Super Paper Mario (Wii) – Review

Super Paper Mario - CoverSuper Paper Mario published by Intelligent Systems and distributed by Nintendo, is an effort to combine classic 2D platforming gameplay with RGP elements from the past Paper Mario series, with a few additional twists to make the game interesting. While overall the game is very good, those coming into the game expected to find platforming-type gameplay as from New Super Mario Bros. will likely be disappointed due to how tedious and disjointed it ends up being. Regardless, the game is still a top-notch title, and continues the excellent Paper Mario series quite well.

Story: A

One again, Bowser has kidnapped Princess Peach in hopes to marry her, but before Mario has a chance to save her, a new villain, Count Bleck, appears from a different universe, with hopes to create a Void that will consume all other universes, and drags Mario, Luigi, Peach, Bowser, and many of Bowser’s henchmen into a vortex leading to a strange world called Flipside. There, a wise Merlon informs Mario that he is the Hero foretold by prophecy to stop the destruction of all the Universes, and sends him on a quest to collect the Pure Hearts from other universes in order to fight Count Bleck and his underlings. Along the way, Mario encounters his friends as well as ancient creatures called Pilxs that infuse Mario with additional powers to defeat the evil that is consuming all the lands.

Gameplay: B+

“Super Paper Mario” has been called a hybrid of a platformer and RPG for many a good reason. First, it’s very easy to see the RPG elements that borrow from the past Paper Mario games, such as a simplified experience system, the collection of party members, powers, and items, and more. There is also the more traditional Mario platforming elements, as most levels are similar in concept to Super Mario Bros., with blocks, pipes, and numerous foes wandering the levels. While past Paper Mario games have used these platforming elements to some extent, they are really given more of a spotlight here.

There are a total of 8 (unsurprising!) worlds with typically 4 levels in each, the final level cuminating in a boss fight. Each level must be completed in succession, with the Pure Heart collected from the previous world, and typically along with a new Pixl or character in the party, used to unlock the door to the next world. However, once you complete a world you can go back at any time to explore it more.

Combat is no longer done as the previous RPG Mario titles, but instead uses standard Mario platforming elements, commonly jumping on a foe’s head to take it down, all done in real time as you wander the levels. However, one bounce may not do the trick: Mario and his friends have an attack power, and foes can have a large number of hit points in addition to invunerablilities to certain kinds of attacks, so it may take multiple jumps or use of the Pixls (more on in a bit) to finish off foes. Like Mario RPGs, if you wiggle the controller in time with your attack, you’ll score extra points for it, which helps to boost your experience and gain levels. Performing multiple attacks in succession also can increase your score.

Super Paper Mario - 2D modeSuper Paper Mario - 3D ModeThere are two major “twists” to the game. The first big one is that while all the characters in the game believe their world is two dimensional, Mario can flip for a limited time into three dimension, turning the flat level on it’s side in a third-person view, though Mario and most foes are still treated as flat 2D objects. What may be obstacles can now be walked around in the third dimension, and there may also be paths that lead out of the 2D plane to other areas. There’s also plenty of secrets such as coins, additional foes, and the like, awaiting the player in this dimension. There are also a few foes that can be troublesome in both 2D and 3D, including those that flip with Mario between the two versions. While in the 3D view, there’s an approximate 10 second timer for how long Mario’s been in there, and if the timer gets to zero, Mario takes damage, though remains in 3D. When back in 2D, this timer regenerates back to its full length. The 3D aspect is used well throughout the game, most of the time as part of a puzzle to move forward in a level, but also can be used to sneak past hulking foes that only exist in 2D (and thus disappear while in 3D) or to find special objects along the way.

The other major addition to the game are Pixls, color line-drawn creatures (like mouse cursors) that give Mario and his party a special power. One that is nearly always with Mario is Tippi, who, by pointing the Wii Remote at the screen, can tell you about objects on screen as well as reveal hidden objects. There’s also ones that provide typical Mario or Paper Mario powers, such as planting bombs, smashing things with a hammer, or flipping sideways (while in 2D or 3D) to slip through cracks. Only one can be active at any time, but you can change them by jumping to the menu and selecting a different one. You can also switch your party members (each with their own power) in the same fashion. As with the 3D flipping, there are times that you need to use multiple Pixls and characters to get through some of the puzzles in the game.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I really liked this game – it’s definitely one of the best games for the Wii to date. However, I feel that the overall development goal of the game, merging the platforming and RPG elements in a single genre, failed to some extent. The elements from RPG aren’t bad and are brought in well into the platformer parts of the game, but the platformer elements themselves are rather weak. I have four key reasons why I feel this way about it:

  1. The platforming elements are not hard at all. Except for parts of the last world and some bosses, there’s no real challenge to timing of jumping and movement as you would need in a typical non-Paper Mario game. Add in the “cheapness” of Bowser and his fire breath as the strong attacker in your party, and very few foes really pose any sort of threat to you. The platforming elements tend to be reduced down to puzzle solving in that, given your characters and your Pixls, you need to figure out how you get around an obstacle in the game. This leads also into the second point.
  2. The game is way too talkative. For an RPG, the amount of conversation is perfectly fine, but for a platformer, the conversations really bog down the speed of the game. It’s very annoying to be running through the level and then suddenly have to stop to talk to a character for several screens of text to continue onto the next stage. Combined with the platforming elements being lost and more a puzzle-type game from the first point, the platforming side just feels too broken up and disjointed compared to what past Mario platformers have been like.
  3. The game doesn’t have that much in the way of secret areas that are typical fare for a Mario platformer game. Certainly you can explore around, and there’s a lot of additional monsters and goodies hidden away in the 3D parts of the worlds, but general special blocks, pipes, and other “secret areas” seem to have been lost or forgotten. The platforming areas just don’t feel very large or deep as some levels in other Mario games.
  4. The game gets tedious after about the mid point of the game. Having to go to the menus to flip between the various Pixls and Characters gets very tedious when you need to use several of them to solve some puzzles. It would have been nice to be able to rotate-select these via a single button, and I think that they could have made this easier by remapping a few of the controls, putting the menu on the unused Z and using + and – to character flip. The animations for these as well as the flipping between 2D and 3D, while short, also started to get annoying near the end, helping to slow down the pace of the game. Even more annoying is that while I’m all for non-linear paths through levels, there’s several parts of the later worlds that you repeat or traverse an area several times, including one point where you have to face 20 rounds of easy-to-beat foes (along with necessary conversation before and after) which drags rather poorly.

While the platforming sections are much larger than those in the “Thousand Year Door” or either “Mario and Luigi” RPG games for the GBA/DS, these areas in “Super Paper Mario” feel no different from the areas in those other games; simplistic platforming to stay true to the Mario name, but staying simple to keep the game more as an RPG than platformer. Of course, considering this, I do wonder if there’s a way to tweak the combination further to make the platforming elements better without affecting the RPG side, and unfortunately I come to a loss. One could make straightforward “courses” that have absolutely no plot development and a handful of puzzles, but this would definitely weaken the RPG elements, since the only time plot is developed is when the characters return to a central hub. Considering all the “pure” RPG games I’ve played, you cannot separate out the mid-level character or plot development: games where you basically go from the hub, fight random monsters in a dungeon, and return, feel very flat and repetitive, while those that have a combination of exploring and random monster battles among character conversations feel more appropriate for a video game. Another way would be like the Ratchet and Clank/Jak/Sly Cooper games, where levels are generally smaller and then there’s a bit of plot buildup afterwards; effectively, this is similar to how Super Mario Sunshine works as well, and despite other problems, it worked fine. But maybe there’s just something about the expectation of a 2D platformer (fast, difficult, lots of secrets) that really doesn’t mesh that well with RPG elements. Again, I point out, what “Super Paper Mario” has achieved here is very good, but I feel somewhat disappointed that a lot of pre-release press was throwing the word “platformer” around with this game, and it really doesn’t deliver what I as an old-school gamer would come to expect from that.

Now, while I may have been disappointed in the platforming side, I was very impressed but how well the RPG worked into the game. Characters and writing were top notch, with lots of nice nods to past Nintendo games among other things. The simple combination of score as your experience points with advancement in hit points and attack power lack the usual full-blown customization that other RPGs could have, but fits nicely into the Mario universe. Since you can go back to previous levels once you bested them, you can also level grind if you need to, though I found this unnecessary unless I was just a few points away from the next level; there are also areas that you can’t access in these worlds on the first run through but can with later Pixls and characters. The game has a lot of side quests as well. There’s two Pits of 100 Trials where you need to best your way through 100 rooms (each) to complete them. Special character cards can be found or purchased throughout the game, or be created through special “catch cards”, and taunt those that like collection tasks; possessing an enemy card doubles the damage that you deal to it, helping with some of the late game foes. There’s also the collection task of recipes through the game, though these add no value otherwise. There’s also additional, optional Pixls that you can find to lead to more secret areas.

Value/Replayability: A-

The main game took me about 15-16 hours, roughly, to complete the main quest. Based on attempting my hand at a few of the other optional quests after finishing the main story, there’s at least another 10 hours in the game to fully complete it. I think the length is just about right, given the few grips I had about the game above. If the game was faster-paced in the platforming elements, it may have been too long, possibly, and if it was more about the RPG, it would have been just a tad too short. The length is just right for how the platforming and RPG elements worked out.

Super Paper Mario - Boss FightGraphics: A

Graphics are visually stunning, and show that you don’t need 3D for everything to make a shiny-looking game. The engine uses the same “spirits rendered as 3D” approach that past Paper Mario games have used as well as what’s used in Wario Ware, so animations look smooth and render without a problem. There’s also a good assortment of foes rendered as simplistic 3D objects that work fine in the game. There are some issues with lack of anti-aliasing that appear when you go into 3D mode, but it’s certainly not a huge problem nor gets in the way of playing the game.

Audio: A-

Audio is also good for the game. There’s no spoken dialog beyond the usual utterances of Mario and crew, and all dialog is provided via text. Music is appropriate, though the Flipside music (which you’ll hear a lot) can get a bit on the nerves in the late game.

Overall: A-

I point out again that overall, Super Paper Mario is a great game; compared to other publishers and systems, it’s a very strong title. In general, the combination of platforming and RPG elements works, the 2D/3D approach is stunning, and the story and characters are very engaging. However, as it is a Nintendo title, I found that the apparent heavy emphasis on platform elements at least during the leadup to release of this game, and the resulting underuse of them to be a lack of the typical spit and polish that Nintendo puts into every Mario game. Too many elements make the platforming side seem slow and disjointed, though the RPG side is handled quite well. I don’t believe that Super Paper Mario is a system seller (as if the Wii needed a game to sell the system), but it definitely is a good game to add to it’s collection of top titles regardless of this disappointment in the platforming side.

2 Responses

  1. nice game

  2. You really make it seem so easy along with your presentation but I find this matter to be really something which I think I would by no means understand. It sort of feels too complicated and very wide for me. I’m having a look forward to your next publish, I will attempt to get the dangle of it!

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