Skankin' Garbage's Review of Super Paper Mario
The old SNES RPG, Super Mario RPG, was pretty popular. As such, Nintendo continued to have Mario RPGs developed - two different series, in fact; one such series is the Paper Mario series, developed by Intelligent Systems (famous for the Fire Emblem and Advance Wars series, as well as all the 2D Metroid games since SNES). The third entry for the Paper Mario series, Super Paper Mario, was released in early April of 2007. The games are known for their quirky artistic style (both graphically and musically), and equally unique humour. Super Paper Mario aspired to be the quirkiest of them all, by combining elements of the Paper Mario games with elements from old Super Mario platformers. Personally, I think it could be better (what game couldn't?), but it was an excellent idea, and pulled off pretty damn well.
The game starts off as most Mario games do: Mario and Luigi discover that the princess has been kidnapped, and rush off to Bowser's castle; however, when they get there, they find out that she isn't there - Bowser was about to kidnap her, himself! Suddenly, this creepy flying magician with a monocle named Count Bleck barges in, announces that he kidnapped the princess, and then kidnaps Luigi, Bowser, and all his minions. He then forces the Princess and Bowser to marry, as directed by his evil book of prophecies, the Dark Prognosticus, in order to summon an artifact that will eventually destroy all worlds.
Meanwhile, Mario is taken to a town called Flipside by a weird-looking, talking butterfly named Tippi. Tippi then takes Mario to the wizard, Merlon, who fills Mario in on what has happened. He also explains that Mario matches the description of the hero foretold in the Light Prognosticus - a book written about how to stop the destruction of the world, and then has Mario set out to find 'pure hearts' which can counteract the destruction of the world.
So, yeah...that's a lot of information to have thrown your way at the beginning of a Mario game, or ANY game, for that matter. However, the pace of Paper Mario games lend itself to that particular formula (princess kidnapped, present outrageous plan immediately, Mario then has to find eight artifacts to fight off evil). After you play the game for a short amount of time, it doesn't seem like a lot to swallow. The game's story picks up surprisingly well for a Mario RPG - the main villain actually has some depth (you learn his backstory over the course of the game, and it's, pretty tragic). Mario's company in this game consists of characters you probably know very well, like Peach, Bowser, and Luigi, as opposed to a random Goomba, and a random Koopa, etc. The dialogue is all well-written and very funny, combining everything from surreal humour, to satire, and even pokes fun at itself. It's all done really well, and since the game is short (about 20 hours), it keeps from growing stale.
As far as story and dialogue, the only complaint I have is that there's a very minimal amount of interaction between all the main characters - you would think that, having a group with Mario, Peach, Bowser, and Luigi (and incidentally, Tippi, who follows you around and develops as a character, too) would lead to some very funny situations! And, well, it does...but, it's not taken advantage of nearly as much as it could have, especially given that the characters have already been developed within the Paper Mario universe: For example, Bowser is evil of course, but doesn't like anyone trying to outdo him at his job; Luigi is nice and amiable to his brother, but still harbors secret feelings of bitterness towards living in the shadow of Mario's popularity - these feelings in the first two games, of course, manifested themselves in hilarious ways (Finding Luigi's diary, where he details how angry he is about always staying at home while Mario goes on adventures; or, in the second game, Luigi going on an adventure that almost perfectly shadows the events of Mario's quest, and constantly bragging to Mario about it). These sorts of things came up only briefly in Super Paper Mario, which feels a bit like a waste of potential.
The gameplay is...well, a pretty hefty package. Basically, it's your average 2D Mario platformer, but you have HP, your jumps do numerical damage, and you have items that deal damage, restore life, or generate certain effects. The big gimmick to Super Paper Mario is that Mario learns how to 'flip' any landscape into 3D. When doing this, certain paths or objects become visible that weren't visible in 2D, or certain unavoidable traps become easy to traverse. The whole thing is pulled off in such a clever way that it's always fun to comb over areas in both 2D and 3D. Other than that, you get little helpers called Pixls along the way, which allow Mario and Co. to do certain things, like ground pounds, use a hammer, throw objects, blow things up...a whole crapload of things. Experience is measured in 'points', which are much like your points score in any Mario platformer (i.e, you get 100 points for killing a Goomba, etc.). Experience is pooled between all party members. As I've mentioned, Mario doesn't go through it alone - Mario eventually is joined in his quest by Princess Peach (who can float), Bowser (who breathes fire), and even Luigi (who has a super high jump). All of them control a bit differently, and are useful in different situations. Only one of the four playable characters can be out at a time.
It's a pretty general outline, but that's pretty much how Super Paper Mario's gameplay works: Super Mario Bros with HP, items, multiple characters, and your score earns you level ups. Of course, there are other little things, like Mushrooms give you back HP, Flower power-ups raise the points you get for a short time, and my personal favorite addition to the game - Pal Pills, which generate a small army of six little 8-bit Marios (Or, as my brother so cleverly named them, "Super Armios") which follow you around and jump on enemies as you go.
For such a strange combination of gameplay elements with the unique idea of switching between 2D and 3D, they pulled it off very well, especially considering it was their first - and let's be honest, probably their last - time doing so. The only huge complaint I have about the gameplay is that it's way too easy. The only time I got a Game Over in my time playing it was at the beginning, when Merlon asks if you want to save the world (if you say 'No' enough times, the game ends!). Other than that, I never came terribly close to dying. A lot of bosses didn't really require you to use your party's various gimmicks (using 3D, fire, high jumps, etc.) to fight against, making the boss battles a bit on the boring side, as well.
In the end, though, what can be said for Super Paper Mario when considering the sum of its parts? Personally, I would consider it my least favorite of the Paper Mario series; but, I'll attribute that to my bias of expecting it to play more like a standard RPG, as the first two games did. It was a risky and innovative idea, and it was pulled off damn near to perfection. Slightly-less-than-full-potential humour and at-times-absurdly-easy gameplay keep this game from being a complete masterpiece, but honestly? The game set out to take a crazy idea and make a fun game out of it. The bottom line is: It succeeded, and in a time where game developers set out manifest so many ideas - some crazy and some safe - which often fall so short of the mark, A game that succeeds amidst a sea of games that fail is the ultimate plus, as far as I'm concerned.