Super Paper Mario ReviewRush Montgomery III
Super Paper Mario (Nintendo Wii) gives a new spin on the Paper Mario franchise, turning the usually paper-thin landscape on its edge to reveal complex 3D worlds and puzzles. Mario and most of the familiar RPG and gameplay elements from previous SPM games appear in this version of the popular Paper Mario (originally Super Mario RPG) franchise, but this time Nintendo has mixed in a healthy dose of platforming action which makes this game seem fun and fresh.
Although most Wii games are played with the WiiMote flicked around like a magic wand or waved around like a gun, Super Paper Mario turns the remote on its side (a common theme in this game) using the WiiMote like a classic NES controller, with crosspad and buttons being the most commonly used form of input to the game.
Super Paper Mario is still very much an RPG, however all turn-based fighting has been removed in favor of classic platforming moves and attacks. Mario jumps, pounds and kicks enemies as always, which do hit point damage against his enemies. Throw in the standard fare of magic items and abilities, and it builds an impressive RPG system that is both easy to play and complex to master - appealing to those players who like button-mashers like Super Mario Bros and those who lean towards games like World of Warcraft.
This game starts in normal Mario fashion - the Princess is missing and it's up to Mario (and his bumbling yet effective brother Luigi) to save her. This time it's not Bowser who is up to the evil deed. As a matter of fact, Bowser himself has been taken by an evil wizard named Count Bleck. Count Bleck is in command of a powerful spell book (although not powerful enough to defeat an overweight plumber from Brooklyn and his screwball brother) called the Dark Prognosticus. With this book - and his captive princess and giant turtle dragon guy - Count Bleck joins the Princess and Bowser in marriage, which unleashes a destructive object known as the "Chaos Heart". Bleck then uses this object to open a gigantic rift called "The Void" which will eventually destroy our dimension.
Hoping to destroy Count Bleck and rescue their friends, Mario and Luigi arrive at the unceremonious wedding of Peach and Bowser and are eventually pulled into Count Bleck's void, which ends up in a world called "Flipside". Flipside is the central game hub which leads out to all other chapters in the game. It is similar to Delfino Plaza from Super Mario Sunshine.
Mario is immediately joined by a fairy friend named Tippi. Tippi is a magical creature called a Pixl, and joins Mario on his adventure to help explain the situation at hand. Tippi tells Mario about a good book known as the Light Prognosticus, which has the power to destroy The Void and banish the Chaos Heart back into the evil Dark Prognosticus. To do this, Mario and friends must retrieve eight "Pure Hearts" from various worlds and use them to banish the Chaos Heart at the end of the game. And thus the adventure begins.
Besides having the immediate ability to play as Mario and his fairy friend Tippi, players are eventually given other characters, new Pixls, and new abilities. Pixls serve as the main ability upgrade system. Tippi is similar to Navi in The Legend of Zelda series. She (I guess it's a she) is your constant companion, pointing out things to try and lending her powers to assist you. Tippi is the magic element that gives Mario the ability to "flip" into the 3D world, which opens new pathways, secret items and puzzles galore.
Once more characters are rescued from the evil clutches of Count Bleck, Mario has the chance to expand his party with friends and old foes. Along for the ride are Mario's brother Luigi, his love Princess Peach and the usually-quite-naughty Bowser. Each has their own abilities which come in handy when navigating various puzzles and obstacles in the game, however Mario is the only character with the ability to flip in 3D space.
The 3D elements of the game are a major component of how the game is played. Often the player will not be able to solve a puzzle or even advance through the game, if Mario doesn't change his perspective from 2D to 3D. Some higher areas can't be accessed unless the view is changed to a 3D perspective where Mario sees platforms to jump to which couldn't be seen in 2D view because they were paper thin and viewed from the side. With a quick hit from Mario the platform flips in line with the 2D world, and when Mario returns to flat view there is a platform there waiting for him. The developers really put a lot of thought into how to utilize the 3D elements of the game to maximum potential, and it turned out great. Super Paper Mario feels like playing an RPG, a standard 2D platformer and a 3D puzzle adventure, all at the same time.
There are a total of eight "chapters" in the game, each with four sub-worlds, each ending with an encounter with one of Count Bleck's nasty henchmen. Once each henchman is thwarted, Mario and party receive a "Pure Heart". The "Pure Heart" returns to Flipside, which then opens the door to the next chapter. There are also other side quests the players can open up, which give additional power, weapons or money.
Super Paper Mario is not just another Paper Mario RPG game with a facelift. With lots of platforming elements and the ability to shift in and out of 3D space, this feels like a whole new style of gameplay. It's limiting to call it an RPG, but it's too complex in structure to dismiss as a platform game. The addition of the Pixl system is really nice and is a fresh way of delivering Mario's upgraded abilities, such as bombs and block smashing. It feels like if I had been given the ability to play as 1 of 4 familiar characters with abilities that would have been enough to satisfy me, but then Nintendo threw in the Pixl system to keep the approach novel. I would have been just fine if that was all there was to the game, but THEN Nintendo dropped the 3D elements in the game, expanding the possibilities even more.
Having said that, there were a few times when there were so many options at hand that I became momentarily stumped on how to get around the puzzles. It never got to the point of aggravation, but I found a few cases where the puzzle solutions weren't exactly obvious. Overall I would say that it's not so bad as to make the game totally unenjoyable. I would definitely recommend this to a Mario platformer fan or a casual RPGer, as it offers plenty of the best of both worlds and so much more!
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.