Innovative gameplay system and a surprisingly dark storyline.
Mario, of Nintendo fame, has become the Renaissance man of video games. He has appeared in almost every genre from platformers to sports games and even RPG’s. His latest game, Super Paper Mario, blends the plumber’s platforming roots and RPG-style gameplay in such a way that no game before it can claim to have done.
The game starts with Mario and Luigi starting a journey to rescue Peach from Bowser. However, Bowser is not the culprit this time, and Mario ends up involved in a quest to stop the end of all existence, only stoppable by the seven Pure Hearts, found in seven separate worlds. In order to accomplish this, he must visit these worlds and travel through them in a manner reminiscent of older Mario platformers, especially games like Super Mario World. Taking a cue from his RPG skirmishes, enemies have their own HP count and often will not die on the first hit. When killed, they give off points, which go towards your overall score, another nod towards the plumber’s roots. However, their purpose has been changed to that of experience used to gain levels. To aid Mario on his quest are various Pixls, mysterious creatures with unique abilities. They serve almost the same purpose as your partners from previous Paper Mario games, such as Tippi, who can scan enemies and find their weak points, or Thoreau, who can grab objects and reach switches that Mario just cannot. Where the game truly excels will not be found in either of the components that combine to make this game. Mario’s special ability allows him to switch dimensions from 2D to 3D for a limited time. While in 3D, the plumber can find secrets only noticeable with that extra dimension, such as a different block arrangement or other characters and enemies. Over time, you gain other characters to control, such as Peach and Bowser. Neither of them can go 3D, but Peach can glide with her parasol and Bowser, along with being stronger, can breathe fire. What makes these aspects stand out is how well they work. Both have practical uses in both combat and puzzle solving (especially Mario’s dimensional flipping). For example, Mario may see a weak point on a boss or an entrance to a key area that otherwise would not have been seen. But the game does not completely abandon its RPG roots. You still get to use items that damage enemies, and they still require some sort of user input (shoot at targets on the screen; shake the controller to fill a meter, etc.). However, the game is far from perfect. For one, Tippi’s scan move is handled awkwardly, as it requires that the user switch from holding the Wii-mote horizontally to the one handed position and point at the enemy they wish to scan. Even after that, the game may not always register this move, and somewhat faster motions make for a rough movement that has the fluidity of a slideshow. The game is also notably short, being finished in the average rental period. These flaws do not detract from the fun that is Super Paper Mario, and is still a great game.
The story, as is the case with most of the game, holds onto its Mario heritage, but not entirely. It starts with an unexpected twist: Bowser and Peach at the altar, ready to be married! This unholy union is a scheme by the game’s villain, Count Bleck, to create the Chaos Heart and fulfill the nihilistic predictions of the Dark Prognosticus. However, there is hope. Mario, the hero of the Light Prognosticus (antithesis to the Dark Prognosticus), must collect the seven Pure Hearts and use them to thwart the plans of the evil and somewhat egotistical Count Bleck. The story is accompanied by a healthy dose of random humor, sometimes at the expense of those who play the game. While the humor is just as good as past Paper Mario games, the plot seems to deviate from the rest due to the seriousness of the tale. The most obvious example of this is the villain’s goal, which is not to gain some sort of ultimate power or thwart Mario, but to erase all of existence. Each chapter also features an interlude explaining the story of Timpani and Blumiere, two lovers driven away by fate, their relevance revealed near the end of the game. These elements make Super Paper Mario feel a bit more like a Square game, reminiscent of Super Mario RPG’s somewhat deeper plot compared to the games to fall in place.
Of course, Super Paper Mario would not be a Paper Mario game if it did not have the cartoonish storybook graphics of its predecessors. The game does indeed feature these graphics, and they are just as beautiful as before. The characters and environments are vibrant, full of color, and animate fluidly. It does look like The Thousand Year Door, but not much could be improved from that game in terms of graphical capability. However, the game sets itself apart from its forerunners with the looks of the 3D mode. The lush, 2D environments transform into beings that are more detailed. Environments become larger and expansive, bosses become larger and foreboding and linear pathways can adopt twists and turns that otherwise would not be seen.
Perhaps the best aspect of the game could be the music. Put simply, each melody exhumes personality and portrays the feeling it attempts to. For example, Dimentio’s leitmotif gets across his manipulative, insane, jester-like personality (much like Kefka of Final Fantasy VI fame) and the musical number that complements The Green Thunder comes off as awkward and bumbling, yet attempting to be evil, traits that all fit him. All of this is amazingly fit into the MIDI format, amazing because of the quality of it. Each song resonates an orchestral feel that almost sounds like the real thing.
Overall, this is a game not to be missed. The graphics are adorable and vibrant, the music is full of personality, and the story is quite intricate and humorous. But most of all, the gameplay is truly superb and like nothing seen before. Truly, this is a game not to be missed by anyone who enjoys Mario RPG’s, or even video games in general.