We store cookies, you can get more info from our privacy policy.
DSGBA

The Final Quest for Mushrooms: The Mario RPG Retrospective

The Other, Better Mario RPG Series

by Zachary Miller - February 18, 2011, 2:33 pm EST

Zach believes that AlphaDream's Mario & Luigi series bests Paper Mario in every way.

Some people, like Josh Max and Neal Ronaghan back there, like the Paper Mario series. I don't, though; I see the Paper Mario games as "Fischer Price's My First RPG." They are idiot-proof games, and while the graphical style is interesting, it doesn't hold your attention for the 15 or so hours it takes to beat each game. No, dear readers, the superior Mario RPG series began in 2003 on the Game Boy Advance. The Mario & Luigi games, filled with humor, engaging combat, and unique and off-the-wall plots, are the cream of the Mario RPG crop.

The series began with an out-of-left-field game developed by AlphaDream called Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga. Originally revealed at E3 2003, the title hit stores that November and instantly became a critical darling. The game was heavily leveraged on the concept of controlling Mario and Luigi at the same time. Although daunting in theory, the game wisely avoided confusion by making the two follow each other all the time. Brilliantly, the A, B, L, and R buttons were used to control their separate actions. During normal gameplay, this control concoction made for some intriguing puzzles and environmental challenges to traverse. The brothers also had wonderful ways of contorting; in order to achieve maximum jump height, Luigi jumps on Mario and uses him as a spring. In another instance, Mario uses his hammer to pound poor Luigi into the ground—irritating, yes, but Luigi can suddenly move underneath environmental obstacles.

Remember these guys from Super Mario World? Good friggin' times.

Aside from these often-hilarious maneuvers, Superstar Saga packed a whole lot of RPG combat goodness into a tiny package. The brothers used a combination of jumps and hammers to deal with baddies, and made use of the same instruments for blocking attacks. Pressing the A or B buttons at the right time might make one of the brothers leap over a charging foe, or if you time it right, land on his head. Similarly, you can block or knock back projectiles with your hammers. Special attacks are complex and difficult to learn, involving pressing the correct combination of A and B with the right timing to deliver a double-dose of pain to attackers. These "Bros. Attacks" could even be leveled up, and new branching button paths would be unlocked. The Bros. Attacks, once mastered, made most boss encounters cakewalks—such is the double-sided nature of the ability. The animations that go along with these attacks, by the way, are priceless.

The localization for Superstar Saga—and indeed the entire Mario & Luigi trilogy—is some of the best ever produced by Nintendo of America. The humor is rampant and perpetual, with constant callbacks to old Mario games that will make any longtime fan smile ear to ear. Luigi gets a good helping of humble pie in particular; nobody can remember his name, so he usually ends up getting called "Green Guy" or "Mario's brother." Bowser, ever the loveable galumph, provides a triumphant anti-hero, revealing himself as big, powerful, and incredibly self-centered. It is the villainous Cackletta's peon, Fawful, however, that is the breakout star. With furious, bean-shaped bravado, Fawful uses a combination of broken English and cramp-inducing food metaphors to leave the audience in stitches. He should really get his own game…

This game is filled with baby version of the usual cast. For people who don't like babies, this may be a sour proposition.

The next game in the series, an early DS title called Partners in Time, doesn't feel nearly as tight as its predecessor. It was released almost exactly two years after Superstar Saga. The writing is still there, though the plot is wholly separate. The brothers team up with baby versions of themselves, and suddenly the player must juggle four command buttons (A, B, X, Y) during combat. Perhaps because of this added complexity, AlphaDream removed the memorable sequence-based Bros. Attacks and replaced them with vanilla Bros. Items, whereupon you are asked only to press the right button as the item gets faster and faster (like a Koopa Shell). The DS' second screen is used to make a bigger play area—many enemies, during combat, will move to the top screen and attack from there.

Barney grew up. Filled out.

Some environmental puzzles also use both screens—the Babies will be on one screen and the Bros. on the other, and their separate actions affect each other in different ways. While this does lead to some interesting puzzles, it all feels a little forced. While not bad by any means, Partners in Time is a less memorable, less refined game than Superstar Saga that feels very gimmicky at times, probably due to being an early title for the Nintendo DS. Luckily, AlphaDream would return to the series in 2009 with a far better entry.

That little yellow Bob-Omb dude is the chattiest chatterer in the history of chatty chatters. Chat, chat, chat, all day long.

Bowser's Inside Story is that game, and it cures almost all the ills brought by Partners in Time. The gimmick this time—if you can call it that—is that the brothers have been inhaled by Bowser and must work their way out of his system. While the boys operate in side-scrolling fashion on the lower screen, Bowser is fully controllable on the upper screen, where his isometric exploration is similar to the usual Mario & Luigi M.O. With his big punches and fire breath, Bowser feels like a powerful beast as he should. Things get even better during boss sequences, where Bowser grows to the size of Godzilla and pummels a giant robot or his own castle!

Unlike Tokyo, the Mushroom Kingdom never had to sink Coins into R&D for a Super X anti-Godzilla craft.

In certain areas, Mario & Luigi can affect the Koopa King's strength by playing a mini-game in his muscle tissue. It's all very charming. Best of all, however, series favorite Fawful returns in a big way—as the game's main antagonist! It's great to see Fawful unchained, and the game's final battle is nicely reminiscent of the ending confrontation in Superstar Saga. The series came full circle. It's tough to knock Bowser's Inside Story—the best I can do is that there's entirely too much dialogue sometimes, and the game's last few hours drag on a bit too long.

One of the things that keep the Mario & Luigi series so fresh is the art direction and animation. It is always impressive and endlessly charming. The character sprites are large and expressive, the environments are colorful and full of life, and even the enemy characters get in on the fun. In Superstar Saga, the Koopa Kids get to play, and it's great fun to see them reinvented in the aesthetic of the Mario & Luigi series. The charm even carries over to the sound design. Apart from excellent music, the brothers speak a hilarious jibber-jabber with Italian accents to other characters, and Bowser is all grunts and growls and roars.

Notice that you never see Bowser and Rookie in the same room together. HMMM...

For me, the best game in the Mario & Luigi series is, bar none, Superstar Saga. It was new and wholly original, featuring some fantastic twists on the standard RPG formula. I even loved the Bros. Attacks since they required finesse to pull off, and you had to learn how to use each one effectively. Later games simplified things and tended to overstay their welcomes. Partners in Time and Bowser's Inside Story are both fantastic games, but Superstar Saga is very special, and there just aren't a lot of ways to improve it. If you haven't tried a Mario & Luigi game yet, you're really missing out. Track down a copy of Superstar Saga if you can, or at the very least, Bowser's Inside Story. You're in for a treat. Paper Mario can suck it.

Images

Talkback

mustbeburtFebruary 16, 2011

what a great feature!  i love this game.  i purchased my copy (which i still have in mint condition) from toys'r'us when they were getting rid of all of their snes games for like $5-$8.  i think i got mario rpg for $8.  anyways, i had never hear of it, but decided to grab it since it was "mario".  i was hooked!  it was my first rpg experience and i loved it.

NWR_pap64Pedro Hernandez, Contributing WriterFebruary 16, 2011

Question: Have you guys seen the Mario RPG page?

mustbeburtFebruary 16, 2011

yes.  you can see it on the webpage.  it's the one you wrote, right, pedro?  however, something weird is happening with this feature.  the "add to the discussion" link on the webpage just brings you right back to the nwr homepage.  you have to go to the forums to add to the discussion.


oh, and look at my avatar!  i just realized i had geno up!

SilverQuilavaFebruary 16, 2011

Well, Paper Mario for the N64 is my favorite game in the world. I'm serious, there is no game in existence that I love more than Paper Mario. That and the series. Super Mario RPG was great, but Paper Mario is much better to me.

SilverQuilavaFebruary 16, 2011

I really wish I could review Paper Mario or something. Just so I can explain why It is the greatest game in the world to me. I just wish more people knew about Paper Mario. Maybe the 3DS will do that. I really hope so.

TJ SpykeFebruary 16, 2011

Go ahead and review Silver, there is a forum here for reader reviews of games. Some of them are pretty good.

Ian SaneFebruary 16, 2011

It's hard to rank one's favourite games.  You're in a different mood one day and things hop all over the place.  But whenever I think about that Super Mario RPG is consistently in the top two with Link's Awakening being its only competitor.

It's interesting to think of what a dream game this was.  Square and Nintendo were the two biggest fish in the SNES pond.  It would be like if today Nintendo announced a Zelda RTS made by Blizzard.  It was just a huge "holy shit" kind of project.  And in the end it was Square's swan song on a Nintendo console before they went to the Playstation and were briefly probably the biggest company in videogames.

What I find frustrating is that I rarely like RPGs.  I WANT to like them.  It seems like I should but something always feels slightly off and it's Super Mario RPG's fault.  Mario RPG does it exactly like how I want and no other game does.  It has no random battles and tons of real-time world interaction.  I hate random battles and a lot of RPGs don't play like you're playing.  They're stiff when you walk around the world.  In Mario RPG the overworld is like a platformer.  You're just moving and jumping around with ease.  Then you enter a battle, which you see coming and can avoid 99% of the time and it becomes very straightforward and intuitive.  It's simple turn-based battles without any frustrating and broken attempts to screw with it.

Now doesn't Paper Mario have this same stuff?  Well it does have the real-time world interaction but its RPG elements seem dumbed down and juvenile.  The story is too simple and the game seems to be scared of offering the proper RPG bells and whistles.  It feels like an anti-RPG with its sidekick approach to a party and the low levels.  It feels like an RPG for people who hate RPGs.  I like the numbers and the stats of an RPG.  I like having a party to customize and I like using different weapons and spells and such.  I don't want THAT portion dumbed-down or streamlined.  The only things I don't like with RPGs are user-unfriendliness and disjointed real-time gameplay.

What I really want is the sort of RPG brilliance and understanding Square had in its peak mixed with Nintendo's knack for having tight controls (or the knack they USED to have anyway), user-friendly interfaces and real-time exploration (Nintendo did make A Link to the Past and Super Metroid after all).  And that's Super Mario RPG in a nutshell.

I play Paper Mario, which is still a good game, and I'm like "where's the RPG?"  And then I play most RPGs and think "where's the gameplay?"  Super Mario RPG just got it down perfect and made the most of both Square's and Nintendo's individual strengths.  It was very much a collaboration and not just Nintendo farming off Mario to someone else or Nintendo using another dev and then dictating exactly how everything goes.  It feels like both a Square game and a Nintendo game.

I remember when the first Mario & Luigi came out I thought it was kind of cool that the Mario RPG series was following a convention of using a different dev and having different gameplay each time.  That would have been a neat way to do it.  But that was obviously just a coincedence as Nintendo turned both Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi into their own series.  And yet Super Mario RPG remains a one-off game.  That's very disappointing.

Of course Super Mario RPG 2 would probably not turn out very good because the companies involved are so different.  Square is now Square Enix and Iwata-era Nintendo would insist on some bullshit waggle or casual-friendly design or something stupid like that.  Hell when Mario RPG came out Mario didn't even have a voice and him "wha hooing" the whole time would have seriously cramped its style.  One thing that is nice is that the VC release is the only other version of Mario RPG out there.  Nintendo has never tinkered with it like they have with other re-releases so anyone can now play it exactly as it was intended.

I do wish that future RPG developers would look towards Mario RPG as inspiration on how to really design a tight and playable RPG.

SilverQuilavaFebruary 16, 2011

[/quote

Quote from: TJ

Go ahead and review Silver, there is a forum here for reader reviews of games. Some of them are pretty good.

Cool Spyke, I'll see about doing my own review. Thanks for telling!

KDR_11kFebruary 17, 2011

Super Paper Mario made me stop playing when I was in the desert level and first had to type in "Please" three times to get the block sequence from that one guy and then he dumped several pages worth of instructions that I was supposed to write down. What I did instead was tell the game to fuck off and put it back on the shelf, never to play it again. SPM has too much bullshit getting in the way of the game.

LittleIrvesFebruary 17, 2011

@KDR
But that's what was so funny about Super Paper Mario...  the sheer audacity to mess with the player.  (Pit of 100 Trials, hmm?) I'd never played the Paper Mario/RPG games before (though this feature is making me want to) but the whole 2D/3D flip feature of the Wii game intrigued me.  I ended up liking it a lot...  but it didn't blow me away as I'd hoped.  Still: A very funny, weird, totally Nintendo experience (with new characters!).  People always gripe about how the Big N doesn't have any new IPs anymore, but they populate their franchises with enough bizarre new characters to almost make up for it.  And their humor is not mentioned nearly enough.  Games take themselves too seriously.  Nintendo still realizes this should be a light-hearted experience.  Maybe that is a central shift between the Japanese and American markets, though...  I'm not sure.

ThomasOFebruary 17, 2011

SPM parodies the design of older games that depended too much on weird codes and password systems, or games that relied heavily on extremely repetitive tasks. But I do agree, Chapter 5 was my least favorite part of the game due to the joke starting to get old.

Ian SaneFebruary 17, 2011

The problem with a videogame parody is that the player still has to play it so essentially the joke is on him.

Killer_Man_JaroTom Malina, Associate Editor (Europe)February 17, 2011

An enjoyable read so far. I personally prefer The Thousand Year Door out of the three, and in fact, that used to be my favourite of the Mario RPGs until Bowser's Inside Story arrived in grand style.

My views on Super Paper Mario mostly fall in line with what others have said. The signature mechanic is a cool premise, and is executed fairly well, but I do feel it is undermined by pacing issues (primarily, the hunt for the next Pure Heart monument in Flipside between every chapter) and specific moments that are simply not fun. Is it Chapter 2 when you're in the mansion and you have run in the hamster wheel for AGES in order to collect money? Stuff like that is, quite frankly, unacceptable.

I'll be keeping one eye on Paper Mario 3D though. That's returning to the classic battle system, from what I hear, and there's the new sticker book thing that was shown briefly, which I reckon has a lot of potential.

Writing the Paper Mario stuff makes me want to replay each entry. I really loved all three of those games, warts and all. I have extremely fond memories of playing Super Paper Mario in college. My roommate, Lauren, and I each had our own file going at the same time and we basically competed to see who could finish first. It might have gotten bloody, but it was one of these really fun group discovery moments, because it'd usually end up with all three of us hanging out while one person played.

I'm extremely tempted to pick up Paper Mario on VC. So tempted...

Also, can't wait until Paper Mario 3DS.

Kytim89February 17, 2011

Quote from: NWR_Neal

Writing the Paper Mario stuff makes me want to replay each entry. I really loved all three of those games, warts and all. I have extremely fond memories of playing Super Paper Mario in college. My roommate, Lauren, and I each had our own file going at the same time and we basically competed to see who could finish first. It might have gotten bloody, but it was one of these really fun group discovery moments, because it'd usually end up with all three of us hanging out while one person played.

I'm extremely tempted to pick up Paper Mario on VC. So tempted...

Also, can't wait until Paper Mario 3DS.


Neal, I recommend that you pick up Paper Mario and Legend of the Seven Stars while you are at it.

Kytim, SMRPG is my favorite game ever. I'll buy that whenever Nintendo decides to re-release it over and over again.

Kytim89February 18, 2011

Quote from: NWR_Neal

Kytim, SMRPG is my favorite game ever. I'll buy that whenever Nintendo decides to re-release it over and over again.


How about a sequel for the 3DS? I would buy that in a hot minute since SMRPG is my favorite of all Mario's RPGs.

KDR_11kFebruary 18, 2011

Quote from: LittleIrves

@KDR
But that's what was so funny about Super Paper Mario...  the sheer audacity to mess with the player.

That's nice but I didn't buy it to be a comedy routine, I bought it to be a game.

Quote from: KDR_11k

Quote from: LittleIrves

@KDR
But that's what was so funny about Super Paper Mario...  the sheer audacity to mess with the player.

That's nice but I didn't buy it to be a comedy routine, I bought it to be a game.

The half of it I played before giving up out of frustration was very well-written.

Quote from: Kytim89

Quote from: NWR_Neal

Kytim, SMRPG is my favorite game ever. I'll buy that whenever Nintendo decides to re-release it over and over again.


How about a sequel for the 3DS? I would buy that in a hot minute since SMRPG is my favorite of all Mario's RPGs.

In all honesty, no. That sounds like a terrible idea. Super Mario RPG is an amazing game, but it came out 15 years ago. The teams that worked on that game have moved on, and I'd rather see Nintendo continue making M&L and Paper Mario games than retread SMRPG. I could stand for some cameos from characters in the game, but I have negative feelings towards any potential SMRPG sequel.

MagicCow64February 18, 2011

I'm all about Super Paper Mario's parodic elements. The joke is on the player, because the joke is always on the player as far as games are concerned. I read something about how videogames are ultimately limited as an art form, because the finger always just ends up pointing blankly back at the player. SPM is the first game I've played that acknowledges and incorporates this. No More Heroes might count as well, but that's more of an El Topo to Super Paper Mario's Satyricon.

Ian SaneFebruary 18, 2011

Quote:

I read something about how videogames are ultimately limited as an art form, because the finger always just ends up pointing blankly back at the player. SPM is the first game I've played that acknowledges and incorporates this.


The thing is a lot of people that criticize videogames for either not being art or being limited as an art form are usually old fuddy-duddies who don't play videogames.

I look at a game as a piece of art like I would look at a classic car as a piece of art.  Maybe I'm just admiring the craftsmanship.  This is a fun game to play, it has good art design, good music, balanced difficulty, good pacing, good level design, good story, etc.  When I say I want a game to be a work of art I mean it like I want it to be a golden standard of videogame design.

TGMFebruary 19, 2011

I'm taking the "I've played them all and I love them all equally" route.

NWR_pap64Pedro Hernandez, Contributing WriterFebruary 19, 2011

Alright, I've been reading a lot of the comments, including Ian's detailed rants, and this is my opinion on the overall franchise...


As I already said in the SMRPG entry, that game is a masterpiece of gameplay design, visuals, music and even story. When Square and Nintendo finished the game they broke the mold they use to create this title, making sure that no other game would be quite like it ever again. They shot themselves in the foot with this, however, as now any Mario RPG that is released is directly compared to SMRPG rather than just judging the games based on their own merits. In other words, SMRPG was such an amazing masterpiece that people can't help but expect any Mario RPG to look, sound and play EXACTLY like it. I admit I was under the same spell when the first Paper Mario was released. SMRPG played such a big role in my enjoyment of video games that I couldn't help but see Paper Mario as a very weak follow up. Up until recently, however, I realized that trying to expect an experience that will be exactly like the one I enjoyed in my childhood days is very foolish and should just have fun and enjoy the ride.


Now I am able to appreciate the series as a whole. To me, the Paper Mario series is indeed a very simple RPG designed for younger gamers and non RPG fans in mind, but I really like the aesthetic of a world made entirely out of paper, and on the whole, it is adorable. I love the Mario and Luigi series because it gives the characters a lot of personality and sometimes that is enough to make the game really enjoyable. I mean, people have called "Partners in Time" the weakest in the series, but even then I had a ton of fun with that.


Regarding Super Paper Mario, I liked that game, but gameplay wise the overall designed is flawed. The idea of 2D and 3D gameplay is ingenious, but the developers didn't know how to create a more streamlined menu system, meaning that constantly changing characters, switching between planes and changing fairy characters was a chore, and one you did often. The main reason I kept up with it was because the story was really, really good. Like I mentioned sometimes a story and character is enough to keep pushing forward. I really loved how the story poked fun at itself as well as other Nintendo conventions, and was considerably more edgier than past Paper Mario titles. I like it just for that alone.

Maybe I'm just a fun hating jerk but I don't see Fawful's appeal.

It's just a bean with a face...

But he has FURY.

SilverQuilavaMay 04, 2011

Man... I have read some of the things that people have said about Super Paper Mario. Some say they liked it, but alot said they really didn't! See, that's not what bugs me though. People who have played Super Paper Mario have based their opinion of Paper Mario in general ONLY on Super Paper Mario because it is the ONLY one they've played! I know just about nobody is going to read this, but maybe they will. I don't know. But anyways, I have this to say. When people want to try out a new game they usually just go to Walmart or Gamestop to get it. All they have to choose from is mainstream games (ex Wii). When somebody buys Super Paper Mario, they are most likely unaware of the COMPLETE difference in that game and its predecessors. I'm terrible at putting things into words, but if you're actually reading please bear with me. They don't have the opportunity to be able to experience the older and much better Paper Mario games. So, they automatically think that Super Paper Mario is like the older games. Listen, I can not express enough how incredible and insanely unique Paper Mario for the Nintendo 64 and Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door for the Gamecube really are! Great environments, excellent battle systems, and music that has effort, EFFORT put into it unlike the music Super Paper Mario just slapped together (not all songs in SPM are bad). In PM:TYD, they got a composer from Square Enix to do alot of the music for the game and it SHOWS. AND it is a turn based RPG! NOT ANYTHING like that platforming stuff in SPM. Look, if you have only played Super Paper Mario for the Wii, throw that game in the closet for a while and play the original games. I HIGHLY recommend The Thousand Year Door mostly because my best friend played PM64 and didn't like it that much, but when he played TYD he couldn't stop until he eagerly beat it. Some people are like that. I DO recommend BOTH though. I personally like Paper Mario for the Nintendo 64 the most. Nostalgic reasons mostly, but still! Try these games out, they are an experience all their own and I don't think anyone who plays these games will be disappointed. And as for the Paper Mario game coming out for the Nintendo 3DS soon, I don't know if it will be as good as the others, but it's switching back to the turn based style of the old games and I am eternally grateful for that. Paper Mario(64 and Thousand Year Door), to me, is the greatest RPG, if not the greatest game, ever created. It's absolutely underrated by many people who have never even given this game a chance. I just want people to know how great these games are and how this is a series of games that should live on. Maybe, I hope, that the Paper Mario game for the 3DS will make people realize this. If you took the time to read this, thank you. It means alot. Even if you don't try out the games, I'm happy that you at least read what I had to say. Thanks so much.

StogiMay 05, 2011

Never played SMRPG. I've never been a big fan of RPG's, especially back then. I'd opt out of buying them in favor of other games like Sunset Riders and Ken Griffy Jr.

This is making me want to try it out though.

Hamza ShazJanuary 21, 2014

YES! Finally someone agrees with my opinion. I don't like TTYD so much. :C

Hamza ShazJanuary 21, 2014

Quote from: Hamza

YES! Finally someone agrees with my opinion. I don't like TTYD so much. :C

Oh shoot, wrong topic...

Hamza ShazJanuary 21, 2014

Oh wait, it's not. Anyway, I've played ALL 3 Paper Mario games (except Sticker Star), so I have a fair opinion. I loved Super Paper Mario the best because:


1. Awesome Story, Bowser gets kidnapped too!
2. No more boring turn-based battles, has REAL platforming...
3. Awesomer art style...
4. Flipping.
And a lot more.


Your opinion may not be this but it's just my opinion.

Got a news tip? Send it in!
Advertisement
Advertisement