Avoiding suicide: Step 1: Put down the hammer. Step 2: Buy Paper Mario RPG.
Paper Mario for the Nintendo 64 was one of the last bright spots in the aging console’s lifespan. Using an entirely new style of gameplay, it managed to make the mix of RPG gameplay and Mario-style platforming the most natural thing in the world. Paper Mario RPG certainly has much to live up to.
Fortunately, with Intelligent Systems at the helm, Paper Mario RPG has everything going for it. Everything that made the original game so much fun has been improved upon, extended and polished until it positively glows.
Paper Mario has quite a bit of Japanese text. Though the Kanji are marked with small hiragana signs above them to aid younger (or foreign) readers, there is still enough to get importers lost quickly. If you read Japanese well, consider importing the game from our partners at Lik-Sang. Look forward to NOA’s translation of the game later this fall.
The story is pretty simple: Princess Peach has traveled to Hoodlum town, a thriving (if slightly dangerous) port city in search of treasure. While there, a mysterious figure offers to sell her a “magical map” which leads to a legendary treasure: the Star Stones. Supposedly one thousand years ago, a mighty city was destroyed in a series of natural disasters and the seven Star Stones were lost. All that remains is the thousand year-old door which is located in the dark underground of Hoodlum town, as it was built right over the ruins. Enchanted, Peach buys the map and immediately sends it with word to Mario, asking him to join her in the search for the mysterious gems.
Of course, as soon as Mario lands in Hoodlum town, everything goes pear-shaped. The Princess is nowhere to be found, and Mario has to rescue a young female goomba from nefarious evildoers. Gratefully, the young goombette thanks Mario and tells him her name is Christine and that’s she’s a student of archaeology. Of course, she’s very interested in the Star Stones, and amazed that Mario seems to have a map showing where they may be hidden. She tells him they should find an old professor goomba who is obsessed with the ancient city.
The pop-up book art style that caused such a huge uproar in the original unveiling of the N64 game is back and as cute as ever. As before, all characters are paper thin and extremely stylized. Animations are limited, but this only seems to add to the charm that Mario and his friends express. Characters are of a much higher resolution than before and don’t get blurry during high zooms.
Unfortunately, it appears that Intelligent Sytem’s lack of 3D experience still comes back to haunt them. Backgrounds, though well designed, can look low-poly, and some textures are quite blurry. This can be particularly nasty when the camera zooms in for a close-up. Still the game’s encompassing art direction is so pleasing to the eye that it takes a considerable amount of effort to notice such problems.
In addition, there are a surprising number of inventive ways that Intelligent Systems took to make the “paper” look act more like its namesake. Backgrounds flip, flop, flap and mutate thanks to the GC’s more capable effects. One especially neat effect is how a false “paper” background might be concealing a secret. Mario’s ghostly companion Clouda, is able to literally blow the patch away, with a very neat “paper flap” effect. The varied styles used throughout the game exhibit the art team’s creativity. One area in particular seems to have taken Majora’s Mask as a direct inspiration, presenting dramatic shadows on characters and an ominously dark background.
Complementing the game’s beautiful graphical style, the music in Paper Mario doesn’t disappoint. There’s plenty of depth and variation within the soundtrack, and will remind many of the fun, quirky score that the original had. Characters and situations have their own distinctive themes, such as Bowser’s rocking heavy metal that announces his arrival. Though it runs in Dolby Pro Logic II, it seems odd that a couple of the instruments sound a bit too synthetic and low-quality. Mario has a voice this time, though it only consists of the stock “woo!” and “ha!” that have been used for jumps since Super Mario 64. Somehow, the N64 Paper Mario’s classic “jump sound” seems more appropriate than the voice samples.
The battle mechanics from Paper Mario have been so improved that one could contest Jonny’s opinion that Paper Mario RPG is “more of the same”. Everything has been revamped to the point that it makes the original’s look something like a demo disc. Battle is still engaged by attacking an enemy, or the enemy running into you. However, now Mario is battling it out on-stage, in front of an audience. How he fares determines how many attendees will stick around to watch him. To keep the audience happy, Mario has to be sure to perform the “action attacks” that let him get bonus damage on the enemy. Audience love is what recharges Mario’s Star power, and he receives new powers after reclaiming each Star Stone. Therefore it is in his best interests to keep the audience happy.
Other stage-related features have been cleverly added. Mario or his friend can attack a heckler with the “X” button. Sometimes a sneaky Shy Guy will run upstairs and start dropping sandbags on the hapless battlers below. Or, if Mario uses a powerful Hammer Quake attack, the backdrop may fall onto his enemies for additional damage.
Among other changes, buddies now have HP and can be knocked unconscious. Players can determine the characters’ battle order by pressing “Y”. This has quite the strategic advantage; Nokotarou (the koopa troopa that joins the party), has a higher defense than Mario, and when he is in front, will take much less damage thanks to his hard shell. Players should be wary though, despite Nokotarou’s higher defense, he can also be knocked onto his back like enemy koopas.
While Mario’s move set is much of the same, his companions sport different styles and abilities both in and out of battle. For instance, while Christine has the same inherent ability as Goombario’s “tattle” technique, she has to hit the “A” button when her cross-sight hits the target. Likewise, Nokotarou no longer shares the same attack pattern as Mario’s Hammer, like Kooper did. Instead, to get bonus damage, the left stick must be held back and released when the star in the middle of the bar lights up. The best addition to the already engaging battle system is the ability to counter every move. While he has been able to defend against attacks with a well time press of the button in previous game, now Mario (or friend) can also counter-attack and take no damage.
Things are no less fun outside of battle. Dungeon designs are superb and incorporate the “paper” moves very well. Mario now uses his Paper-thin body to his advantage with moves like turning himself into an airplane to glide to victory. Another maneuver has him turning his thin body sideways to slide through grates and get himself out of jail.
Paper Mario RPG is a fantastic addition to anyone’s GameCube library. It manages that difficult balance of being both easily accessible and catering to more complex gameplay and strategies. There’s simply so much to see and do in Paper Mario, with secrets galore. With its entertaining characters and script and absolutely fantastic gameplay, Paper Mario will be a gem for generations to come. Intelligent Systems has raised the bar again.