like myself and are thus-far disappointed with the selections for the Wii , it’s worth a good look, as long you understand it’s limitations. And if you’re a platforming fan–and especially if you’re a fan of the Mario franchise–you owe it to yourself to check this game out.