In all honesty, that story is a bit romanticized. I’m sure it was a lot less heartwarming, considering the fact that my mother is
not a very warm woman probably reading this and an absolutely wonderful person. Paper Mario does, however, embody my childhood. I couldn’t even count the staggering number of times I have stomped Jr. Troopa or performed open heart surgery on Tubba Blubba. Nothing in the world brings me back more than dusting off my old Nintendo 64 and hammering a few Goombas into the ground.
Plot and Characters
What is there to be said about the storyline of a Mario game? Bowser, the evil Koopa king, interrupts a party/romantic rendezvous/stargazing festival (circle one) to kidnap the lovely Princess Peach (aka Toadstool, if you’re strange) in order to take over Princess Peach’s Castle/the Mushroom Kingdom/the universe. Fairly basic stuff. This is all switched up a bit in Paper Mario.
The prologue begins by introducing the Star Sanctuary, a fabled place where the Star Rod lies, star-guarded and star-used by the Star Spirits to star-grant the star-wishes of star-citizens of the Mushroom Kingdom. Star. All is peaceful until… Someone tapes something to the story. Its a crude cutout of Kammy Koopa.
After a bit of confusion on the narrators part, Bowser flies in through the roof of the Star Sanctuary and snatches up the Star Rod, turning all of the Star Spirits into giant playing cards. Meanwhile, Mario and Luigi are invited to a party at Princess Peach’s castle! At the party, Mario and the Princess steal off to a secluded corner of the castle to have an intimate conversation about their mutual affection when– surprise, they are interrupted by Bowser. He uses the power of the Star Rod to easily defeat Mario and knock him out of a window. Oh, did I mention that he lifted the whole entire castle into space?
Mario proceeds to head out on a grand adventure that takes him to every interesting locale in the Mushroom Kingdom, from the cleverly named Drydry Desert to the even less cleverly named Lavalava Island (it has a volcano!). He teams up with a ragtag crew of partners and they manage to collect all of the Star Spirit playing cards and defeat Bowser in a dramatic display of prayer and power.
The story is clever and interesting, something not usually seen in a Mario game. The partner characters are interesting and diverse and each bring something special to both the story and battle. Also, Princess Peach is pretty tough, baking cakes and participating in quiz shows in an attempt to escape.
As usual, Nintendo manages to make the music fit perfectly into this whimsical tale. Two perfect examples would be Tubba Blubba’s Heart’s Theme and the Shooting Star Summit Theme. They are both songs with personality that manage to fit nicely into their respective spots. Tubba Blubba’s Heart’s Theme has a simple and cynical feel with a beat that fits in perfectly with who it represents (an anthropomorphic heart). Shooting Star Summit Theme, on the other hand, has an open feel that portrays an image of the deep night sky.
The sound effects all manage to be cutesy and incredibly Mario-esque. From the childish hopping noise of jumping to the playful “thwock” of the hammer hitting the ground, every item, creature, character and action makes a noise that is, to some degree, adorable. A clever resource are the “SFX” badges (equip-able items that give various bonuses), items that, when worn, change the sounds effects of Mario’s various actions. They range from a Yoshi’s chirp to a long, reverberating and far out noise.
So why is this game called Paper Mario? Because of the art style, of course! Every character and enemy is simply a two dimensional cutout standing up and walking around in a three dimensional plain. The gimmick is more or less aesthetic, as it serves no in-game purpose, but it does set this game apart in style. It takes the concept of 2.5D to a whole new level.
Colors are bright and cheerful, textures are simple and childish and character models are exaggerated and cutesy. And yet nothing feels out of place. The look of this game just feels right. Everything from the bright green of the grass to the exaggerated and bulbous nose on Mario’s face fits oh-so-perfectly into the childish and playful world Nintendo has whipped up.
What makes a Mario game? It isn’t the tried and true story of the mischievous Koopa King kidnapping Princess Toadstool. It also isn’t the adorable and memorable music. It isn’t even the cutesy and colorful world out mustachioed hero live in. It’s the gameplay. More specifically, the platforming. Unfortunately, Paper Mario is lacking in terms of platforming. There is a good deal of it, but nothing is particularly difficult or drawn out. This Mario installment is less about platforming and more about battle.
Battle flow follows a simple RPG-style format: Mario attacks, Mario’s partner attacks, then enemies attack. Rinse, repeat. The only difference here is that the outcome of the attack that was chosen is somewhat determined by the player. Special mini-game-type commands appear before every hammer and jump attack, known as Action Commands. These simple, repetitive commands can easily make a basic attack much more devastating, based on the accuracy of the players timing. Action Commands can also be used to take damage off of incoming attacks.
The moderate amount of puzzle solving and platforming is aided by partners, characters that team up with Mario to help him on his journey. They all feature heavily in battle, but they are required to solve puzzles and progress in the story. Mario might stomp his Koopa partner, Kooper, sending him flying into a neaby switch. Or he might use his Lakitu partner, Lakilester, to hover over a pit of lava. This mechanic adds a bit of a puzzle solving aspect, though switching partners becomes somewhat of a pain.
What is there to be said about this classic game. Paper Mario takes a clump of interesting story, beats in two cups of lively and refreshing characters, stirs together 3 tablespoons of whimsical music and 2 teaspoons of cute art style, then finally combines it all with a pinch of clever platforming and puzzle solving and bakes it in an oven of a battle system. Okay, fine, that metaphor was a bit overdone, but it works. This title is a classic. If I had to choose one game to define my childhood, I would choose Paper Mario.