A serviceable tale on paper
The moment you know Mario has gone on too many adventures is when you know you’ve played way too much Mario. Paper Mario, the sequel to the hard-to-top Super Mario RPG, is when I knew I’d played way too much Mario and seemed to expect way too much from a Mario game. The joke, however, was on me as I realized that an in-depth and long adventure awaited, and a story was to be told here that needed to be told after the highlight of RPG.
Paper Mario starts out much like any other Mario game: The princess has been kidnapped and Mario needs to save her. However, there’s a twist in the danse macabre that is Mario and Bowser’s eternal struggle over Peach. Bowser has managed to get his hands on the Star Rod, imprisons most of the wish-granting community and has literally absconded with Peach and her court into the sky. This is the point at which you should be saying, “Really Bowser? You just helped save your universe in RPG and you’re back to creating problems again?” But, nevertheless, the story must go on and Paper Mario fills that void nicely with an engaging tale of teamwork and camaraderie. I was most impressed with the depth of the characters and the deft way Intelligent Systems fleshed out the world of Mario and some of his never-before-seen allies who come from all walks of the Mario life.
Another impressive part of the tale is the tongue-in-cheek humor sprinkled liberally throughout. Paper Mario isn’t afraid to be self-referential or pinch off other games when it calls for shaking up the routine “Mario saves Peach” bit.
Spoilers ahead: There is a section that calls for a certain princess to become a virtual Solid Snake-like character and it immediately calls forth images of Metal Gear Solid. That kind of borrowing is the kind of thing that’s allowed and plays well within the context that Mario is the king of all that he surveys and even in his spinoff titles, he can still run with the best of the best, pay homage and still come out smelling like roses.
In his second RPG outing, Mario still plays just as well as his first attempt in the role-playing sphere. Paper looks like and plays out like a storybook, which is fresh and inviting to old diehards like myself. The mechanics are simple to learn and are layered enough that an experienced RPGer can jump right in and understand what’s going on without much explanation.
If you played the first game, concepts such as timed defense, timed offense and first hits will make sense. It’s that kind of referencing that makes the game a success: It’s easy to pick up and play, regardless of your level of familiarity with the series’ system.
My main gripe, though, is that the game feels sprawling and slightly disjointed at times. That’s a great problem to have actually, but there are times when backtracking and the seemingly endless sidequests tend to distract from the main goal. Still, I’d rather have that problem than be bored with nothing to support the main story.
Also, as a rather nitpicky side gripe, the final boss fight is one of the most aggravating fights I have ever experienced.
I was easily in that battle for half an hour solely because of the boss’ ability to heal, not because I was doing anything particularly wrong. If, at the end of the battle, I say, “I will never fight this end battle again,” there is a problem there.
It was as if it was protracted and drawn out for the sake of being a hard boss battle.
My issues aside, though, I had an engaging and memorable time playing through and I couldn’t wait to work through a new chapter in the saga that was Paper Mario. This is a tale you literally can’t put down.