In Case You Missed It: Super Paper Mario

super-paper-mario-20070307071407639_640w Originally released for the Nintendo Wii in April of 2007, Mario’s first step onto next generation technology was met with relatively little fanfare. What attention it did receive was completely overshadowed by the release of Super Mario Galaxy which came out in the fall of that same. So in this, hopefully semi-regular feature, I’m going to be taking a look back at games that released months or even a few years ago that deserve a second look. This is Super Paper Mario…in case you missed it.

Super Paper Mario is a loose sequel to both Paper Mario and Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door for N64 and Gamecube respectively. However, it is only a sequel in the fact that it maintains the art style pioneered by it’s predecessors. With flimsy 2D graphics and colorful, almost childlike backgrounds, the games hearken back to the original days of side-scrolling platformers. And with this third installment the developers have managed to maintain the fast paced fun of stomping enemies and combined it with minor RPG elements.

You begin the game watching as the story unfolds. Princess Peach has been kidnapped, again. But this time by a new villain; one Count Bleck. Hypnotized and forced to marry Bowser in order to rip a hole in the time/space continuum, the player is forced to sit through this agonizingly long exposition. There is no way to skip past it, and although the writing is amusing, the sheer fact that it lasts almost twenty minutes is enough to scare off the most hardy gamer. But try to persevere. If you can get past the overly wordy beginning the game itself is joy to play.

Once your torture session is over and the game begins, the player takes control of Mario who is charged with the quest of collecting “pure hearts”. These are the artifacts that will keep the hole ripped in time/space from consuming the universe. Just go with it. There are eight unique levels to explore and collect these artifacts from.

But Mario is not the only playable character in the game. As you progress you will also pick up Luigi, Peach and Bowser. Each has their own unique abilities. Both Luigi and Peach regain their powers from Super Mario Bros. 2 with Luigi having the highest jump in the game and Princess Peach being able to float or hover over long distances. Bowser, true to form, is able to breathe fire onto enemies. Mario though, gets the best ability of them all; one that allows him to flip the game world from 2D to 3D, leading to one of the most innovative and fun aspects of the game.

Each stage of the game is set up like a traditional 2D side-scroller of old. But this simplistic layout hides a world of challenge and puzzle solving. Come across a gap too far to jump? Use the controller to have Mario switch the world to 3D. That once flat hillside background is now a path to the other side of the hole. There are many moments like this where flashes of developer genius shine through, whether in the way that you defeat an enemy or showing the player an otherwise invisible path or hidden area. Still, Mario cannot stay in this new state forever. For each second he is in the 3D world, his life bar is draining, adding another layer of challenge throughout the game.

Another new addition to the Mario family are the fairy-like Pixls. Adding a RPG element to the game, the Pixls serve as living items. Each has a unique personality and ability. For example, Bomber gives the party the ability to blow up walls and certain enemy types. That level you completed an hour ago with that weird crack in the wall? Now the player can return and find out what was behind it. There are about a dozen of these new characters, each playing a significant role in helping to complete the game. Discovering which Pixl is right for the job at hand is a wholly satisfying experience and easy introduction to role-playing mechanics.

Super Paper Mario is a tongue-in-cheek, nostalgic game that manages to inject a bit of newness into the platforming genre. While the overly long exposition and other giant chunks of text throughout the adventure are daunting and can interrupt the game flow at times, the overall experience is fun and enjoyable. One thing that struck me as disappointing was that only Mario can switch between 2D and 3D, making it impossible to play as other party members for an extended period of time. However, these negatives when viewed with the entertainment value of the game as a whole are not enough warrant passing it by. Recommended as a must-try for any Nintendo or classic gaming fan.

Available on the Nintendo Wii. Rated E for Everyone for Comic Mischief and Mild Cartoon Violence.