Super Paper Mario Review

May 5, 2007

System: Wii
Rated: E for MarioÖ I mean, Everyone

Gameplay: 6/10
Super Paper Mario (SPM) is, primarily, a platformer. That means it's a 2D sidescroller with enemies, obstacles, and pits to deal with. It is not very much like the classic SMB titles, though. In addition to a large twist to the 2D platforming elements, this is a platformer that is mixed in with a lot of RPG components as well as general quirkiness. I will leave it open whether these additional elements are a good thing or not until I have discussed them, but right off the bat I can say that those looking for a new addition to the classic Mario platformers, in the veins of New Super Mario Bros, are not likely to find it here. There are no power-ups the likes of the Super Mushroom and Fire Flower, and the RPG elements drastically change the difficulty level. No longer can Mario survive a mere two or three hits, and pits are now just an inconvenience rather than a death trap. This changes the focus of the game from survival to solving puzzles and experiencing the wackiness.

This game also cannot be very easily called Paper Mario 3. Although this game includes RPG elements, including certain touches that can immediately be related to Paper Mario 1 and 2, the most core elements of those games, such as the turn-based battles and badge systems, are not present in this game. This game does have a ton of humor, even more than the Paper Marios but of a similar sort. And you will meet certain characters that sort of fill the roles of the Paper Mario party members. They donít fight, but theyíre used in puzzle-solving elements in just the same way you would in the other Paper Marios. Despite these similarities, this game is quite different from the other PMs, and so those looking for PM3 may not be satisfied.

If youíre still here, I assume you can live with the fact that this game isnít like SMB or Paper Mario, and want to know what it is like. So here you go.

The major twist to the standard 2D platforming elements is Marioís ability to change the world from 2D to 3D. With the press of a button, youíll be able to find paths that can only exist in a world with depth, as well as find items and warp pipes that may be hidden behind other objects, completely obscured from the classic 2D perspective. Throughout the game you will use this ability to proceed past apparent dead ends and seek out this gameís many secrets.

The game forces you to stay in 2D most of the time by giving you a timer that ticks down while youíre in 3D and gradually resets when you return to 2D. The penalty for staying in 3D too long is losing 1 HP. Although this becomes increasingly meaningless as the game continues and your max HP increases, it was enough to keep me honest most of the time. I appreciate the need for keeping you mostly in 2D so that you wonít bypass all the enemies and stuff, but I didnít like feeling rushed while in 3D. I would have liked to be able to take my time enjoying this gameís new twist. Anyway, if you did bypass all the enemies, youíd pay for it later when you havenít earned enough level-ups. (HP and level-ups will be discussed below.)

This 3D twist is enjoyable and done well. Fans of the 2D platforming genre are likely to embrace it, and imagine what they might have been able to find had their favorite sidescrollers had a 3D component. It can get annoying to have to switch to 3D every little bit to see if there might be a secret, and it seemed as though there was less to find in 3D as the game went on. Overall, I would say this was a good idea, and certainly do not regret it being in the game. At the same time, Iím not necessarily looking forward to the next game that will use this feature. Itís a good feature thatís worth seeing, but itís not something I would want every game to do. I like it as a gimmick.

As I said, this game has a number of elements seen most often in RPGs. Instead of losing a life after a set number of hits, Mario has an HP meter and will take varying amounts of damage from enemy attacks. He also may take damage from certain obstacles, and will lose 1 HP for falling down pits, before returning to the last place he stood on solid ground. The game ends when your HP runs out. Items can be used to replenish HP during levels. Mushrooms found in ? Blocks will automatically be used immediately, while other items will be stored in an RPG-like inventory. As in most RPGs, you can find items that heal, attack the enemy, and serve other purposes.

Mario also will earn level-ups in this game. This happens when he earns enough points from defeating enemies and collecting items, and will cause Mario's HP to increase by 5 or his attack power to increase by 1. I especially enjoyed this feature, as I've never seen a platformer make any real use of the score. I haven't even seen people online bragging about their scores in Mario 3 and so on. So, I liked that this game put it to use. But, I wish this game would have given you some choice as to what stat to improve when you level up. Many RPGs do, including the other Paper Marios, but this game does not. At the least the game could have let you select between HP and attack; and they could have been creative and come up with more stats to improve. I'd have felt better throughout this game if I could have increased the length of time you can stay in 3D without penalty.

The most Paper Mario-like feature of the game, and a welcome aspect, is the characters that join your party and can be used to fight enemies and solve puzzles. There are quite a few of these fairy-like characters known as Pixls. The one you start with, Tippi, is sort of a combination of Goombario, who told you about characters and gave you general advice, and Watt, who could show you invisible things. Some Pixls grant you moves that Mario and his partners had in previous PMs, while some grant all-new moves. This is another feature I enjoyed seeing in a platformer, but I did think more could have been done with it. Oftentimes, it seems you get a Pixl, you use it a lot in that level and maybe the next one, and then, unless it's got offensive capabilities, you may only use it sparingly after that. The previous Paper Marios did a better job of continuing to use partners... but I guess Intelligent Systems wanted to leave some room for actual classic platforming.

Overall, the gameplay is solid, and will keep you entertained so long as you can live with this game not being a new SMB or a PM3. The gameplay is very original, well put together, and fresh for the duration of the storyline (another more commonly RPG element). But, I don't think this is the best gameplay ever, in the sense that I would want the elements that make it up to appear elsewhere. I wasn't playing this game and wishing that Mario 3 had this 3D twist or an HP meter. So, I'd call SPM's gameplay pleasant and innovative, but not necessarily impressive.

Story: 9/10

Well, since I mentioned it... An evil, bat-like magician by the name of Count Bleck forces Bowser and Peach to marry, under the guidance of an evil tome known as the Dark Prognosticus that predicts gloom and doom. The forced marriage produces the Chaos Heart, which, in Bleck's possession, creates a void that will gradually expand to destroy all worlds. Mario is taken to the interdimensional town of Flipside, where it is explained that the Light Prognosticus, a more optomistic tome, shows that he can save the worlds. Mario must then set out to find the eight Pure Hearts that are said to allow him to put an end to Bleck's evil plans.

On the face of it, this story may not blow you away, but it unfolds well, both in and between levels, and is the most involved and exciting story I've seen in a platformer. I don't want to say much more about it, but I did take off a point because the end seemed rushed and uncompelling, and it was never even addressed whether Peach and Bowser remained married after this...

Characters: 8/10

You will gain the ability to control Peach and Bowser as well as Mario. (Peach can float, while Bowser can breathe fire and has double the attack power.) Luigi also has an important role to play. So, there's a lot of star power there. Bleck and his minions, Nastasia, O'Chunks, Mimi, and Dimentio, are very entertaining, I was always looking forward to my next encounter with any of these. More could have been done with the Pixls, however. Apart from Tippi, none of them speak after they've joined you.

There's a bunch of humorous NPCs. There aren't as many of these various characters as in RPGs, but more than I've seen in any platformer. The enemies are a blend of classic Mario foes and new, wacky-looking degenerates. These may not become household names, but they're entertaining enough. More could have been done with the world bosses. Most of them don't appear before you fight them. Overall, the cast does a very good job of adding to the humorous style of this game, and should be well liked.

Controls: 3/10

SPM is played with the Wiimote held sideways, so it resembles an NES controller. The right hand has the 2 button, which is for jumping, and the 1 button, which uses the active Pixl's ability. The D-pad on the left is for movement, while A sends Mario into and out of 3D. The + button in the middle of the controller opens the menu, which has the inventory and allows you to switch between characters and Pixls.

The controls are effective and smooth, but some buttons are underutilized. The B button on the bottom of the Wiimote is not used, while the - button only calls up an explanation of the controls. These buttons could be used better, because whenever you want to use a different ability, you'll have to go to the pause menu to switch characters. This process isn't exactly tedious, but it can get annoying and could be faster. The B button could toggle your character, so you can go instantly Mario->Peach->Bowser->Mario. The - button could switch you instantly to the Pixl you last had. Often you'll want to be using a specific Pixl for solving the level's puzzles, but you'll also want to switch to an offensive Pixl to help against enemies. Being able to switch directly between those two would be very convenient! Of course, the pause menu would still be available, but perhaps less often needed.

The A button also could be better used. Its only function is to send Mario into and out of 3D, which means that if you press it while controlling Peach or Bowser, nothing happens! If you really mean to be using Bowser, but you want to take a look around in 3D, you have to go to the pause menu, switch to Mario, enter 3D and do your thing, go back to the pause menu, and switch back to Bowser. (You then, at least, will automatically leave 3D.) Instead of this, the A button could have switched from Bowser or Peach directly to Mario and send him into 3D. Pressing the A Button after that could return you to the character you were previously, again circumventing the pause menu.

This game, which was originally going to be released for the GameCube, has some Wii-specific control features that don't have a huge impact on the game. The most interesting of these features is that you can shake the controller after jumping on an enemy to pull off a PM2-like stylish move that earns you extra points. This looks nifty and can be fun to try, but the point bonuses are insignificant and ultimately needless (you can just replay levels if you want extra points), and only put you into danger more than anything else. You also can point the Wiimote at the screen to activate Tippi's abilities. Select a character or important object to get her comments. If you reach a dead end, you can use this feature to see if something invisible will present itself. This feature is fine, but could have been done on the GameCube just with an activating button and the control stick. Finally, some items have PM-style action commands that affect their strength. But these action commands are so easy to pull off that they're not very interesting. These Wii features are fine enough, but not very significant overall. If you're looking for a game that makes use of Wii-specific abilities, this is not a great choice.

In the end, SPM's controls work but could have easily been better and are hardly innovative.

Graphics: 4/10

I wasn't so much a fan of Paper Mario's flat graphics at first, but that's because I felt the Nintendo 64 could do better with an RPG that, environmentally, is 3D. As a 2D platformer, these graphics look fine. Like PM2, they're very vibrant and, I would say, attractive. Ironically, they don't look as much like paper to me this time around. They're flat, sure, but just the same I wasn't quite as convinced about the paper element.

Mario and other characters look good in this game, though Bowser still has those ridiculous, constantly outstretched arms. The backgrounds, which change drastically between worlds, also are well done. NPCs in this game look really weird, though, often with bodies that are disjointed and barely resemble a person. This style, along with the backgrounds and everything else, does contribute to the lighthearted style of the game. But even with a humorous game like this, it can be hard to take seriously while you're walking among the citizens of Flipside.

The game looks good, and appropriate, when in 3D. However, the camera takes a perpendicular position to the 2D view; it remains directly behind you and gives you little perspective. Fighting enemies in 3D is always a struggle because it's hard to tell where you need to jump, not to mention you are limited to Mario and have a time limit. The 3D world could have been presented from a different angle to reduce this problem.

Music: 9/10

Pretty good overall. I wasn't impressed right away, but there are actually some very nice tunes in this game. Each song is themed very well. A number of courses have their own tune, and level themes never play across worlds. Character themes are excellent. One problem is that sometimes consecutive levels will have the same environment, and therefore the same music. So you'll hear that one tune for those couple of back-to-back levels, and then you won't hear it again. Plenty of effort was put into the music in this game, but this is one that might have really benefited from having a unique song for each level.

Every once in a while a song won't seem to fit, or have a rythym or purpose. The Chapter 7 boss theme, in particular, does absolutely nothing for me. Some songs seem to have nonsense passages that are there only to fill time until they can bring back the main melody. Overall, though, the music in this game is very strong. I'm actually listening to the final boss theme right now. The recording is not very good, but it's better than nothing!

Levels: 10/10

One of the best aspects of the game, right here. The game has only 32 levels along with Flipside, which isn't a huge amount, but many of the courses are unique, most are long, and each is jam-packed with appropriate and creative puzzles, enemies, obstacles, and gags. You will want to play right on to the next level, not because the gameplay is so fantastic, but because you'll have to find out what kind of environment with what kind of ridiculous gag Intelligent Systems has dared to create.

Length: 3/10

Good for a platformer, less good for an RPG. I would say the main game probably takes about 20-25 hours, provided you're doing it all yourself and not looking up solutions and shortcuts. If you try to complete everything, including the Pit of 100 Trials and collecting all the Catch Cards (sort of like the Tattle Log with a functional twist), the game could run 40+ hours. That stuff isn't nearly as fun as the main adventure, though.

I would say either length is respectable for this game. The problem is that SPM has hardly any replay value. This game thrives on its humor and surprises, rather than its gameplay. Since I know what happens now, this game wouldn't be so fun to play a second time. That is quite different from a game like PM2, which I would say can be enjoyed many times because the gameplay itself is so fun. SPM, apart from all the gags, is just okay. Not only would this game be much duller the second time, but some things that were funny the first time might become annoying. You might have put up with running on a hamster wheel for five minutes in Chapter 2-3 the first time. The second time, maybe not so much. So while I'd love to watch someone else play and see their reaction, playing again myself isn't too appealing.

If a game isn't going to be replayable, I would hope for it to be very long the first time through. Since this game isn't so long, I can only give it a mediocre score. And because I wanted more from it, I have to give a lower score. With all the abilities and gags in this game, I felt Intelligent Systems could have produced much more. Just as a quick example, there is only one underwater course in the game. The storyline may have come to an end, but I definitely didn't feel that this game's potential was tapped.

Fun Factor!: 9/10

Brilliant levels, humorous characters, and an apparent "do whatever it takes to amuse and surprise the player" creed made this a game I didn't want to put down. Now that I've finished the game, I've actually found myself a little depressed. I want more of that super fun time, but don't know how to get it. I usually am very happy to replay games I like this much, but like I said, I don't think I will get that same effect the second time. This left me unsure of what to do - and so I wrote this!

Super Paper Mario is probably best suited for gamers who enjoy a good laugh and those that are fans of the platforming genre as a whole. I don't think the Wii has a ton of good games yet; if yours has been collecting some dust since Zelda and you can live with this not being PM3 or a new SMB, give Super Paper Mario a try.

One quick piece of advice: because this game relies so much on surprise, the less you know about it, the better. I have tried to write this while revealing as little as possible about the events in the game. If this sounds like a game you want to try, get it now, and don't read anything else about it until you play.

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