I’ve been a keen follower of Paper Mario since the original first appeared on the N64. What’s unusual about this franchise is that it’s developed by a third party, Intelligent Systems – unusual because Nintendo is as fiercely protective of its core characters as Disney is of theirs. It’s a pretty smart move though, because the outsider’s perspective gave the designers the ability to poke fun at the parent franchise (the core Mario games), and as a result there’s plenty of hilarious references at the expense of the source material.
For those of you who haven’t heard of this series before, the basic conceit and the primary gimmick is that the characters are essentially flat 2D sprites. Therefore when Mario turns from left to right, he literally flips over like a piece of paper. It’s also different to the parent franchise in that the story plays a much more important role in the proceedings (as evident in the Japanese title of the original game, being “Mario Story”).
Super Paper Mario is the third game in the series – with a single appearance on each of the key Nintendo platforms thus far: Paper Mario on N64, Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door on Gamecube and now this. Sadly, third time’s not the charm here. The usual schtick has become tired, and is even starting to look a little bit cynical. For example one of the levels pokes fun at geeks – talk about biting the hand that feeds you!
The game suffers greatly from a lack of freshness and innovation – the characters are a bit thin on personality, and the plot was flat (har har). The new gimmick is that now Mario can flip into 3D – at the press of a button the flat 2D background turns into a full 3D world. Except that it isn’t full. It’s sparse, empty and largely devoid of interest or gameplay value other than to force the player to do so at various points just to get past certain obstacles. The game is divided up into sections, mimicking the original Super Mario Bros. “world 1-1” style of level design, resulting in the majority of the game being a bland and uninspired 2D platformer.
Enemy character designs are unimaginative to the point of being downright bad, and the highly repetitive and very short background music grates after a short time. It also contains a bunch of recycled side-quests from earlier incarnations (e.g. recipes), which are completely superfluous for all except the most obsessive-compulsive fan – it’s a serious step backwards from the fresh, funny and exciting Thousand Year Door.