Paper Mario — 1Q2016 issue

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.