Paper Mario. This is one of those games that comes along and you can almost hear the collective “Huh?” when it’s released. Usually it’s for a variety of reasons, but this time it’s mainly for the visual style. Now, if you’re reading this review, you likely have one of four stances on this game:
- You are intrigued by the graphical style and want to know more,
- You’ve played it, liked it, and want to know what I have to say about it,
- You played it, but couldn’t get past the look of the game, and decided you hated it, or
- You decided you hated it even before you played it, because 2D characters in a 3D world looks stupid and any game that would do that is stupid.
So let’s start off with the aspect that has generated the most chatter about this game: the graphical style. To put it short, the characters in Paper Mario are (primarily) 2D characters and the world is in 3D. The characters literally look like they were cut out of pieces of paper. When they turn around, they flip over; when Mario hops into bed he floats down like a sheet of paper, etc. The sprites themselves are extremely well done. If you liken cell shading of 3D characters to looking like a 3D cartoon (which I do), then the characters in this game look dead-on like a 2D cartoon. The characters are discernable, and animated to the point that the battles look nearly like something that you’d expect to see on Saturday morning. The rest of the visuals are done very well, also. Each area in Mario’s world looks distinct. They all have an appropriate ‘feel’ to them when you venture through them.
Battling and Leveling
Battling is at the heart of any RPG. The player will be spending the greatest amount of time in the battles, so they deserve significant consideration. The battle system (and the level system) is a bit of a departure from other RPGs that I’ve played. You start off with a low amount of Heart Points (health), Flower Points (think Magic Points), and Badge Points (let you equip badges that endow you with special abilities). Most every time you defeat an enemy, you get Star Points. Get 100 Star Points, gain a level. When you go up in levels you get to pick what attribute you want to go up, HP, FP, or BP, forcing you to plan, at least a bit in advance how you want your Mario to turn out. When you are in battles, you may notice that the amounts for damage (given and received) are very low. It stays that way for the entire game, towards the end, I was doing 4 HP of damage per turn (the enemies only had about 12 HP, save for the bosses).
Mario has several partners that help him out in this game. Each one has a special ability that you will have to use to solve certain situations. It’s nothing mind-numbingly difficult, hop on the back of the Cheep-Cheep to swim around, use the Bob-omb to blow up a cracked wall, stuff like that. They also help out in the battles, acting as sort of a compliment to Mario’s main onslaught. Although you can only have one partner active at a time, you can switch between them as often as you like. They add an interesting element to the battles, but they don’t have any HP (which works out OK since they rarely get attacked anyway) if they take damage, they have to sit out the number of turns equal to the number of damage they took. Good thing we are still sitting in the Realm of the Low Damage.
This game won’t win any awards for storyline. It’s pretty straightforward and accessible. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. This game is meant to be played by anyone with the ability to read, so there are very, very few places where you don’t know what to do next. I think I got stuck once in the game for about 15 minutes (because I forgot to talk to a main character… Oops). There’s very little new here. It’s not bad by any stretch of the imagination, but it is just adequate. The story is also extremely linear. That isn’t to say that there aren’t any side quests, because there are, just not many. The game definitely has a “Go here, do this” thing going on throughout, which will be a boon for the younger/inexperienced crowd.
What kind of an RPG doesn’t have dungeons? No kind of RPG that I’ve ever played. The dungeons in Paper Mario are relatively straightforward, and the puzzles are pretty easy to figure out. The designers want
you to finish this game, they put a save point and a restoration point outside of every boss room. The levels, while not overly difficult, look absolutely wonderful. I really don’t think enough can be said about the visuals in this game. When you’re in a castle, it looks like you’re in a big cartoon castle; when you’re in a haunted mansion, you realize that it’s exactly
how a haunted cartoon mansion should look.
Sound and Music
Sound effects and music are critical to a good RPG, especially those in the battles, since we’ve already established that that’s where the player will spend most of his (or her!) time. The battle music in this game fits well, as does the rest of the music in the game. Nearly all the music is the bouncy “Mario-ish” music that one would expect to be in a Mario game. The area specific songs fit them well. There’s even some remixes of some classic tunes hidden in the game. The sound effects are nothing to shout about. They are appropriate, and they don’t sound bad
by any stretch. There are even some special Badges that change up Mario’s attack sound effects (but those get old quickly).
I managed to complete this game my first time through in slightly more than 21 hours. Your mileage may vary.
Overall, Paper Mario is a solid game. It gives beginners a good place to cut their RPG teeth, and it gives veterans a break from the Final Fantasies and the Dragon Warriors, plus it’s a game that the whole family can (potentially) enjoy.
I give Paper Mario an 8 out of 10.