So where's the waggle?
I got a chance to play through a level of Super Paper Mario on the expo floor at GDC. It was running on Wii hardware and could have been a near final build of the title. Menu systems and save games were all in place, but the attendant didn't give me a chance to dig in and see too much.
As the game starts, the platforming roots are apparent. Jumping around and landing on Koopas feels great. Noticeably absent however, was the ability to dash. Not having such a fundamental Mario move in the game feels a bit strange. When I arrived at a particularly challenging platforming section of the level, I was prompted by the attendant to switch characters. When switching to Peach, I could float down using her parasol, making the section much easier. The 2 button jumps, but there is no dash button. Instead, the 1 button makes Mario turn to the side and become almost invisible because he is so flat. I really didn't understand the point of this, but I'm sure there is a reason built in somewhere.
As shown in many of the videos that have been released, the main twist in this game is the ability to switch perspectives. This is done with a simple push of the A button. In normal mode, the game plays like any normal side scrolling platformer. When you switch to what is essentially a 3D mode, most of the platforms become nothing more than art on the side of the screen. The only things that remain are blocks and pipes, and they may be at any random depth. In the level I played, this mode was used to solve different puzzles. In some cases, a block had to be activated or moved so that it could be jumped on. In other cases there was no obvious way to get by, but when you switch views a path is revealed. You can't stay in the 3D mode forever though. There is a time limit that is displayed in a bar in the upper left corner of the screen. If the bar runs out, you will lose some health. Overall the feature's best asset may just be how cool it looks to switch on the fly. Hopefully the puzzles in the later levels will use it in even more interesting ways.
The game isn't all platforming either. It includes several RPG like features inspired by the previous Paper Mario games. Most noticeably, your character has health. Therefore, you can take multiple hits without dying. This is a little strange at first, but the level design was obviously tailored to it. There was one part where two hammer brothers were throwing a barrage of hammers. I don't care how good a player is, I don't think it was possible to get through there without taking a hit. There was also a moment in the game, right after I jumped on a Koopa, where the action paused and I was told that I leveled my attack up. The attendant made it quite difficult to figure out how the actual leveling system worked, but it was definitely there.
So where's the waggle? I was anxious to find out what Nintendo added as the game transitioned from GameCube to Wii. For the most part, it controls in a traditional sense. Using the remote in a sideways position does most of the work for you. There were two features that used the Wii's features. If you shake the entire remote right before you land on an enemy, you can start a combo. As you jump, words like "Nice" and "Great" show up on the screen and more points and experience points (or the equivalent) are racked up.
You can also turn the Wii remote and start using it like a pointer. This part was a bit confusing, but you can use it to examine things and get help. It seemed to work as a bridge between the platforming and the more adventure feel of the original Paper Mario Games.
Overall, if there is enough content there, Super Paper Mario may just be the triple A title Wii needs this spring.