Super Paper Mario Review
The Mario franchise has seen such a wide variety of games in its 20-plus years of existence. Our first exposure to Mario came in the form of him doing battle with a giant monkey in the Donkey Kong series. Sure, we didn't know him as Mario at that point, but he was still the little guy that we would soon grow to love. After his stint in this series, he moved on to one of his own, with the original Mario Bros and, soon after, the well-known Super Mario Bros. Shortly after, Mario would become a household name and be associated with the term Nintendo in the hearts and minds of gamers for a long time to come.
Naturally, this popularity led to a bunch of uses of the Mario character that weren't quite platformers. Mario appeared in a ton of different sports games, ranging from Golf to tennis and basketball. He was in an RPG on the Super Nintendo and even fought with other Nintendo characters in the highly-popular Smash Bros series. However, Nintendo would save one of the quirkier appearances for Mario unti the N64 series with the original Paper Mario. In what could be best described as RPG-Lite, Mario was literally a 2D character again, complete with the ability to do paper-like things such as turning sideways and being razor-thin. The series ended up popular and it spawned both a GameCube sequel and, just recently, a Wii sequel, Super Paper Mario.
Super Paper Mario does depart from the design of the last two Paper Mario games, however. Instead of turn-based battles, Super Paper Mario instead looks like a pure platformer on its surface. Instead of actual RPG-style combat, you're jumping on enemies' heads and doing damage to them (or throwing shells, dropping bombs, stuff like that) and you have hit points instead of the whole little --> big --> extra powerup style of Mario platformers. Also having a huge impact on the gameplay is Mario's special power – the ability to flip the world into a 3D landscape. Doing this gives you the chance to find hidden items, hidden enemies and hidden paths that you couldn't see in the 2D world.
However, the 2D to 3D flip element is where my biggest problem with Super Paper Mario crops up. There are actually a couple of issues I have with it, too. The first one is that the 3D element feels tacked on at points and seems to be a substitute for challenging 2D platformer design. The areas where you need to flip tend to be blatantly obvious, leading to fairly simple to solve puzzles. Also, the 3D element is so firmly entrenched in the game's design that you often have to be using Mario instead of the other characters you get (who I will avoid spoiling here). While the game IS called “Super Paper Mario” instead of “Super Paper Mario and friends”, I don't feel that giving the other characters powers that aren't useful except for very select situations was the best idea – each character should have had a power on top of the ability to flip the world 3D. Because of all of this, though, I feel the 3D flip thing is more of a gimmick – the game even tells you at points that, if you can't find a solution in the 2D world, to just flip. And, more often than not, the solution stares you in the face in the flipped world.
However, this doesn't mean that the game gets nothing right – it actually does a lot of things well. First of all, the characters are well-designed and well animated. The paper look for Mario and friends is pretty darn cool. When the world does flip 3D, seeing the thin Mario will definitely lead to a few chuckles. The enemies are also equally well designed, both the main baddies and the enemies you run into during the levels. I mean, come on – sunglass-wearing Koopa Troopas are just hilarious. Another area where the game excels is the story. The game is so over the top at points and really does not take itself seriously. Early on, for example, Mario will be given instructions on how to do certain things. The game doesn't fail to mention that Mario might not understand what the heck an A button is, but someone somewhere does. The rest of the story and characters are also equally silly and will elicit at least a few chuckles from the player. And, when you get the Starman powerup, prepare for a laugh. Mario becomes absolutely huge and turns into his old-school 8-bit form. Much like New Super Mario Bros on the DS, Mario will just run through anything and everything in his path. Also neat are the Pixls – you can have one out at a time and they'll follow you around, granting some sort of power such as throwing blocks or dropping bombs. You'll find new Pixls at certain points in the story, particularly when you need a certain ability from a Pixl you haven't found yet.
The game's controls are simple, but they work. You only use the Wiimote to play, turning it sideways like a Nintendo controller. And, when you turn it, the controls will be familiar to anyone that has played a Mario platformer in the past. Sure, you've got the addition of a menu button and such, but not much has changed. One thing I really did like, though, was the ability to point the Wiimote at the screen to find hidden doors and to get information about bosses and such. A nice touch with this mode is that the game pauses once you point the Wiimote at the screen, making this feature actually usable since you're not going to get attacked when trying to get info. The nice thing is, this feels far less gimmicky than the 3D flip does and is one of the first solid uses of a Wiimote outside of a game designed exclusively around it.
Overall, Super Paper Mario is a fun experience. However, don't come into it expecting a pure platformer – there are multiple RPG elements here that can interrupt the flow a bit. The whole 3D flipping aspect, for example – it is a neat idea, but I feel it could have been better implemented. Especially with the need to flip Mario in to flip the world. I would have loved the ability to quick switch characters with a button press or something, but I had to go through the menu to switch characters – the B button on the underside of the controller could have been used for a quick switch feature. Other than the 3D flip stuff, though, I really enjoyed Super Paper Mario – I'd love to see a pure platformer designed with this look in mind.