Paper Mario (2001)
The original Paper Mario should be considered a spiritual successor to Super Mario RPG. It doesn’t have any of the unique characters or locations that appeared in SMRPG, and the art is totally different, but the plot is very similar, and it is also a turn-based story and character-focused game set in the Mario universe. I’m willing to call that close enough.
Paper Mario’s main gimmick is that everything is well…paper. You see almost everything from the front, but when people or objects are turned on their sides, they become nearly invisible lines. Also, there are many points in the game where holes appear in the backdrop, fire is used to burn away objects, and obstacles unfold as if they were made by a master in origami. It’s cute and silly and gives the world a unique feeling. You are a 2d being traversing a 3d world filled with 2d everything.
So, the setting isn’t taking itself too seriously in this game. The plot is pretty standard, Bowser stole a Star Rod to make himself invincible and kidnaps Peach. Well actually, his castle comes out of the group beneath Peach’s and flies into the sky, effectively kidnapping the entire building. Mario has to go find all 7 Star Spirits so that they can negate the invincibility to allow Mario beat Bowser. Cue traveling across the world, solving problems, meeting all kinds of fun people, and gaining party members such as a baby lightbulb, a female boo princess, and paratroopa who delivers the mail, among others. The story even divides itself into chapters, with intermissions between. During these times, you play as Princess Peach as she sneaks around her captured castle and tries to discover Bowser’s plans. These segments are usually pretty short and easy, with varied gameplay. At one point you make a cake for a fat shyguy, and at another you play in a quiz show that tests how well you’ve been paying attention.
However, the majority of the gameplay is centered on Mario, and the combat is turn-based, with timed hits and dodges emphasized. You can partially block almost every attack, and each teammate offers different strategies for fighting. I’m a big fan of the combat here, because you can customize yourself beforehand with badges that grant different capabilities(sch as using multiple items at once, swapping party members quickly, or throwing your hammer), and come up with gamebreaking strategies that do upwards of 20 damage per turn (and yes, that is a large amount. The final boss has 99 hp). By keeping the numbers pretty predictable and combat quick and involved without sacrificing strategy, it’s a Mario game that actually makes you do more than just jump on the enemy. This is a clear improvement to the combat in SMRPG.
There’s a lot of minigames and sidequests to pursue in this game, if you so desire, and the world is large and fun to explore. I really like what they were able to do with the paper art style, and just how many different locations they were able to display with it. The game is very pretty in a simplistic and minimalistic way, and it works! Also, the music is still top-notch: Toad Town sounds like a bustling little city, the Toy Box has appropriate energetic tracks, and Bowser steals the show with his AWESOME THEME MUSIC. It has seriously never been as good as this at any time before or after this game came out. The writing continues in the trend of SMRPG with characters having a good sense of humor in every situation, and even unimportant people have something interesting to say. I also like the pun-themed names of every Toad in town, such as Zest T., Mist T., etc. Though I have been told that my terrible love of puns is one of my worst flaws.
Honestly, the only thing that this game didn’t improve on was the cookie-cutter plot. It’s almost exactly the same predictable straightforward “find all 7 things and beat the final boss” bit as in SMRPG, with very few twists. The best I can say is that at least it isn’t confusing. Once again, you can argue that these games are aimed at kids, and shouldn’t be complicated. I can get behind that, but it should be noted that this game is still very good, and is smart enough to be enjoyed by adults when looking at the quality of the characterization and conversational writing. I liked this game, but Friday I want to look at Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door, and then we will see if they managed to shake things up while still maintaining the fun. Thanks for reading.