Super Paper Mario

Super Paper Mario is an adventure platformer with RPG elements for the Nintendo Wii. I want to preface this by saying that, while this follows Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door on the GameCube, I’ve only played the first Paper Mario on the Nintendo 64 and the introduction of The Thousand Year Door along with watching the rest of the latter via let’s plays. So this isn’t coming from a veteran of the series or anything and if I miss some details that would’ve been explained by more knowledge of that gap… I apologize. I was actually really excited to get back into this game. I had played it when my brother borrowed it from a friend years ago but never got to finish playing. Was it as good as I thought it would be, or was that excitement misguided?

The story opens up with Bowser and Princess Peach in a wedding ceremony, presumably under the control of magical powers. With a forced marriage between what I assume to be exemplary symbols of good and evil magically concluded, something called the Chaos Heart is created and immediately taken by the mastermind behind it all, Count Bleck. Everyone around is tossed into different dimensions and then we get the title screen. Something like that, anyway. I know, I’m notoriously bad with telling stories, but that’s the gist. So you start the game by generally figuring out just what the hell is going on. Apparently that Chaos Heart is something of incredible power that is being used to destroy all universes from existence. These events were foretold in a magic book called the Dark Prognosticus. However, there’s also a book called the Light Prognosticus that foretells of a hero that will stop the events of the Dark Prognosticus. The wise man of the interdimensional town of Flipside, where you originally awaken, believes that YOU are that hero. He also task this magical being known as a Pixl, named Tippi, to aid you in your quest. You must set out to gain new powers in order to help collect the eight Pure Hearts in order to create the Purity Heart which will counter the powers of the Chaos heart. There’s plenty more story to unfold as you progress through the game, along with details that piece together the narrative the more you play. But for now, that’s all you really need to know. You’re on a quest to get eight things so you can stop the bad guy from destroying everything. Simple enough.

The main gameplay is actually pretty basic. You play the game as a sidescrolling, 2D platformer where you can run and jump. If you’re in Flipside you will mostly walk around houses and shops talking to characters for hints, items, and flavor text. There’s some exploring to do here as well, but most of the action is in the main levels. Each level is called a chapter and split into four sub-chapters. In these sections you’ll jump on enemies, collect coins, hit blocks, and other standard Mario gameplay with the paper aesthetic. You’ll also usually encounter a few characters along the way for plot purposes. Often you’ll need to help these characters or somehow circumvent them in order to progress. You’ll also find more Pixls along the way. You can switch between them to use as your 2 button ability. For example, an early Pixl you befriend allows you to pick up and throw objects and enemies. Another mechanic you get early that persists throughout most of the game is the ability to flip into 3D. You can only do it for a limited time before you start taking damage from it, so watch that meter. Some things can only been seen, interacted with, or bypassed by going into this 3D mode. This is where most of the puzzles and secrets come into play. Generally at the end of each section you’ll fight a boss, get a Pure Heart, and then return to Flipside to search for the next heart pillar to place it in, which will then open up the next level. Along the way you’ll also find a few more playable characters you can switch between at any time in order to take advantage of their unique abilities. As you defeat enemies you’ll gain experience and level up, either increasing your max HP or your attack power each time. You can exchange the coins you collect for consumable items or helpful services around town. You can also go back and replay levels to find things you may have missed. There are collectible cards you can get throughout the game which carry small factoids about the characters on them. There’s a chef that will cook items for you to alter or improve their effects and track the recipes. There are even minigames to play in order to get tokens to exchange for prizes. These things and many more await you along the journey that is Super Paper Mario.

The start of the game is pretty fun. There’s potential. There’s the promise of a great game. The basic mechanics keep building as you go along. The story deepens without tipping its hand too early. There are lots of interesting systems in place to evolve into a fleshed out experience by the middle of the game and on into the late game. The RPG leveling on top of platforming mechanics is something I really enjoyed. Some of the music is pretty catchy and clearly there’s a lot of weight thrown into the story, as well as some pretty funny parts for levity. I think the odd designs of many of these characters and environments is also an interesting way to not only set them apart as different dimensions but also to make this installment visually different that the previous two. Some of the puzzles and tasks thrown in are really interesting ways of looking outside of the typical game logic. It’s not always about getting the new items or mechanic and then using it to progress where you were stuck before. Sometimes you need to talk to specific people in specific ways or do very specific tasks that might take more than trial and error to breeze through. It’s kind of refreshing to see so much non-standard thought put into a game with Mario as the main character. My appreciation for the charm and the potential got me very excited to get deeper into the game.

Then the issues started to rear their ugly heads. Once you get pretty deep into the game you expect to do more playing, but the cutscenes and long dialogues persist. After a while I just wanted everyone to shut up and let me play. The exploration was fun to do but waiting for the 3D meter to refill got pretty damn tedious in longer levels. The limited space in the inventory system made carrying quest-sensitive items feel like a chore. Switching between a laundry list of Pixls for various tasks in a row got tedious. Even switching characters got frustrating because only Mario can flip into 3D. The cooking recipes and card collecting turned into rather pointless tasks for the sake of completion, which I abandoned after I got too annoyed, bored, and found out online that they don’t really give you anything other than the direct reward of having them done. The biggest letdown is that there are lots of different mechanics introduced but most of them are only used once at worst or only a handful of times at best. The game doesn’t build on the mechanics so much as use them to punctuate different parts of the game and then discard them shortly after. There are lots of ways these could’ve been implemented more brilliantly but they just weren’t. So by the end you really only have the story driving you as the rest of the game feels a bit tired and lackluster. It’s shame because this could’ve been a great game in my eyes, but the last third or so just dragged on in an unsatisfying fashion.

Super Paper Mario isn’t bad. Sure, it’s not a straight-up RPG like its predecessors nor is it amazingly designed for what it is… but it IS a fun, interesting experience. It’s worth checking out if you like the series for those elements other than the gameplay. I think the story, despite me not being a story guy, is pretty powerful in parts. The writing is often pretty funny when it wants to be. The visuals and audio aren’t amazing either but they are pleasant enough. It’s a game for big Paper Mario fans or casual metroidvania fans. It’s probably worth checking out for ten or fifteen bucks, but it’s not a must-own or anything, especially on the Wii. In fact, I think the less you focus on trying to 100% the game, the more enjoyment you’ll get out of it. It’s alright, but putting Super in the title is perhaps a tad much.

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