Review: More two-dimensional than Nicole Ritchie fasting for Darfur.
Super Paper Mario is the third installment of developer Intelligent Systems' Paper Mario series. The previous two games, Paper Mario and Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door were RPGs in the spirit of Squaresoft's Super Nintendo classic Super Mario RPG. Super Paper Mario, however, departs from the menu-driven battles of its predecessors. Instead, it is a platformer in the tradition of classic Super Mario titles with some RPG elements thrown into the mix. Think of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night without the vampires, zombies, and poor voice acting. Originally developed for the Gamecube, Intelligent Systems and Nintendo wisely chose to push Super Paper Mario to the Wii instead. The result? One of the best Wii games to date.
The story begins when Mario hears that Bowser has yet again kidnapped Princess Peach. Mario and Luigi set off to Bowser's lair for the required rescue attempt. However, they soon discover that Bowser is not the culprit, and in fact a new villain, Count Bleck, is behind the kidnapping. Bleck instigates a pseudo-marriage between Peach and Bowser, which he uses to create the ?Chaos Heart.? He then escapes through a dimensional portal that sucks Luigi, Peach, Bowser and Bowser's minions inside. Mario is left behind unconscious but is soon awoken by a fairy creature named Tippi. The creature, known as a ?Pixl,? leads him through a portal to a town called ?Flipside.? This town acts as the central hub of the game. From here Mario must traverse the game's eight worlds to collect Pure Hearts in order to thwart Count Bleck's plan of ending the world.
While the story is appropriately light-hearted and fun, it does have some darker moments that took me by surprise. My only complaint is that the copious dialogue sometimes bogs down the gameplay. There is nothing worse than feeling the itch to stomp some goombas while in the middle of a conversation with a long-winded fairy creature.
As previously mentioned, the game is a combination of Mario's classic side-scrolling adventures and an RPG. Most of the action involves simply jumping between platforms and bopping enemies. However the game still possesses a lot in common with its RPG predecessors. For example, when Mario is hit, instead of shrinking his hit points go down. Enemies likewise possess hit points and Mario's attacks against them become more effective as his experience levels grow. Also, the player can buy/find items and use them later to attack enemies or heal Mario.
Many of the familiar Mario series items possess different effects. Mushrooms recharge hit points. The iconic star item turns Mario into a massive 8-bit version of himself (a feature in the recent New Super Mario Bros. as well). In addition, there are many unique power-ups throughout the game. One particular favorite creates several mini 8-bit Mario around the player that in turn destroy enemies in a kamikaze-like fashion.
A major gameplay element comes from the ability to ?flip.? Normal gameplay occurs on a side-scrolling 2D plane. However, the player is also able to flip into 3D mode. In this mode Mario can traverse obstacles and uncover items not visible in 2D. For example, in one area a bed of spikes descends from the ceiling in Temple of Doom fashion (thankfully without Kate Capshaw). At first there appears to be no way to escape. However, when you flip into 3D you can easily walk around them. Flipping can also prove beneficial in other ways. What might appear to be four coins hovering above you turns out to be eight when you flip into 3D. The con of being in this mode is that you have a limited amount of time. Once the time runs out you lose a hit point. Overall this is a clever and innovative gameplay addition that adds a lot of fun and depth to the game.
Later in the game the player gains the ability to control Princess Peach, Bowser and Luigi. Each possesses unique abilities. Following tradition Luigi can jump higher than Mario. Peach meanwhile is able to traverse longer distances with her trademark parasol. Bowser can roast enemies with his fiery breath. Each character is necessary to traverse certain portions of the game. Switching between the different characters adds variety, but I can't help but feel the switching could have been more seamless. I suspect the lack of buttons on the Wii controller contributed to this.
Over the course of the game the player also gains Pixls. These are magical helpers that grant Mario certain abilities. The main Pixl, Tippi, is always active and accompanies Mario through the game. She acts as Mario's voice of sorts through talking to other characters. She can also give information about items and enemies as well as reveal hidden objects. Players use this feature by aiming the Wii-mote at the screen. Other discoverable Pixls include Thoreau who allows you to?. you guessed it, ?throw? enemies and items. Another, Boomer, allows the player to blow up bricks. Only one can be active at a time (excluding Tippi) but the player can switch between them freely like the main characters
No one could fault Super Paper Mario for being monotonous. The gameplay is quite varied from the traditional action segments to item hunts, exploration and even earning money. There is even a portion of the game reminiscent of a survival horror title. The only complaint is that he game is not tremendously difficult. Most enemies, including bosses, are defeated by simply bopping them on the head. Save points are scattered liberally throughout the worlds so even if you do die, the consequences are light.
One of the features fans love about the Paper Mario series is its quirky sense of humor. Unlike many video games it has the quality of actually being, you know? funny. Super Paper Mario continues this trend through the witty dialogue between the characters.
Graphically the game has the same cartoonish 2D style of the past Paper Mario games. That being said, there isn't any significant improvement over the graphics of Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door. This hardly matters however since the graphics are so charming. The 3D segments don't fair as well. They look decent enough, but suffer from draw distance (particularly notable in some boss battles).
The music is upbeat and fits the game well. There is no spoken dialogue in the game except for the occasional ?hi? from Mario. Some might complain about this but I find it more of a welcome addition. Some games just don't need voice acting. I still have nightmares of Princess Peach's monologue at the end of Mario 64.