ntil now, the RPG based Paper Mario titles have remained completely separate from the freewheeling platforming Mario games. But with Super Paper Mario, Intelligent Systems has managed to take the best of both worlds and create what may end up as one of the top games of 2007.
Platforming fans will love SPM’s infusion of action into the main gameplay. Players hold the Wii remote sideways in the tradition of classic NES Mario games as they run through what initially looks like a hand-drawn version of New Super Mario Bros. Swapping between the four main characters to utilize their unique skills is reminiscent of Super Mario Bros. 2 (Peach can float, Bowser breathes fire, etc.). Jumping on enemies is still the most widely used attack, while throwing koopa shells, placing bombs, and other abilities can be earned by recruiting little creatures called Pixls. Many people would have been satisfied with this throwback gameplay mechanic alone. But it’s the flip to 3D that really blows your mind.
A quick press of the A button opens up a completely different world full of hidden pipes, passages, items, and enemies. As I made my way from world 1-1 to 8-4, I was constantly impressed with what the level designers accomplished using this mechanic. It was difficult enough to attempt to describe how to navigate some of the flipping puzzles to my peers; I can hardly imagine the conversations the developers had to articulate the creation of these new worlds.
Fans of Paper Mario, Super Mario RPG, and the Mario & Luigi portable titles will love the game for its RPG elements. SPM features what is arguably the best writing out of all these games. Bowser’s grumpiness, Luigi’s inadequacies, rivals you can’t help but love, and some of the weirdest NPCs you’ll ever come across will have you chuckling throughout the entire game. The most memorable encounter of all is with an obsessed message board fanboy who Tivos sci-fi shows and collects both the standard and limited editions of anime DVDs.
Other RPG traces include damage point listings for every attack, special items with unique attributes, experience accumulation, and leveling. The items will boost your attack or defense temporarily, speed up or slow down time, and initiate elemental attacks. The most entertaining power-up will turn you into a giant 8-bit version of whichever character you’re controlling at the time, allowing complete destruction of everything in your path.
Even though SPM was originally a GameCube title, it uses enough Wii features so that players will barely notice the sneaky switch. You can point the remote at the screen to get more info on enemies or objects, shake the remote between jump attacks to rack up style points, or play motion-sensitive minigames at the arcade to earn rare items. These instances are fun when implemented and don’t feel gimmicky.
SPM is not perfect, however. The more characters and Pixls you collect, the more of a pain it becomes to keep going in and out of the menu screen to switch companions. It would be nice if this could have been streamlined somehow (at least give the 3D flip ability to more characters than Mario). There also isn’t much impetus to collect enemy cards, bake things, or do anything extra since the game never gets hard enough to warrant it. And after beating the game (it takes a little over 20 hours), there isn’t any significant additional content to keep players coming back.
These complaints are quite minor in the big picture, and should not dissuade anyone from picking up this fantastic game. Zelda finally has a proper suitor to take her out on the town. High technicaaaaal!