An old school, well-designed and charming platformer
Super Paper Mario isn't going to revolutionize gaming, and it could have just as easily been a Gamecube game as a Wii game (this game doesn't even use the Nunchuk). However, it's a charming and mostly well-designed platformer, and if you are looking for a great game to round out your collection, it's an easy one to recommend.
If you are a newcomer to the series, then a brief description is in order. Paper Mario is somewhat of a throwback to the days of side-scrolling 2D adventures, but with a twist. Apparently taking its inspiration from the science fiction book "Flatland", characters exist in a series of interconnected flat dimensions, seemingly unaware that other dimensions are there and incapable of comprehending their existence. As Mario, you can "flip" the world 90 degrees and travel between dimensions. It is a great feature that enhances the game's wacky premise, and it is also a key game mechanic, since it allows you to access new areas and find secrets. All of the characters are flat and paper-like. It's a trait that allows for a relatively attractive game on what is an underpowered console.
As platforming mechanics go, the gameplay in Super Paper Mario is nothing groundbreaking. You jump. You land on stuff. You pick up power-ups and use them. You throw items at enemies or land on top of them to kill them. Most of the gameplay is so simple that you could use an old NES controller. In fact, most of the game is played by turning the controller sideways and using the D-Pad on the Wii-mote for movement. Where Super Paper Mario excels is in its terrific level design and attention to detail. The game is the ultimate refinement of an old-school platformer. Secrets abound everywhere, which will inspire you to explore every last nook and cranny of every level. Each level has a lot of content, a lot of power-ups to find, and a lot of characters to talk to.
Art direction is probably Super Paper Mario's greatest asset. It is a beautifully wacky game, arguably the best looking on the Wii. The surreal visuals use a wonderfully diverse color palette, which is a nice change of pace from the seemingly endless string of brown and grey games that have come out lately. Many enemies, especially the huge bosses, look spectacular. Some bosses take up almost the entire screen, with body parts flailing or twirling. The game is the pinnacle of 2D graphics, and it is far more pleasant to watch than the more demanding 3D games that expose the Wii's lack of horsepower.
Super Paper Mario excels, in some ways, because it is an homage and a throwback to the old days of gaming. However, the game also suffers in a lot of ways, because it slavishly devotes itself to all sorts of outdated game design conventions. One of these conventions is the use of unskippable cutscenes. Some tougher boss battles take place right after a long cut scene, and if you get killed, you have to restart your save game and watch the cut scene all over again. What makes them even worse is that they have no voice acting, and the lines of dialog appear in world bubbles one at a time. Speeding through these scenes is supremely annoying, as you sit there pounding the "A" button to get through dozens of lines as fast as possible. This game also shares a flaw with about half of Nintendo's other games, which is that it uses the same characters that have been in a thousand other games. Perhaps there is a huge contingent of gamers for whom adding Mario and Bowser to a game automatically makes a mundane story better. I am not one of them. Graphically, it's beautiful, but audio-wise, it is unimpressive. The mundane sound effects, lack of voice acting, and forgettable (and repetitive) music don't add much value to the game's otherwise excellent presentation.
Super Paper Mario is a surprisingly long game. It consists of eight long chapters, each of which takes place in a completely different setting. It clocks in at about 20-30 hours, with even more possible depending upon how many secrets and goodies you wish to find. Adding to the game's lasting value is the attention to detail in each level, the variety, and the absence of copy and paste design. The number of enemies and challenges that you face in the game is astounding. Still, the gameplay is simplistic enough that the game is about one or two chapters too long. It perhaps overstays its welcome a bit, but given the abundance of 8-10 hour action games on the market, this complaint is not a huge one.
The art style and level design in Super Paper Mario truly carry this game. It is a great choice on a console that is still struggling to produce compelling single player games on a regular basis. It could have been better if it had ditched some of the 1980's-era game design conventions, but it is a very enjoyable game, nonetheless.