Paper Tiger

20 May

Super Paper Mario is the third installment in Nintendo’s Paper Mario series, a spin-off from the regular Mario games into RPG territory. What’s interesting about Super Paper Mario is that it is a spin-off of a spin-off, bringing the game much closer to its roots than the first two Paper games.

Combining RPG elements with traditional platforming, Super Paper Mario treads new ground and does it quite well. The way it blends platforming and RPG elements in a twenty-plus hour adventure is what will keep you playing. Everything should feel very familiar to you, even if you haven’t played the other Paper Mario games. Majority of the game is spent traversing the world in two dimensions, like the original Mario games. Unlike those games, though, you have HP and so do your enemies. You still attack them in the same way, however. Stomping on heads, kicking shells, and ground pounding are just a few of the familiar attacks at your disposal. Defeating enemies earns you points that will eventually level you up, increasing your HP and attack power.

Nintendo did an excellent job of blending the platforming elements with the RPG elements. Everything feels very natural. Super Paper Mario doesn’t stop there, though. It takes the next step and introduces some truly innovative concepts, the main one being the 3D flip. A little ways into the game, Mario gains the ability to flip into three dimensions, opening up a load of possibilities that Nintendo made sure to take advantage off. A common example of how the 3D flip is used is when you arrive at what appears to be the end of a level only to find a locked door. You didn’t see a key anywhere, but if you go back a little bit and flip into 3D, you’ll find a treasure chest holding the key hidden inconspicuously behind a pipe.

The whole 3D aspect really doesn’t make sense if you try to think about it logically, but it doesn’t take long to get used to. Flipping into 3D can reveal all sorts of things: items hidden behind rocks, pipes, etc.; previously invisible paths in the back or foreground; arrows or signs explaining how to solve a difficult puzzle; etc. There are even enemies hiding in 3D that you would never even notice had you not flipped. A lot of the game’s secrets are hidden in 3D so you’ll have to flip often to find them all.

Another innovation is the way the game handles typical RPG concepts likes quests as a (mostly) 2D platformer. The first world is pretty straightforward in its level design, but each world after that tries to give you a different experience. Instead of the goal being to get from one end of a level to the next, you might find yourself in a dungeon that requires you to go back and forth, solving puzzles, defeating enemies, acquiring keys and other items. Super Paper Mario will change the way you think about scrolling platformers.

Quite possibly the best aspect of the game is how it parodies other genres, not just platformer and RPG. Sure, there are moments where you actually engage in pure platformer or RPG stages, but you’ll also find yourself in a date sim, a space shooter, a quiz game, Brain Age, and more. They’re all handled with a good dose of humor that’s sprinkled throughout majority of the game. There are moments where you might even laugh out loud. Puns, cliches, video game humor and breaking the third wall are all common here.

Aside from these innovations, the game also offers more traditional elements. There are four party members that each have their own advantages and disadvantages in battle and platforming. You also gain several helpers called Pixls. They float around and offer you abilities that you need to complete certain chapters. They range from offensive; a hand that grabs and throws or a bomb that can be planted and detonated, to defensive; a thin triangle that makes you paper thin or a floating platform that keeps you safe from spikes and other hazards. There are even a few hidden Pixls that you can find after completing side quests.

In between levels, you explore yet another hub town, Flipside, which offers various stores and services as well as some hidden goodies. The game’s story centers around this town as it resides in between dimensions. While trying to rescue Peach from Bowser (again!), Mario and everyone else present are transported throughout various dimensions by the evil Count Bleck. Mario is awoken by a butterfly-like Pixl name Tippi and soon learns that Count Bleck plans on fulfilling an evil prophecy to destroy all worlds with the help of the Chaos Heart, a powerful source of dark power. In order to prevent this, Mario must collect the eight Pure Hearts to counteract the Chaos Heart and bring an end to Count Bleck. Along the way, Bleck sends his minions to thwart Mario’s plans. Meanwhile, Mario finds his friends and makes a few new ones. In between, some deeper plot elements surface, and you can begin to piece together Bleck’s motive for wanting to end existence.

The story isn’t great, but you don’t play Paper Mario games for plot. Unfortunately, the cutscenes can get a little wordy, especially the ones in the beginning. This, combined with the straightforward platforming of the first world can make Super Paper Mario hard to get into. If you stick with it, however, you’ll soon be rewarded with some fun, innovative, and humorous gameplay.

If you liked the previous Paper Mario games, you should definitely buy this game rather than rent as it lasts a solid twenty hours and has a few side quests that could occupy you for even longer. If you didn’t enjoy the other Paper games, stay away from this one as the beginning will just turn you off. Go play Mario RPG instead and remember the good ole’ days.

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