I wanted ever so badly to hate Paper Mario. I was all excited about writing a scathing, venomous review for a game nigh-universally loved. I was looking forward to saying that Paper Mario “falls flat,” and then falling to the floor in a fit of laughter over the extreme wit presented in that pun. I was anxious about getting e-mails telling me how wonderful Paper Mario is, and asking me if I know the difference between a great game and my own rear end.
But alas, it just wasn’t to be. While fans of Super Mario RPG will be disappointed by the game’s generic characters, side-scrolling levels, and downright goofy…well…everything, there’s no denying that Paper Mario is a solid role-playing game for a system that doesn’t have many to offer. You just need to drop any memories you have of this game’s predecessor into a Pensieve for the time being in order to really enjoy it.
You already know the basic storyline of Paper Mario, even if this is the first time you’re hearing about the game. Princess Toadstool is kidnapped by Bowser, and it’s up to Mario to save her. Bowser didn’t just stop at kidnapping the princess this time, though. That wasn’t enough for the King of all Koopas this time around. Along with Peach, Bowser kidnapped THE ENTIRE CASTLE, burrowing underneath it with his own home and flying it up to the stars.
Speaking of stars, Bowser was just en fuego that day—he also stole the Star Rod, which allows the bearer to grant any wishes imaginable. This rod was previously owned by the Star Spirits, who now find themselves under captivity by various Bowser henchmen. Mario has to rescue all these folks first before he can save Peach, the castle, the Star Rod, and the Mushroom Kingdom in general, because he needs their power in order to combat Bowser’s newfound strength.
Paper Mario is not so much a pure RPG as it is an RPG sprinkled with various bits of of Mario gameplay. All the worlds are side-scrolling, like the classic Mario games, and you can defeat some enemies just by jumping on them (after obtaining an item that allows you to do this, anyway), and bash blocks apart with your head. Battles are turn-based with timed hits, which I’ve always argued against. Timed hits are when you press the attack button right before you’re about to hit an enemy, or right before the enemy is about to hit you. They work well as an added bonus, as a way to deal extra damage or boost your defense a little, but they’re obnoxious if you have to hit them in order to defeat an enemy, like you must most of the time here. Plus, since you have to be constantly aware of the game in order to do your extra damage and boost your defense, you can’t just set yourself on an A-button tapping autopilot and read a book or check your e-mail while fighting pointless battles.
That isn’t the only obnoxious part about battle controls, either. With some of your attacks, you’ll have to press the attack button repeatedly and repeatedly and repeatedly, and the faster you hit the button, the more damage you do. This has never once, in any video game, ever, been entertaining or challenging. It leads to a pain in the thumb, not a sense of accomplishment.
Battles can also get tedious when you’re engaging Goomba after Goomba because you’re not quick enough to sneak by them on the screen, and gaining absolutely nothing from it. You gain a new level with every 100 experience points, and with each new level, enemies give fewer experience points. You’ll be pleased as a person wearing new shoes when you’re gaining three experience points every time you murder a Goomba, but it gets tiresome powerful quick when you’re getting nothing for it. Luckily, there are no random encounters, so it is possible to avoid engaging an enemy if you really don’t wanna fight. The 2D environs don’t give you a lot of room to run, but it is doable.
Unlike Super Mario RPG, where your party is made up of original characters, and unlike Superstar Saga, where your party is made up of Luigi, your party in Paper Mario is made up of familiar enemies. I’m talking Koopa Troopas, Bob-ombs, Parakoopas, and other friends I don’t particularly wanna spoil. (Though, if you watch the intro, you’ll see quite a few of them spoiled for you.) Each of your party members has a personality setting him apart from the mindless drones you’ve been throwing fireballs at for years, and a unique look to go with it. It’s neat seeing these familiar characters in such new lights, though I’d still prefer Geno and Mallow to a feminine Bob-omb any day.
There are a few stealth levels in Paper Mario that you’ll want to get through as quickly as possible. Every time you rescue a Star Spirit, the game cuts to the floating castle, where Peach is kept contained in her bedroom. You have to sneak around the castle gathering clues for Mario’s next move, which are then sent to the plumber via a Star Spirit hopeful. I groaned whenever these levels cropped up, but maybe you’ll enjoy them.
Paper Mario would not look out of place on a GameCube. This title was released towards the tail-end of the Nintendo 64’s existence, so just based on that, it’s about the best you’re gonna get out of the console. Intelligent Systems also did a quality job with the soundtrack. The songs (classic Mario remixes and original tunes) are performed by keyboards, xylophones, and various other instruments you’d play in an elementary school music class, giving the game a childlike feel.
Clocking in at just under 30 hours, Paper Mario is short enough that you might wanna play it again a few years down the line. There isn’t a New Game+ mode, and there aren’t a whole lot of sidequests that you’ll wanna play the game again just to complete, but the game itself is entertaining enough to warrant a second time through. Despite some issues with the battle controls (issues that you might not even have, if you don’t mind timed attacks), the story and dialogue are amusing enough to keep you going. The Mario RPG series is quickly becoming known for its sense of humor, and Paper Mario doesn’t at all disappoint in this respect.
My first impression of Paper Mario wasn’t at all good. I played the game for about three hours, and hated it because it wasn’t Super Mario RPG. I decided to give it another try this month, mainly so I could beat it, and thus review it, and thus profess an entirely unpopular opinion. But alas, it just wasn’t to be. Paper Mario is no Super Mario RPG, but considering its competition is friggin’ Quest 64, it’s one of the best RPGs available for Nintendo 64. I received mine as a trade for Duke Nukem 64, and while I’m not sure I came out better for it, I still say that Paper Mario is still worth whatever Duke Nukem costs today, if not more.