You know it's coming. Brace yourself.
Hey everyone, Xander here. About every four years, give or take, a Paper Mario game comes along and stirs up some feelings. The original Paper Mario was released in August of 2000 on the Nintendo 64. Four years later, the wildly-successful sequel, Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door stole the hearts of many on the Nintendo GameCube in 2004. Three years after that, Super Paper Mario flipped on to the Wii, followed by Sticker Star in 2012 and lastly Color Splash rounded out the series on Wii U back in 2016. With 2020 here at last, it sure feels like a good time for another Paper Mario, and I for one, am ready to see another slew of speculation videos, highlighted by calls for a return to its RPG roots.
That’s not to say I haven’t enjoyed the latter Paper Mario titles. Color Splash was a whole lot of fun, and say what you will about Sticker Star, it’s a flawed title, but it’s still a decent game, for what it is. And of course, Super seems to be just mixed for most people (that game has fans… you know who you are). However, the Switch has seen several titles that showcase a series going back to its roots, such as the exploration in Breath of the Wild, the 3D sandbox of Super Mario Odyssey, or the free-roaming movement in Super Mario Party, and even to a degree, elements in Luigi’s Mansion 3. With the Nintendo fan base coming home after the failure of the Wii U, I think it is time for Paper Mario to go back to its roots and continue to service the fans with a similar return to form. Or at the very least, try something else, because I think the time spent with the Sticker Star approach has passed. And I think it is also worth mentioning that while Intelligent Systems and Koei Tecmo did put out Fire Emblem Three Houses last Summer, with DLC coming out soon, the Paper Mario development team is seperate from the Fire Emblem folks. I know a lot of people are very sensitive with this series. Some are cool with the newer games, and a lot folks who really enjoyed the RPG’s aren’t thrilled with where the series has gone. I know I have found enjoyment out of all them. Unfortunately, Paper mario seems to now have three distinct versions: the RPG’s, the platformer, and the adventure games. So, no matter what the next game is, someone will probably not be happy because it’s not a continuation of the game they had played. The discourse with this series since Super Paper Mario has gotten to be really intense at times. But that’s pop culture in general.
So what exactly would a new Paper Mario on Switch look like? Well after the release of Color Splash back in October of 2016, Intelligent Systems’ Lead Producer, Risa Tabata, emphasized in an interview with GameXplain, that hardware was essential in designing the game’s direction. This is shown in using the Wii U GamePad for flicking cards and cutting out objects in the world. So assuming Nintendo stays true to the series roots, the question becomes: what parts of the Switch hardware could a new Paper Mario title utilize, and be based around. Off the top of my head, we got HD rumble for… I don’t know, simulating the feeling of shaking glitter out of a container. There’s of course the IR camera which already uses Ro-Sham-Bo in the new Brain Age game, and that was something used a lot in Color Splash. The joy-cons have the gyro in them, so the option of tilting the system or the controllers for some motion-control puzzles, or balancing something in the game is there. If the next game utilizes action commands in turn-based combat, it could be fun to use the motion controls, so long as that buttons are also an option for those who want them, or for accessibility. A big thing to consider is that of course, the Switch Lite doesn’t have a lot of these pieces of hardware. That doesn’t mean I think that this will prevent a complete omission of using the Switch’s features. I believe Super Mario Odyssey has the screen shake when a Moon is nearby that was meant to be unearthed using HD Rumble. But that’s not gonna solve every issue.
I think the biggest thing I’m thinking about is that the Switch does love it’s two-player options with the split joy-cons. What could a second player do? Well, if it is an RPG, maybe the second player could assist in puzzles, take control of the partner character in the overworld. This would mean the game leans more towards switching between characters, which is something Luigi’s Mansion 3 is using with the slimy friend, Gooigi. If they do want to return to form and bring back partner characters, I think that having the option of splitting Mario and his partner up would be kinda neat. A lot of the puzzles in the first two games are fairly obvious, in that they require you to just use the one ability to press onwards. They can keep that, but if the partner character can go off to do something that aids in a puzzle that could freshen up the experience. Remember how Koops can hold his shell in place, while Mario moves around? An evolved form of that would be neat. And again, if they didn’t want to do that, then maybe a second player could be an assist of sorts. They wouldn’t be a huge component of the game, but something small to boost player 1. Say, they also have to press the Action Commands at the same time as player 1, and if they are in sync, then Mario does a little bit more damage to an enemy, or lessens damage received.
Aaaaand honestly, I’d love it if Nintendo went off the wall and tied in Labo in some fashion. I know it’s dead at this point, but eh, so are Amiibo and we still seem to be pre-ordering those on a regular basis. What could Paper Mario use it for? It would be interesting to see a kit included that is used in conjunction with the time-based action commands in the combat. Pull or push buttons, or even strings with correct timing, or maybe spin a wheel to line up something on the screen, or use the motion of the joy-cons to simulate “cutting” paper. Maybe it’s like a stage play again, and the cardboard is similar to a clapperboard that opens and shuts for special moves. Heck, maybe all of the special moves are tiny toy-cons that make them a little more tangible to use, but aren’t required.
What I am saying is, if they use Labo, it can’t rely on Labo, mostly to avoid any barriers of entry, and also because not everyone is going to be into the toys. It needs to use Labo in conjunction with whatever feature the game is built around. If the game has a feature where you can take pictures, then yeah, throw in that camera Toy-Con. Can Mario turn into a little boat/car/bike? Labo control options could be a lot of fun! Can you paint/draw something, like a custom partner? Well, you could you use a control stick, your finger in handheld mode, or that Labo VR elephant mask. Labo has a lot of opportunity, and it could certainly be boosted if it were crossed over with Paper Mario. But again, that’s a stretch. Yoshi’s Crafted World didn’t do anything with it, and that game loves cardboard. We won’t really even know what else they could do, since we don’t know what kind of game Paper Mario on the Switch will be.
What makes this situation even more intriguing is the unfortunate demise of Alpha Dream, the studio behind the beloved Mario & Luigi games. And as sad as that is, it could have an effect on changing the internal discussion around Paper Mario. Maybe Nintnedo saw the writing on the wall with Alpha Dream when planning the Switch Paper Mario title, and that factored in to the game’s development? If I recall correctly, I think Alpha Dream had been hiring for a 3D Mario RPG, that would presumably be on the Switch. But that seems to have been scrapped. Mario & Luigi appear to be in a state of flux. And since Nintendo didn’t own Alpha Dream, do they get the rights to all of the unique characters like Fawful, Popple, Cackletta, the Shroobs,, Starlow, etc.? I’m going to say yes because I think they still own those games, with or without Alpha Dream, so it’s probably not like the situation with Geno and Mallow in Super Mario RPG. But now we have to ask, will Mario & Luigi be given to a new studio, and/or dismiss these characters from the previous titles? Or will it be shelved and thus, Paper Mario take up the RPG mantle again. Nintendo has said that it didn’t make sense for there to be two competing Mario RPG’s. We don’t know. But, with Mario & Luigi currently out of the picture, the assumption is that there could be an increase in possibility of Paper Mario getting a path back to it’s RPG origins. But you know what they say about assuming.
Gameplay aside, I think one of the biggest interests in the next installment is for characters, story, and worldbuilding to get beefy again. I love Toad. He’s a cool guy. But he doesn't need to be every NPC in the game. I think Sticker Star and Color Splash were called action adventure genre games, so even if you take away RPG from the genre list, I still don’t think an adventure where every character is the same is very interesting. It’s safe to assume like in every one of these games, we’re probably gonna be running around collecting seven of something, stars, stickers, sponges, I don’t know. A consistent theme in all of the entries has been that the worlds are split up under vignettes of a spoof. Sherlock Holmes, Star Wars, Pikmin, parallel worlds, and even Internet culture has been used as a framework for telling funny stories. I really like this approach because it keeps things interesting and memorable. Mario has plenty of tropical themed levels across his plethora of games. So why does Keelhaul Key stand out? Well, there’s a snobby stuck up merchant who you have to listen to, and the island is haunted by the ghost of the pirate king, Cortez, and you know that one of the antagonists of the game is disguised as your crew mate. There’s a story. It’s not groundbreaking, but it’s interesting, and is funny. If you removed all of these characters from Keelhaul Key, you get a jungle level where you go find the star at the end. Sound familiar to anyone? But it’s cool because of all the paper stuff that is used! Yeah, I like how paper is used creatively too. But I think it was called Paper Mario because the paper is referencing the paper of a book. It was originally called Mario’s Story in Japan. You probably know that already.
If the idea of a brand new RPG-based Mario game seems too much like a pipe dream, a final option would be a remake of the original, or The Thousand-Year Door. It’s not first on my list, but I would even be interested in an upgraded revisit to Super Paper Mario. Remakes have shown up several times on the Switch, examples being Pokémon Let’s Go, Link’s Awakening, or the upcoming remaster of Xenoblade Chronicles. At the end of last July the very long… #RemasterThousandYearDoor was even trending on Twitter following two coincidental events: tweets from former NoA localization team member who wrote for Color Splash, Eric Smith, announcing his departure from the company. The other being, fellow YouTuber, Arlo, shouting to the Heavens to have the game remastered. Needless to say, the interest is high to see this series on Switch in some capacity. And if a remake does happen, at least we would get to see Nintendo say Paper Mario is an RPG again. I was getting scared awhile back that we were going to see one of these games be put on the 3DS using the Sticker Star engine, similar to how Luigi’s Mansion followed Dark Moon. But I think we’re in the clear at this point. Hopefully.
So what do you think? Is a return to a more focused RPG experience just what’s needed to re-energize the Paper Mario series? Do you have a cool, hot take on a fresh idea? Did anything I thought of strike your fancy? Let us know in the comments below and tell us what you’d like to see in a new Switch title. And thank you so much for watching!