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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Paper Mario - Retrospective

Many people consider Paper Mario to be the sequel to SNES masterpiece Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars. The game was developed by RPG juggernaut Squaresoft, so not only is Mario RPG touted as one of the best SNES RPGs ever, but also one of the best Mario games ever. Paper Mario was Nintendo's attempt to build upon the established Mario RPG format. Without Squaresoft's hand in the development, the core gameplay and feel of the game is very much altered from its predecessor. This doesn't make the game bad; just different.

Paper Mario picks up the torch by using the same revolutionary attack system SMRPG introduced: Timed Hits. By pressing the attack button at the right time, you could increase the strength of your attack, or decrease the amount of damage you took from enemies. This seemingly simple idea was nearly unheard of in 1996, but it makes combat a much more active experience. Instead of simply inputting your commands and waiting for a minute or so for the actual battle to play out until you get another turn, you had to actually provide additional input as the combat ensued. This kind of system rewards the player just for paying attention to the game they're playing.

Unlike SMRPG, Paper Mario is a much shallower game, both in complexity and story. This makes Paper Mario an easier game to comprehend, but leaves a lot to be desired for players who loved the depth of SMRPG. The story revolves primarily around Mario, with only passing footnotes on his 8 companions. Paper Mario is very linear, especially by other RPG standards, which makes story progression easy and straightforward, but also painfully predictable. As you might have gathered from my previous posts, I was practically able to tell you the whole story before I was even a few hours into the game.

Paper Mario is not without its charm, though. The Action Attack system is more versatile and easier to use than in SMRPG, and the Badge system lets you customize Mario's abilities to match your play style. Additionally, the characters and story scenarios range from dryly comedic to hilariously memorable. It also marks the first time, to my knowledge, the word "murder" is actually used in a Mario game.

Paper Mario is a fun and satisfying romp, but gamers looking for a hardcore 100+ hour RPG will have to look elsewhere. Paper Mario is likely intended as an introductory RPG, similar to Quest 64 or Final Fantasy Mystic Quest. It gets gamers interested in core RPG mechanics like HP, magic, and experience points without making it an overwhelming situation. This makes the game an excellent gift for RPG fanatics trying to get their friends or family into RPGs, but series like Final Fantasy or Tales are too complex.

Paper Mario is available on the Wii Virtual Console for 1000 Wii Points.

The Good
  • Memorable characters and dialogue
  • Princess Peach sub-missions add a break to the more action-oriented Mario gameplay
The Bad
  • Formulaic and predictable story
  • Too short for the player to really get time to appreciate the interesting characters
  • Too easy for any experienced player to find challenge.
Defining Moment
  • Mario being accused of murder
  • Guessing correctly that the final Star Power attack would be called "Star Beam"
Burning Question
  • Does "The game was fun and all, but seriously Square. Give us back Geno and Mallow!" count as a question?

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