Let’s Deconstruct Super Paper Mario – Part 1
Super Paper Mario is the latest installment in the series, and is very different from the other two entries. “Wildly divergent from the formula” is an understatement, and the fanbase is divided over the quality of this game. I had a lot to say about this game when I first played it, but that was two years ago, so I need a refresher. In these deconstruction posts, I’m going to take you through the game as I play it again for the first time, and tell you what’s good, what’s bad, what’s new, and what is old. The game is divided into chapters, so I’ll try to do a chapter each post. Today is just the opening, which is exposition-heavy.
We open on the familiar setting of Mario and Luigi’s house. Normally a Mario RPG begins with something bad happening, or Peach inviting the Bros. somewhere, but today they are just sitting around, being bored. Luigi (who is doing all the talking, because Mario is the quintessential heroic mime) wishes something exciting would happen, and then suggests that they go visit Peach, which spurs them to wander outside. They don’t get more than a couple steps before a frantic Toad runs up and says that Peach has been kidnapped! Now it feels like a Mario RPG intro! One nitpick though, apparently Luigi can’t remember who Bowser is!
Being proactive (and unprecedentedly quick!) the Bros. make it to Bowser’s castle in just a couple minutes. I guess Bowser wasn’t prepared, since they normally only show up when he’s kidnapped Peach, and this time it wasn’t him. I suppose this is why all his minions are packed into his castle with him, instead of flooding 8 worlds and decoy castles. Anyways, the Bros. just waltz in and demand Peach be given back, and this is where Luigi starts acting out of character. You see, Luigi has to speak for Mario all the time, so he’s being very gung-ho and cavalier, when he’s normally supposed to be a heroic coward. Thankfully, this weirdness doesn’t last long, because the true villain, Count Bleck, shows up with Peach in tow (in a cage).
My first impression of this guy is that he has style. I like his design (and his weird cloak with stars in it), and I like that he’s decisive, purposeful, and more than a little nuts. He speaks in an odd third person style, but it’s kind of interesting. He says some cryptic stuff about being from another dimension and a book called the Dark Prognosticus (which is one of my new favorite words). Mario tries to attack him, but gets hit in the face with dark magic squares for his trouble. Bleck then sucks up everyone except Mario and teleports to another dimension, and this is where we hit one of my first issues with the game.
Generally, games that Nintendo produces have a start screen, where you can wait for a bit and see a video. The video is usually a demo, or some sort of music video with the characters, or a bit of backstory. These are usually worth watching, but I don’t think most people buy a game, go home, and then wait around to watch this video. I know I certainly don’t – I want to get into the game! However, if you miss the one in Super Paper Mario, you miss about 6 minutes of exposition that are very important to the story. It’s a sequence with a couple scenes. The first scene is a bit of the history of the Dark Prognosticus; it’s a book with prophecies of the future in it, but everyone who reads it has a sad life because no one is meant to read it. Setting aside the madness of having a book that shouldn’t be read, it’s also strange that this scene talks about the game, and tells us that it is a love story. Really? Are Mario games really about love? This is going to be hammered into our brains over the course of the game, isn’t it?
The second scene is of a wedding where Count Bleck forces Bowser and Peach to get married. He brought along everyone he kidnapped from Bowser’s castle, and his secretary, Nastasha, is there to do…something? I don’t understand her importance, and I hate her character. So, yeah, she like, talks like this, k? She’s not a valley girl, just irritating and strange for the setting. Anyways, Bowser is really excited to marry Peach, because he “loves” her, possibly because she’s the only human female in the world. I never understood this idea, that Bowser would force Peach to marry him and then expect her to be happy, yet that’s what he tries to do almost every single game! Must be a Japan thing. Anyways, Peach is mindcontrolled by Nastasha into saying “I do”.
Luigi hops up to the altar, once again out of character, and spouts some garbage at Count Bleck and Bowser about “punishing them for their badness”. Unfortunately for him, the union between Peach and Bowser is so wrong that it has literally ripped a hole in reality called the Chaos Heart, which Bleck claims will expand to destroy everything in every dimension. That’s your goal? The most cliched JRPG plot ever? Can’t we ever get beyond this motivation? Then the heart starts expanding and the scene ends, so we have no idea what happened to the characters.
Now, my problem here is that all of that should have been a scene in the game that happened right after Mario got knocked out and Bleck skedaddled with everyone. Instead, it feels like it happens in about two seconds offscreen, because basically the instant that Bleck leaves, Mario is awoken by a technicolor digital butterfly named Tippi. She claims to be a Pixl, which is like a fairy, and I find her possibly more annoying that Navi. Also…she talks…like this…all the time…and that was old even when Squall was doing it for an entire game in Final Fantasy 8!
I need to stop a moment to say that this is when the art begins to radically shift. Up until now, all the scenery and most of the models were recycled from Paper Mario TTYD, and I have nothing against that, and in fact thought it worked really well for say, Majora’s Mask. But at this point, we start seeing the new art, which is less like paper, and more like a digital computer program. It’s all straight lines and sharp corners, and 90% of everything seems to be rectangular. I just don’t understand why they dropped the visual aesthetic, one that used to be so prevalent that it was part of the title! Also, the world is now completely 2D, in order to feel like old-school Mario side-scrollers, and to give us a frustrating mechanic later on.
Tippi teleports herself and Mario to a place called Flipside, a city between dimension, and they meet Merlon. Merlon and his family of similarly-named siblings generally span the globe of Paper Mario games, and almost always work in odd magical jobs, like fortune telling and enchantments. Usually one will be a ghost. Merlon says that Mario is the hero prophesied to stop the Chaos Heart, as foretold in the Light Pronosticus, which is a book dedicated solely to cancelling out the Dark Prognosticus. The Chaos Heart has made a small black void in the sky (which expands over the course of the game), and is visible to all of Flipside. I do think that it is good storytelling to have a clear and present danger, so I’ll go along with this. Anyways, Mario accepts the quest to save all the worlds (though you can say no, and the game ends, which I thought was hilarious), and is given one of the 8 Pure Hearts that must be placed in the 8 Heart Pillars scattered about Flipside. These Hearts and Pillars can stop the unraveling of reality.
So you hop down to the Heart Pillar, and shove the Pure Heart in, which opens a door to another dimension. But I have to ask, what’s the deal with these Pure Hearts? Are they actual hearts, from people? People who were astoundingly pure? Are they just made from magic? Why a heart, and not the series’ staple: stars? Why did the Merlon family (who built Flipside 1,500 years ago) build these 8 pillars all over town to receive these hearts, yet never bother to put the one they had in, or look for the other 7, or in fact do anything else to prepare for the hero that they knew would be appear? I know these are nitpicks, but they had 1,500 years to work this stuff out!
At this point, you are free to wander around a tiny portion of Flipside. The elevator to most of town is out, and there are no stairs, which is humorously lampshaded by one of the identical and pointless citizens of the town. Most of these people say things that are irrelevant, or ponder out loud the nature of the reality-sucking void in the sky. There’s not much to do but head back to Merlon, who will give you the Return Pipe, which will bring you back to Flipside from anywhere in the universe. These pipes are more metaphysical and magic than the ones in Bowser’s Inside Story!
A couple problems I have with this town: first of all, the shopkeeper is a huge tool who earned my ire instantly, and who I hope will die in a fire. He’s this weird freak named Howzit who says “Goooooooooooooood” about everything and in every sentence. I don’t know if he’s supposed to be funny or what, but he’s inescapable, as he runs every shop in the game and you can’t go more than 10 minutes without seeing him. The other problem is that whenever you take the elevator up to where all the doors to other dimension are, you are treated to 20 seconds of staring at a boring, flat, white elevator. Yawn.
Upon entering the door, we encounter something I like to call a Villain Interlude! These occur between chapters, and are not interactive. In these scenes we see our villains talk about how their plan to eradicate everything is progressing, and sometimes they make fun of each other or plot against each other. This first interlude introduces the entire cast of villains, but we do not see Mimi’s true form.
In the upper left, we have the shapeshifting Mimi, who is constantly switching between the forms of other characters, gossiping, and speaking like a little girl, saying things like “icky”. This is interspersed with Bleck talking about the end of the world, which strikes me as a bit of confusion on the tone of the game, but I’ll get more into that in upcoming posts. I don’t like Mimi as a character, she reminds me of some sort of cruel high-school cheerleader, and she doesn’t seem very smart. Below her and to the right is O’Chunks, the muscle. He’s…Scottish, or something. I don’t know, it’s another dimension. He likes Count Bleck and wants to help, he doesn’t seem very stupid, and he’s the only one of the bunch who seems like a proper Mario villain. He reminds me of DK, and he looks like he could throw a barrel. I kind of like him. He doesn’t seem to use magic like any of the other villains, so I guess he has to walk the space between realities, sucks to be him. The last new character is Dimentio, in the lower left. He’s some sort of jester clown, he doesn’t talk much, and he immediately gives the impression that he has his own plans going on.
So all these guys get together here in this empty black place, and talk about how the hero who was prophesied has appeared. I don’t know how they know this, but Bleck says that they need to deal with Mario. Nastasha says some stuff too, but I hate reading her lines. Anyways, they decide to send O’Chunks to deal with Mario, and only O’Chunks. The rest of them will just sit there in nowheresville and do…nothing? I know this is a common villain MO, but they guys literally don’t have to do anything besides stop Mario, and their plan will succeed. After he’s dead, they just wait for the void to consume everything! Also, why are they surprised that Mario showed up when they KNOW a hero was prophesied? They should have been ready for this, they knew it was coming! So I have to conclude that our villains are idiots, and this is just the intro.
My first impressions of this game are not great, none of the characters are compelling (and they got my favorite character, Luigi, wrong), and the villains are dense. Hopefully it’ll get better from here, when we actually get some gameplay! Thanks for your patience, and thanks for reading, the next chapter should be up tomorrow!