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Gaming Evolution
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Gaming Evolution
Gaming Evolution

Published by: Nintendo
Developed by: Intelligent Systems
Genre: Adventure
Players: 1
Rated: E (Everyone)
Release Date: April 19, 2007
Written By: Daniel Sims
Screenshots: Link
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The Paper Mario games had always seemed like an interesting tangent of Nintendo's mascot franchise to me. When I got to play Thousand Year Door I loved how it took the culture built up by Mario and threw it into the world of a pop-up book, but my experience with the game was also offset by the turn-based battles and mountains of text.

When I thought "Super Paper Mario," I thought "the comedic storybook style of Paper Mario put together with the hardcore platforming of Super Mario," which could potentially be one of the most entertaining experiences in some time. What I got instead was a Mario game that lay somewhere in-between "Super" and "Paper," as well as a satire on the dimensions of gaming that we've all come to know and love.

On the surface Super Paper Mario plays like a Mario platformer. The game is split up into worlds called chapters that are each split up into stages in the familiar 1-1 through 8-4 fashion. You jump on (or grab & throw) enemies to do damage to them while using many of the familiar Mario items.

Once you start playing however you begin to notice Super Paper Mario's fusion of Paper Mario's RPG elements with the classic platforming Super Mario formula. The hub town is comprised of an item store, an inn, and the like, Mario doesn't die in one touch but has HP, damage is dealt in hit points, and you level up by gaining experience points.

Technically speaking, this attempt at a sort of balance between platforming and RPG combat works, but in terms of overall challenge leaves a little bit missing from both sides.

Because battles are no longer turn-based, you sort of lose that element of strategy that existed in Paper Mario. At the same time, because Mario has a full HP stat, heís not always in danger of dying like he is in the Super Mario games. This creates a huge difference in challenge between Super Paper Mario and the Mario classics. Not until the eighth and final world do the platforming elements of Super Paper Mario become fully developed.

However, one interesting way in which the classic Mario-style gameplay has been adapted for an adventure game like this is the transference of all Mario's old abilities in to separate powers. Throughout Super Paper Mario you gain the help of little creatures called "Pixls." Each of these "Pixls" represents an ability like dropping bombs, grabbing enemies, ground pounding, or hammer smashing to name a few. These abilities are well implemented into both puzzles and combat throughout the game, as are the abilities of the other playable characters.

Eventually in Super Paper Mario, Mario ends up assembling a party made up of himself, Peach, Bowser, and Luigi, each one of which has abilities like Peach's Parasol which doubles as a parachute and a Spartan shield, Luigi's super jump, and Bowser's flame, all of which you'll need in order to take on the task of fully exploring Super Paper Mario, which in itself often proves to be the biggest challenge of the game.

Although exploring Super Paper Mario doesn't feel quite like exploring the pop-up book world of Thousand Year Door, thinking your way through its environments does sometimes prove to be a challenge, in some ways one that's almost insulting. Once you figure them out, the puzzles in Super Paper Mario are simple, almost inexplicably so.

Through years of playing Zelda (especially Twilight Princess) and other similar adventures I've sort of been trained to think through and solve puzzles that are obtuse and by their very nature are supposed to have complex solutions. Playing Super Paper Mario almost feels as if Nintendo knows this and is fooling me by going in the complete opposite direction, like the game is using reverse psychology on me.

I might be walking through a desert in 5-2 when I come to a dead end where a stone statue of Yoshi stands. I have no idea what to do, so I go back and forth trying everything from jumping on it to bombing it to flipping it to whatever. Then while walking back and forth I finally decided to look at those Fred Flinstone TV sets that I'd been disregarding in the background the whole level and realize that one of them depicts a slide show of a stick figure walking around a Yoshi statue. So I go back and do the same and lo and behold the way opens up.

I didn't have to jump on it in some sequence or complete some challenge or find some power to make the statue reveal its secret, I just had to walk around it counterclockwise once. That's it. I have no idea how Nintendo could have expected me to think of a solution that simple. Sometimes in order to solve a puzzle you just might have to walk in a certain sequence of directions, or even just stand on a platform and press minus. I'm serious.

Wii remote functionality in Super Paper Mario, seeing as the game went through most of its development cycle as a Gamecube game, really only adds a couple elements that keep this from being no more than a Gamecube game printed on a Wii disk. The most helpful thing added is probably your ability to point the remote at objects on screen to get information about them. There are also some other minute things like shaking the controller to awaken Mario from sleep status or tiny minigames for using items. Most of it feels very tacked-on but I for one am glad they didn't force it into the game any more than they did.

the above two images are of the exact same location

Many who play Super Paper Mario may simply be interested in it for its combination of RPG elements with classic Mario platforming. The game does this well enough but is ultimately unable to combine the absolute best of each side. Probably the most entertaining thing about Super Paper Mario however is the fact that the game it itself is really one big joke on the differences and never-ending conflicts that exist between the second and third dimensions and in some ways also joke on gaming culture in general.

Indeed, 2D and 3D are constantly at war with each other in Super Paper Mario. Early on in the game, Mario gains the ability to flip the normally 2D world into a 3D one, which immediately puts the differences between the two dimensions right into the player's face. A dense, tightly-packed environment in 2D might look relatively flat and barren in 3D. At the same time, many of Super Paper Mario's challenges are based on the fact that depth perception really doesn't exist in the second dimension. A minuscule distance in 2D might actually extend to be a great distance in 3D. Certain objects might not even be visible in 2D because they are hidden behind other objects and thus they can only be investigated in 3D. Some objects and entities that are completely flat because they are 2D can only exist in one dimension at a time. Funniest of all, some of the most hated and feared obstacles to ever exist in the old Mario games can be completely and quite easily circumvented by simply flipping into 3D and walking around them.

One of the game's Pixls has the ability to flip Mario sideways, which is an exploitation I found to be brilliant. Because Mario in this game is 2D and therefore completely flat, when turned sideways he is essentially invisible to that dimension and is therefore indestructible in it.

Mario can't even stay 3D indefinitely. When he flips the world a power gauge appears and depletes until it starts to drain Mario's health, as if the third dimension itself was some kind of alien place that was uninhabitable to 2D beings.

On top of all this, Super Paper Mario embraces the fact that itís a Nintendo game possibly more than any Nintendo game in years. The Mario RPGs have always been known for their exceptional dialogue and localization, but NOA has seriously outdone itself this time, providing a script thatís riddled with jokes that actually work and tons inside references to gaming culture that feel surprisingly relevant.

There's one level for instance where Mario must escape from a sweatshop, another where he must infiltrate a giant nerd fortress, and throughout the game the real concept death is simply referred to as "game over." Super Paper Mario's poking fun at gaming also permeates into its graphic design. The first few areas of the game embrace the digital visuals of Mario's heritage, sometimes emulating entire past levels of the original Super Mario Bros and allowing players to move through the game entirely on nostalgia. Although this makes for one of the most uniquely entertaining experiences in a long time, unfortunately Super Paper Mario's sense of charm sort of peaks pretty early on and reaches a plateau on which it stays for pretty much the rest of the game.

Bottom Line
Like many games that try to combine elements of RPGs with those of more twitch-based games, Super Paper Mario does good to bring together the base rules of both gameplay styles but uses neither to full effect and most of the time relies on puzzles that laugh at you in their simplicity.

Super Paper Mario does however feature a graphical design, script, and overall presentation in some of its gameplay that plays out like one big inside joke, poking fun at gaming.


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