Paper Mario - Review

Best N64 RPG past, present and, barring divine intervention, future

By: Ashgad

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 10
   Interface 9
   Music/Sound 10
   Originality 8
   Plot 6
   Localization 10
   Replay Value 8
   Visuals 10
   Difficulty Easy
   Time to Complete

20 - 25 hours


Title Screen

   Sometimes RPGs frighten me. So many times I'll get a new game, only to be disappointed that the developer strived a little too hard to emulate "realism." This usually means that I must endure "attitude"-laden characters, grey-soaked environments featuring pseudo-technological monsters, and, of course, hilariously out-of-place cuss words sprinkled liberally in the dialogue and cutscenes. This is one of the main reasons Paper Mario is so refreshing to me: it's a game that's both whimsical and enjoyable, straightforward and involving, and, most importantly, a game that is simply fun to play. Published by Nintendo and developed by the legendary Intelligent Systems (formerly called R&D1, makers of Metroid, Super Metroid, and Fire Emblem), Paper Mario delivers a fresh experience on almost every level. Combat, interface, music, plot, graphics- it's all here, and it's all done so well that I'm inclined to forgive the N64's barren RPG history.

   The combat in Paper Mario is pretty much nothing like anything else you'll find for sale today. Throw out your Final Fantasy-indoctrinated notions of dealing multiple thousands of damage points per round: Paper Mario never, ever deals in numbers much larger than 10 (and above 7 is rare). While it takes some time to get used to always dealing one damage with a basic attack, the system is well-balanced. Returning from Super Mario RPG is the concept of "Action Commands," i.e. executing a controller move Street Fighter-style at the right time to double Mario's damage, increase his defense, etc. Unlike its SNES predecessor, Paper Mario's sidekicks don't actually participate in combat in the traditional Final Fantasy sense. Mario can have out one at a time to contribute with unique attacks, but it's always the poor ol' plumber who takes all the hits. While Paper Mario's combat system is a huge departure from traditional RPGs, it's brilliantly executed and vast fun to master. The game also starts off with a good tutorial to ease players into the fun.

   The non-combat interface of Paper Mario is well-executed, if not innovative and intriguing like the combat. All the windows are competently designed and easily accessed. The only real complaint is the clutter of badges that Mario builds up as the game progresses. The narrow View All Badges window gets somewhat difficult to navigate later on in the game. Aside from that minor foible, the interface is golden.

Cute? Nah...  

   Those who loved the music in the old, old Super Mario 2 (I am one of these people) are in for a special treat with Paper Mario. Most of the songs are written in a style combining Mario 2 with the SNES's Super Mario World. The effect is perfect in combination with the "paper" characters and fast-moving gameplay; it conveys an atmosphere not quite retro, not just a little carefree, and definitely different from the overly moody, melodramatic scores most modern RPGs tote. Bowser also finally gets a theme that actually conveys his character. It's about time- Bowser's theme in Mario 64 sucked.

   Paper Mario screams originality. It's a modern game with impressive 3D environments and 2D sprites for all the characters. It features a combat system unlike anything else around. Its music stands out as airy and enjoyable, rather than moody and angst-ridden. The only area of weakness is the simple, predictable plot.

   Paper Mario's plot is, admittedly, a total, unrepentant rehash. Bowser steals the magical Star Rod to become invincible, then imprisons the wise but meddlesome Star Spirits and gives one to each of his top lieutenants. This is the sort of plot Nintendo has been doing for years, following the basic format: [Villain] steals [artifact] to conquer [kingdom]. [Hero] must collect [another artifact], scattered in [number from 3 to 10] pieces throughout [kingdom]. As an afterthought, [Princess] is a captive of [villain]. Some gamers are undoubtedly growing tired of this storyline. Fortunately, Paper Mario injects some life through liberal application of sub plots and the wacky antics of characters such as Professor Kolorado, the Koopa archeologist, and Herringway, the penguin mystery novelist (no, I did not make those characters up).

   Having suffered my way through the dialogue in Ocarina of Time AND Majora's Mask, I was expecting to be somewhat let down by the translation of Paper Mario, as is custom with Nintendo games. Incredibly, this did not happen. The translators on this project did a terrific job: characters' lines are logical, colorful, sport character-specific mannerisms, and are never difficult to understand. Grammatical errors are unheard of.

Cutesy or Realistic Name
Yes, there's a dojo. Yes, you can fight someone named Chan there. Also Lee.  

   Perhaps I'm just strange, but having finished the game once, I have already come up with a dozen reasons I want to play through again. Whether to experiment with some different stats combo, to try to complete a certain side-quest, or just to see the "Penguin Pop" song that I can't see anymore at the end of the game, there's a lot to go back for. The game has impressive depth for a cartridge. There may not be quite so many hidden items and obscure secrets to search for as in many CD-based RPGs, but there's plenty to look for if you're into that sort of thing.

    The visuals... are amazing. Paper Mario sports the best, or at least the most stylish, graphics I've seen in a console RPG in a very long time. The actual sprites are well-drawn and animated, and all are consistent in style with each other. The way buildings in town "fold out" creates a strong sense of playing in a moving storybook, and the way the characters flip as they turn and waft gently as they fall great distances adds to the concept. Battle animations are suitably outrageous, with giant hammers and frequent "squash you flat" attacks. Paper Mario also stands out in the subtle touches it applies to its environments: Mario leaves footprints in the desert and the snowy mountains, a knee-deep sea of blossoms leaves trails behind your movement in the Flower Fields, and the magma inside Lavalava Volcano is exceptionally well-rendered and animated. More importantly, all these elements blend together seamlessly to create one graphical experience that surpasses anything before seen on the N64.

   Paper Mario is not hard. It's not quite a game you can sleep-walk through, and battles demand concentration due to the action command system, but an experienced gamer should have few problems defeating Bowser. This ease and the cuteness of Paper Mario's characters may lead some to believe this is a child's game. Don't be fooled. To dismiss Paper Mario as a game for little kids is a tremendous injustice.

That mean ol' Bowser. At least his music is cool now, though.  

    To actually complete the game, fast gamers should only need around 20 hours. To find every item, see every line of dialogue, and complete every subquest, the intrepid gamer will need far more time. Most players will be left wanting more.

    Paper Mario is a triumph for Nintendo on many levels: it breaks modern RPG conventions in atmosphere and tone, finally gives the N64 a Must Have! game for RPG players, and, most importantly, gives us, the gamers, a game that is both highly original and thoroughly enjoyable. Years from now, we'll be looking back through our old games and, amid the sea of CDs, DVDs, and GD-ROMs, we'll come across a lone cartridge featuring a cartoon Mario and Bowser. I really hope we don't think to ourselves "Why don't they make games like this anymore?"

© 1998-2017 RPGamer All Rights Reserved
Privacy Policy