You can spot a Nintendo game from a mile away. And while you’d be within reason to oftentimes suggest Nintendo’s over-the-top use of colours, brightness and general affability cheapens their image, you’d be wrong to say it about Super Paper Mario. Yes the game is incredibly cutesy, and yes it looks a bit gimmicky, but for anyone who has followed this series since its humble beginnings on the N64, you’ll know that the Paper Mario games are among the most enjoyable Plumber-clad adventures ever crafted from Nintendo.
Intelligent Systems initially started the series out as a turn-based RPG with a paper aesthetic that saw houses come together like pop-up books when you entered them and characters flip like 2D pieces of paper when they turned. The GameCube iteration carried the theme even further giving our paper Mario abilities like folding into a paper aeroplane or boat to tackle challenging puzzles, while the combat system was kicked up a notch to have each turn-based battle take place on a stage where you needed to keep an audience full of koopas, goombahs and more entertained and on your side. Both of these games also utilised a real-time addition to the turn-based combat in the form of ‘action commands’. These were a well-timed press of an attack or defence button which then either dealt extra damage or gave you more protection against attacks. Finally, the last but most important theme carried through the series is its narrative foundation which constantly sees the fair Princess Peach kidnapped in the most tongue-in-cheek fashion imaginable.
What’s always fetching about this series is just how much it references itself and the Mario universe. You could almost suggest the Paper Mario games have been designed – and written – for those of us who grew up rescuing the princess across Mario games on the NES and SNES - a testament to just how much Nintendo appreciates our support all this time. And there’s something decidedly comforting in understanding a lot of the more mature jokes written into the lengthy text rants throughout the games that you just know the average 10-13 year old is going to have no idea about. But this is the draw of the entire series, as suggested at the beginning of this review, despite its colourful appearance, the Paper Mario titles are anything
but kids games. Which brings us to the most recent addition to the franchise in the Wii’s aptly named Super Paper Mario. I say “aptly” because, while the game does follow many of the series’ rules Intelligent Systems themselves set-up in the beginning, it goes an extra length to reinvigorate the way in which you play by drawing on influence from some old source material.
What’s interesting this time around with Super Paper Mario is the turn-based system is gone. Completely thrown out the window. This has been done in favour of a traditional, old-school combat system of simply jumping on your enemy’s head. Moreover, the first level you play (that isn’t part of the game’s hub, but I’ll get to that in a bit), looks decidedly familiar. Yes, Intelligent Systems have gone back to Mario side-scrolling adventures of yesteryear and they’ve done it with absolute flair. What feels like it could be a solid experience on its own though, is literally flipped on its side when you learn just that ability; ‘flipping
’. You play Super Paper Mario with the Wii Remote turned on its side like a traditional controller, from there the 2 button becomes your jump, and 1 your special ‘Pixl’ ability (more on that shortly, too) while the A button flips your entire game-view from 2D side-scroller to 3D. What this means is Intelligent Systems have come up with an ingenious way to throw all sorts of outside-the-box puzzles at you, and all at the simple push of a single button.
Like the previous Paper Mario outings, Super Paper Mario is all about the Princess once again being kidnapped. Things begin jokingly enough with Bowser preparing to nab Peach and make her his wife yet again, but his plans are foiled when a mysterious (and odd-looking) figure called Count Bleck appears and takes both Peach and Bowser. What’s even more interesting is along with the two figureheads, Bleck also manages to grab Bowser’s army and Luigi, too, leaving poor old Mario to save the day once again.
It turns out Count Bleck is actually from another dimension and wields an ancient and powerful book known as the Dark Prognosticus. According to a prophecy foretold in the book, Bleck must ensure Peach and Bowser are married to create the Chaos Heart so he can open “The Void”, an interdimensional rift that will continually grow until it has consumed the entire universe. What we discover, however, is that there is also a Light Prognosticus, and this book resides in Flipside, a kind of interdimensional limbo (that becomes the game-world’s hub), and it is written in this book a hero wearing red overalls and sporting a ripping moustache is the only person who can stop The Void, and thus a Pixl (a rainbowy coloured fairy-type thing) named Tippi comes in search of the hero and thus finds Mario.
As in the previous titles, there is a lot of text-based story going on throughout the game (though not nearly as much as there was in The Thousand Year Door
), but so much of it is worth reading for comedic value alone, you should not let that get in the way of picking this up. The story is relatively clichéd in the way it’s set-up: Impending doom, ultimate power and ultimate evil, Mario is needed and with a pure heart, love conquers all. It’s pretty simple and exactly what you expect from these types of Nintendo games, the real juice is the stuff that goes on in the middle; the dialogue between NPCs, or Tippi’s explanations of various parts of the game-world. Pound for pound, Nintendo has some of the most talented writers on staff, and given this is all derived from Japanese, it’s a masterful effort on the translation side to not only convert much of the humour, but to equally reinvent it for us.
So Tippi is something of a guide for you throughout your quest, and only the first of many Pixls you’ll accrue on your way. You also gain new party members in the form of Peach, Bowser and Luigi (though in this game you can only have one Pixl and one party member on the screen at any one time). Each Pixl has a different ability – pointing the Wii Remote at the screen turns Tippi into a secret-seeking device or it’ll just give you information on anything or anyone in the game world you point it at. Boomer, on the other hand, is a bomb Pixl that can be placed anywhere and set off to either batter enemies or reveal hidden or blocked paths. You also get Thoreau, a Pixl you launch like a fishing rod who’ll nab an enemy, brick or item with the added ability of throwing most of anything you’ve just grabbed at enemies, switches or other items. Moreover (and as you’d expect), each party member has different abilities such as Peach’s floating, Bowsers flames or Mario’s hammer, to name but a few, and the game’s various puzzles and locations (both 2D and 3D) reflect these.
Despite the fact Intelligent Systems dropped the turn-based battle system, you can still level your characters up and perform minor micro-management duties with various items and pick-ups found throughout the game. Leveling up, however, is almost an automated thing – you’ll earn a certain amount of XP for defeating enemies, which is then added, automatically, to your character, and so unless you’re checking your stats screen constantly, the only way you’ll know you’ve leveled up is when you jump on that one enemy’s head and the game gives you the “Powered Up” screen. It’s nice that there are still touches of RPG goodness in there, but it doesn’t feel nearly as dynamic as it should. Attack items are back again, but this time they’re utilised by shaking, tilting or generally just waving the Wii Remote about in some whacky fashion. To be honest, I really don’t think the game needed too much Wii Remote interaction – every once in a while it’s nice to come across a Wii game I can play while lying on the couch, so it’s annoying when I have to interrupt my comfort in order to shake things about or point the Remote at the screen.
Above all else though, one of the big winners here is the visual style of the game. Art direction in a Mario title has never
looked this good, and at times the game border on ardent eccentricity with its interdimensional themes (and there’s nothing wrong with that at all). The character designs are great and moments like transforming Mario into a giant pixelated throwback of his former self will remain among the great Nintendo gaming moments of, at least, my life. On top of the visual splendour, the soundtrack is incredible also, and just another kick in the teeth to anyone who think midi is a dead state – Nintendo constantly pushes this format and it always works for them, but here more than anywhere else, it absolutely shines.
At any rate, for Wii owners who love some adventure, this should be a no-brainer – it’s a lengthy game with eight worlds and four levels per world (hmm, that sounds familiar), along with plenty of boss battle and secrets to uncover. The visuals and presentation are absolutely top-notch, while the soundtrack and writing are almost second-to-none. The disappointments come in the form of no more turn-based battles and the gimmicky-feeling use of the Wii remote for certain attack items and the like, but these minor
gripes can most certainly be overlooked in the face of such a stand-up title.