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Super Paper Mario

Mario

The end of the world is nigh. Nations are rising against each other. Calamities are ravaging countless innocents around the planet. And in the Mushroom Kingdom, Princess Peach and Bowser are getting married. That’s right. The classic damsel in distress and ineffectual villain are going to tie the knot and live happily (well, probably just one of them) ever after. Don’t take this as one of Bowser’s half-baked schemes; a more dangerous foe named Count Bleck is pulling the strings behind the scenes. This new guy is after nothing less than video game Armageddon, and the unholy union between the Mushroom Kingdom’s royal families will sow chaos and ruin throughout the land. So take your hand off that mouse and grab your umbrella; a storm’s a-coming.

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But wait! In humanity’s darkest hour, a savior has arisen. Mario is back, and this time he’s here to save not only the Mushroom Kingdom, but the very fabric of existence. Unlike his previous adventures, his latest crusade will take him beyond his homeland and into Flipside, a town that exists between the second and third dimensions. Overhead, a purple vortex grows ever wider, threatening to suck up the blank sky, the brick houses, and even the 2D cobblestone streets beneath Mario’s boots. In order to seal the rift and save everyone, our hero must venture into eight worlds (conveniently made accessible via the doors on top of local ancient tower) and retrieve the “Pure Hearts”. Collecting these magical gems and using their powers will supposedly stop the devastation and fulfill a few random prophecies. With the fate of the entire Universe resting upon his denim-clad shoulders, Mario steps forth.

“So take your hand off that mouse and grab your umbrella; a storm’s a-coming.”Veterans of Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine shouldn’t look at this surprisingly well-written story as a veiled rehash of the Collect-The-Stars/Shinies plot. Instead of taking on multiple missions in a given level, you’ll get to wander through a few sections of each world a la Super Mario Bros. and other retro titles. That means jumping nimbly over bottomless pits, ascending rows of blocks, and ducking into oversized pipes. This game, however, emphasizes the RPG aspects of that have made previous Paper Mario titles different from the rest. Count Bleck’s minions can’t be taken out with a mere stomp to the head; since all of the characters have a fixed set of health points, Mario will have to step on them a few times before finally crushing them underfoot. Or, he could summon a hail of shooting stars and roast his enemies with a flurry of fireballs. Should our hero get knocked around a few times, a Mushroom can regenerate his health instead of increasing his size. With sidequests, recipe lists, and collectible items abound, it’ll look like the bastard lovechild of the Super Mario Bros and Final Fantasy series.

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At first glance, anyway. The problem with Super Paper Mario is that it combines two very different gaming genres, but doesn’t present the best of either. RPG fanatics will likely scoff at the lack of a turn-based combat system (in favor of a gimmick the makes you shake the WiiMote for bonus points, no less), difficult boss fights, and a lengthy story. Veterans of old school Super Mario games will find the platforming to be laughable at best; unlike in the Mushroom Kingdom, there is little challenge when it comes to traversing most of these two dimensional worlds. Unless you’re completely inept, jumping over the narrow pits and climbing up the strategically placed ledges will be easy at best. Indeed, fans of the respective genres will see Super Paper Mario as a shallow mockery of the games that they consider superior.

“With sidequests, recipe lists, and collectible items abound, it’ll look like the bastard lovechild of the Super Mario Bros and Final Fantasy series.”At least, until they realize what makes the game unique. After a certain point in the game, it becomes evident that there’s a lot more to the worlds of Super Paper Mario than meets the eye. All it takes is a push of a button to shift between dimensions. See that row of ten coins strewn across the 2D ground? Switch to 3D to find a second row standing next to it. Is that wall too high for you to jump over? You’ll either get to walk behind it or crawl through the cave that you didn’t see before. Even the deadliest of foes can be reduced to a harmless line. In order to balance out the difficulty, the game only allows you to stay in 3D for only a few moments; stray too long and it’ll start sapping your health. This transition between dimensions is so ingrained into the game that you’ll frequently shift just to make sure that you haven’t missed any extra items or a hidden door. Yes, that can be very tedious. But for strictly level progression, the game makes it fairly clear as to when you’re supposed to use your powers. With a heavy emphasis on such puzzles, Super Paper Mario is far from the usual action RPG.

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The game further mixes things up by including different playable heroes and a bunch of secondary characters for support. Mario may be the hero of prophecy, but preventing disaster will take more than what he can do. Should you face a chasm that is far too long to jump over, Peach’s handy parasol can make for a physics-defying parachute. Luigi’s can use his manly legs to ascend to heights far beyond what his older brother could muster. If you face enemies that are actually smart enough to guard against the heroes’ jumping attacks, then Bowser’s fiery breath will leave a trail of charred corpses in its wake. Accompanying these heroes is a talking butterfly named Tippi. If you point the WiiMote at certain things on the screen, she can readily explain enemy weaknesses and unveiling invisible objects. As gimmicky as the concept seems, it will serve you well. You’ll spend more time using the Pixls, though; when equipped, these tiny fairies allow our heroes to throw enemies, plant bombs, slide over spike strips, and plenty of other handy abilities necessary for completing your goals. Needless to say, no Mario game has ever had such a large ensemble cast of characters.

“Unless you’re completely inept, jumping over the narrow pits and climbing up the strategically placed ledges will be easy at best.”That doesn’t mean that everyone will think the game is spectacular, though. Super Paper Mario follows the tradition presentation of the previous Paper Mario games. Despite his chunky appearance, Mario is as flat as a piece of paper; when he turns around, he briefly disappears because his sprite is too thin to see onscreen. Many of the settings look as if they were drawn with colored pencils and markers. Some of the trees have leaves that look like a bunch of squares glued together. Sand dunes are nothing more than curvy smudges of brown and gold, castles are nothing more than a pile of gray blocks, and even the most ornately designed pillars are little more than a bunch of straight lines. Switching into 3D doesn’t change the simple designs; folks that have been spoiled by the graphics of the last few Mario console games will be in for a rude awakening when they see that everything is blocky and the surfaces lack texture. But with a wealth of vivid colors, smooth animation, and excellent setting design, even the simplest of presentations can prove to be the most beautiful.

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Super Paper Mario is a game that can either charm or disgust a gamer. The watered-down platforming won’t bode well for old school Super Mario fans. Others may not like the fact that the turn-based battling has been tossed asunder in favor of action combat. Constantly switching between dimensions and characters may turn off those who wanted a more straightforward adventure. On the other hand, the writing, wit, and humor are some of the best stuff that Nintendo has ever come up with. Multiple jokes at Luigi’s expense aside, having quirky characters like an evil administrative assistant and a cheesy masked rival make for some hilarious moments. The sheer amount of collectables and sidequests ought to satisfy the most obsessive completionist. The 2D graphics are vivid and wonderfully presented. Besides, how often do you get to see a plumber save the Universe?

9 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in February 2005.

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