Hey guys, welcome back to Geekdom101.com! Last week on Twitter (@vgramblings) I did a poll to decide what this week’s Ramblings column would be about. The choices were Super Mario World, and Paper Mario. There were only four votes, but Paper Mario won out. I may do this again for more future columns, so be sure to follow if you want your voice heard. The people have spoken, so here’s Paper Mario!
Paper Mario was the second Mario RPG to be published by Nintendo, the first being Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars on the SNES. Paper Mario was originally designed to be a spiritual successor, but in many aspects forged ahead to create its own unique take on the RPG genre. It did borrow a few aspects from SMRPG, which we’ll get to in a bit, but much of the game is its own unique style.
The story goes that, up in Star Haven, the seven Star Spirits protect the Star Rod, a magical artifact that can grant any and all wishes. The Star Spirits use the rod to watch over and protect the Mushroom Kingdom. Why the Mushroom Kingdom and no other kingdom in their world? I don’t know. Maybe other kingdoms have their own Star Havens. Who knows. Anyway, Kammy Koopa (an elderly Magikoopa) and Bowser appear. Bowser uses his fire breath to shatter the protective barrier around the Star Rod, and Kammy uses her magic to seal the Star Spirits in giant playing cards, which are then scattered around the kingdom.
Meanwhile, Mario and Luigi are invited to a party at Princess Peach’s castle, so of course they go. Bowser ends up crashing the party, uses the power of the Star Rod to make himself invincible, and basically kicks Mario out. Luigi somehow manages to escape, I guess. He’s always shown as the cowardly one in these games. Bowser uses his newfound power to put Peach’s entire castle on top of a giant Koopa Clown Car, and floats it up into the sky. Mario lands in Goomba Village, and is helped out by friendly Goombas and the remaining power of the Star Spirits. He then sets off on a journey to stop Bowser and restore peace to the land.
That’s as much story as I’m going to spoil. All what I said is in the prologue, anyway. It seems like a typical Mario story: Bowser kidnaps Peach, Mario has to save the day. But the characters, the dialog, the story itself, all take the Mario trope and gives it an edge that Nintendo has never really put in the main Mario series. Only the RPGs seem to have this sort of edge and witty humor to them. It’s kind of a dark humor, at times. It helps that you’re given more insight into Bowser’s character, and even Peach gets some development, herself. She’s shown to be competent at solving problems and actively tries to help Mario. The only main series character who remains a blank slate is Mario himself, as he’s a silent hero, but even then the other characters sort of help develop his character, ever so slightly.
The graphics are obviously the first thing you’re going to notice about this game. Every character is as flat as paper, thus the name Paper Mario. The environments are 3D, but everything else is paper. It makes for a really interesting art style, and with being on the Nintendo 64, it probably helped a lot with bringing the characters to life in a way that 3D polygons could not handle at the time. Some of the environments can be a little small due to limitations of the N64, but they’re generally well made and varied.
Gameplay is where RPGs tend to shine, and Paper Mario is no different. There is a typical turn-based battle system, but instead of random encounters, enemies appear in the overworld. If they hit you, they get a preemptive attack, and vice versa. In battle, much like in Super Mario RPG, if you time a button press properly, you can evade an attack. On the offense, if you press the button at the right time, you can increase your damage output. Different attacks have different ways to increase damage, so it’s not always about timing.
Mario has allies he amasses as he goes along his journey, starting with Goombario. Each ally has special abilities in the overworld and in battle, making them invaluable to Mario’s success. Pretty much every ally has to be used to complete some puzzle in order to proceed. No one is optional. The story demands you get everyone. Allies have a Rank system, as well. When Mario hits a Super Block, he can upgrade the rank of one of his allies. There are two rank upgrades, Super Rank and Ultra Rank. To reach Ultra Rank, an ally must be at Super Rank, and Mario must have the Ultra Stone. There are just enough Super Blocks for all allies to reach Ultra Rank. Each rank grants new battle abilities for your allies, so it’s important, though not necessary, to get them all powered up.
There are segments where you play as Princess Peach, which are more or less puzzle segments. The difficulty increases every time, as Bowser becomes more aware of her attempts to break out. Each time the princess finds a clue which will help Mario in some way. These segments break up the game very nicely, and often lead to amusing story tidbits. There isn’t any dire penalty for failure, which is nice, but you really have to put on your thinking cap a couple times.
Paper Mario also has a Badge system. Mario can collect or buy badges that grant special abilities, usually in battle, such as new attacks, stronger attacks, immunity to certain enemy defenses, and so on. Think of it as an equipment system in a typical JRPG. You have a limited number of badges you can equip at any given time. When you level up, you’re able to select an upgrade, either to your health, your Flower Points (think Magic Points), or your Badge Points. Your BP determines the number of badges you can equip. If the level upgrade system sounds familiar, it’s because it’s mainly lifted from Super Mario RPG.
Once you rescue your first Star Spirit, you gain access to the Star Energy bar, which is broken up into segments. They allow you to call upon a Star Spirit for a special attack during battle, and each attack costs a certain number of Star Energy segments. Also, aside from badges, Mario can get upgrades to his boots. He can also gain a hammer, as well as hammer upgrades. These are necessary to progress, so there’s not really a way to miss them.
Paper Mario is an excellent game, one of the best the Nintendo 64 had to offer. It came out at the end of the system’s life, so it may have been passed up by some. It’s also available on the Wii and Wii U Virtual Console services. I say go check it out. You won’t be disappointed.