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In the first two installments of the Paper Mario series, developer Intelligent Systems wisely decided to stick fairly close to the winning formula established by Squaresoft in the Super NES classic Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars. Sure, Paper Mario and its sequel, The Thousand Year Door, shortened the party size from three to just two (Mario and a sidekick) and made a few other slight alterations, but combat was still essentially turn-based with some use of action command bonuses and the gameplay still revolved mostly around finding a certain number of star-like objects. Inexplicably, though, they decided to change things around for the first Wii entry in the series, combining some the RPG shell of Paper Mario with the action platforming focus of the Super Mario Bros. games. The end result is Super Paper Mario, which is an entertaining game in its own right. However, this Super Paper Mario Wii review will show that it is a radical departure from the previous titles which just doesn't feel like a proper entry in the series.
Image Credit: Nintendo.com
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From the game's opening moments it becomes clear that this is a rather offbeat and irreverent game. Inexplicably, right off the bat we are treated to a wedding between Peach and Bowser, presided over by a mysterious stranger who is later identified as Count Bleck. No one seems to know quite what's going on, but quite humorously, the Koopa King seems to like the situation so much that he's willing to play along. As it turns out, Count Bleck is trying to revive the Chaos Heart, which in turn will engulf the entire universe in a dark hole of sorts, and the wedding is the key to doing so. Ultimately, it is up to Mario to battle against Count Bleck and his minions, visit many different worlds, collect the eight Pure Hearts, and use their power to combat that of the Chaos Heart.
The writing is pretty decent on the whole, but this time around it suffers from some inconsistency. The story is at its best when it's being funny, but sometimes when it tries to be poignant and tug at the heartstrings, it just comes off as overwrought -- which is a problem I can honestly admit I never expected out of a Mario game. That said, this is one game that definitely provides a plethora of memorable moments, such as the way it takes shots at the whole Superman-Clark Kent thing with "secret identity" of the Mr. L character, or Bowser's reaction to being kidnapped and "forced" to marry Princess Peach at the beginning of the game. The real highlight here, though, is the character Francis, an uber-geek who is obsessed with anime and video games. His dialogue, the way his level is designed, the coyly placed Paper Mario collectibles in the background, and especially the dating sim minigame he subjects Princess Peach to are all at least smile inducting and at their best, laugh out loud funny.
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Super Paper Mario is definitely more action-oriented than the two roleplaying games that came before it. The game features basic old-school Mario-style platforming action (running, jumping, bouncing on enemies' heads, and so forth). In lieu of experience points, score points are awarded for the quality of the gamer's performance and are used to level up characters. In terms of controls, players are required hold the Wii remote sideways, like a standard gaming controller, for most of the time, but at various times they will need to make use of the motion controls or the Wiimote pointer. You can use one character at a time, though as mentioned before, you can switch between Mario, Luigi, Peach and Bowser at various times. Also helping you out on your quest are the Pixls, strange floating almost fairy-like creatures that grant you different powers, such as throwing objects, shrinking down to a much smaller size, and so forth. Their abilities do add depth to things, but in terms of uniqueness and entertainment value, they pale in comparison to the curses from The Thousand Year Door.
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That's all well and good, but the big hook here is the ability to switch from a 2D plane to a 3D one when playing as Mario. While most of the game is side-scrolling in nature, to solve some puzzles and find secret items, you'll need to switch to a 3D free-roaming environment. Doing so reveals things like item blocks hidden behind bushes, or different depths to blocks that can be used to jump to higher ground. You need to be quick, though, because Mario can only be 3D for a short period of time. It's an innovative concept, at first, but it does grow stagnant after a while. The game isn't a one-trick pony, but it does have a disappointingly high reliance on the novelty of the plane-swapping technique which unfortunately means that it just doesn't feel as deep as, say, The Thousand Year Door. Fortunately, some creative and intense boss battles and some good power-ups (like the mega-mushroom, as first found in New Super Mario Bros.) help save this game from receiving an average rating in this department for our Super Paper Mario Wii walkthrough and reveiw.
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Graphics and Sound
Considering that Super Paper Mario started life off as a Game Cube title before being shifted to the Wii, the visuals and sound quality aren't as high as some of the Mario games that were developed specifically with Nintendo's current gen system in mind. The graphics are decent, and instead of looking like sheets of papers this time around, characters sport more of an origami-style look. One unfortunately side effect of the use of both 2D and 3D for gameplay and puzzle solving purposes is that the levels look rather barren when you switch away from side-scrolling mode. The music has the same familiar feel that gamers have come to expect from Mario games, though there is a bit more of a techno style vibe to it in this game. Furthermore, there are some neat effects, such as the use of the Wii Shop Channel loading sound effect when one of the bosses pauses to process information. Despite that, however, this isn't Nintendo's most impressive effort, presentation-wise.
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On the whole, Super Paper Mario is a fun game to play, but I still can't help but shake a feeling of disappointment. It just doesn't have the same depth, feel or lasting appeal of previous Paper Mario games. The story has some genuinely funny moments, but it also has some that are particularly tough to stomach, especially the overly sappy ending sequence. Furthermore, the gameplay relies too heavily on the whole 2D/3D plane switching mechanic. Some fans may appreciate the increased focus on action and platform gaming skills, but I'm not one of them. Personally, while I thought Super Paper Mario was a fairly good game and is definitely worth at least a rental, I still sincerely hope that Intelligent Systems takes the series back to its roots if and when there's a next installment.
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If you have other points to add to our Super Paper Mario Wii review, be sure to leave them in the comments section below.
- Super Paper Mario, http://www.nintendo.com/sites/spm/