Players: 1 Player Game | Release Date: 02/05/01 | Genre: RPG
The Nintendo 64 is almost dead, and what do we get from Nintendo as one of their last games? We got Paper Mario. Nintendo fans were excited to hear about a sequel of sorts to the much-loved Super Mario RPG, but there were many complaints about this game's "paper" style when it was first revealed. Would this Intelligent Systems game stand up to the Nintendo/Square RPG?
Predictably, the story is pretty shallow, but it's a Mario game, right? Bowser once again kidnaps the Princess. This time, he did it by stealing the Star Rod, making him practically invincible. He imprisoned the seven Star Spirits that guarded the Star Rod in seven different locations throughout the world. Only the power of the Star Spirits can overcome someone who has the Star Rod. So, Mario must seek out the seven Star Spirits and use their power to defeat Bowser and save the Princess and the Mushroom Kingdom.
The first thing that everyone will notice is the unique graphical style. Everything is drawn and animated cutely, and of course, it all looks like it was made out of paper cut-outs. However strange this may be, the style is used wonderfully. From the way buildings unfold to Mario's death animation, the style of this game is completely enjoyable and works well. While the graphics may not be technically impressive, they certainly achieve what the developers intended.
The sound is pretty good. It's not going to be the greatest soundtrack you've heard, but you're not going to want to turn off the sound either. There is a good variety in the songs and you might even be humming along with them, but there is nothing very memorable. The sound effects are traditional Mario fare. They work well with all of the necessary bonks, whacks, booms, and such. Again, nothing here is technically impressive, but it works well for the atmosphere of the game and never detracts from the gameplay.
Speaking of gameplay, this is where Paper Mario excels (as a good game should). Although it is debatable as to whether the thinner Mario is better than Super Mario RPG, Paper Mario is very creative and is definitely not a re-hash. Coming from a gamer who doesn't like traditional RPGs, this game was very easy to get into, yet had enough complexity and challenge to be satisfying. The fighting is, of course, turn-based. It is livened up a little bit by varying action commands. Some of these action commands include pushing a button at the correct time or trying to tap the control stick as fast as you can. Using these action commands, you can increase your level of attack or defense for that particular turn. Like most RPGs, you have a variety of attacks, magical powers, and items to use. You can also have one buddy in the fight with you at a time, and you can switch them in and out in the middle of a battle, although this will cost you a turn. The enemies come in good variety and they don't get boring. Picking which strategy to use on the later enemies and the bosses is part of the fun. Also like many RPGs, there are lots of upgrade items to find. One of the unique aspects of this game is to customize Mario with a set of badges. Badges are items found by exploring the various places in the game. You can buy them, complete special tasks for them, or just plain find them. There are 80 badges in Paper Mario. It is possible to get all of them, but you can't equip them all at once. There is strategy involved in choosing what badges to equip at what time, and you can't change badges during a fight. Badges have a wide range of affects, from simply upping certain stats (such as, "+2 Attack") or giving you special magical powers and abilities. To give you an idea, there is a badge that lets you swap party members without losing a turn, and there is also a badge that lets you earn more coins upon defeating an enemy. There are many more different effects of badges. Mario also earns experience points, or "Star Points," with which he can level up. Each time Mario levels up, you can choose to have more Heart Points (health), more Flower Points (magic), or more Badge Points (ability to wear more badges at once). The other members of Mario's party level up in a different way. You must find special Super Blocks that allow you to upgrade a party member. These are often well hidden. Your party members gain more strength and new abilities when they level up.
Aside from the fighting, you'll be spending a lot of time exploring the different worlds. There are many secrets to uncover and lots of people to talk to. There are classic platforming elements, mazes, and even dungeons and castles with some pretty clever puzzles. The special abilities you gain are used as much as they are in fighting as they are used in exploring the world. All of your party members have special abilities that will allow Mario to access new areas and find secrets. This part of the game is very enjoyable.
In the end the only thing that hurts this game is replay value. Paper Mario has a pretty decent length. The average gamer will take around 30 hours if he or she chooses to explore everything. There are lots of secrets to find and items to collect. However, once you complete the game there is no incentive to play it again. You may want to play this game after a few years for nostalgia, but you won't experience anything new.
Overall this game is excellent. The developer put hard work into this game and made sure that it was very polished. The game is full of variety to ensure that neither the fighting or exploring gets dull. Even gamers who don't like traditional RPGs will like this game. Hardcore RPG lovers might find this game lacking the depth of some more serious RPGs, but they should still find this game fun due to it's unique style and gameplay. Intelligent Systems has proven itself to be a great developer and I eagerly look forward to what it has to offer for the future of Nintendo.