Paper Mario
  • Genre:
    • RPG
  • Platform:
    • Nintendo 64
  • Developer:
    • Intelligent Systems
  • Publisher:
    • Nintendo
  • Released:
    • JP 08/11/2000
    • US 02/05/2001
    • UK 10/05/2001
Score: 85%

This review was published on 03/12/2016.

Paper Mario, called Mario Story in Japan, is a role-playing game developed by Intelligent Systems and published by Nintendo for the Nintendo 64. It was originally released in Japan on August 11, 2000, North America on February 5, 2001, and Europe and Australia on October 5, 2001. This is the first game in the Paper Mario series, but it's the second RPG featuring Mario and his world. The first Mario RPG was literally named Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, which was released on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System in 1996. Due to that, Paper Mario was initially referred to as Super Mario RPG 2 during its development, but the name was changed sometime before it came out. The game was well received by critics and fans upon release, being touted as the best RPG on the N64. Considering the shortage of good RPGs on the system, that's not saying a whole lot, but it's still a good game. Paper Mario may not surpass Mario RPG, but it's definitely a worthy successor.

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It's been said that there's a haven where the stars live, far above the clouds. In the sanctuary of this starry haven rested a fabled treasure known as the Star Rod, which has the power to grant all wishes. Utilizing the wondrous Star Rod, the seven revered Star Spirits looked after Mario's world. Bowser, Mario's monstrous turtle-like archenemy, invaded Star Haven, stole the Star Rod, and enslaved the Star Spirits. Without the Star Spirits and Star Rod, wishes in Mario's world can no longer come true! How horrible. Meanwhile, Mario and Luigi were relaxing at their house, when suddenly, they got mail. Luigi reads the letter to his brother, because apparently, Mario is illiterate. The letter was penned by Princess Peach, who invited the Mario brothers to her castle for an extravagant party. When they get there, everything is all well and good until Bowser shows up to cause trouble. With his newfound Star Rod, Bowser defeats Mario and kidnaps Princess Peach, taking her entire castle with her. Mario must now rescue the seven Star Spirits and use their combined power to beat Bowser. In other words, it's business as usual in the Mushroom Kingdom.

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As its title implies, Paper Mario has a paper motif going for it. The environment is made out of 3-D polygons, but many characters and some objects are rendered as paper thin 2-D sprites. Sometimes the game will break the fourth wall by directly referencing the aesthetic with paper-like visual effects, like when Mario folds into bed, or when he gently falls to the ground as if he were a sheet of paper, because he technically is. It's a little reminiscent of another N64 game released a few years prior called Yoshi's Story, which also featured a storybook style to its visuals. There are some problems with Paper Mario's graphics, though. For one, the sprites are rather pixelated, especially when the game decides to zoom in on them. Secondly, the polygons and textures are primitive even by N64 standards. Despite that, the art style holds everything together with its nice color usage and decent character designs.

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When out and about on the field, Mario can perform a variety of actions that may lead him to solving puzzles. Just like Mario RPG, he can jump at pretty much any time, allowing him to traverse uneven terrain and do simplistic platforming. Shortly after beginning the game, he also obtains a hammer, which is another thing he can make use of while out on the field. Using the hammer, Mario can break blocks that block his way, hit trees to shake items out of them, and more. Because of all this, the game places a big emphasis on interacting with your environment. That's where the puzzles come in. They may involve such tasks as uncovering hidden switches, pushing blocks, retrieving the lost shells of friendly Koopas from mischievous Fuzzies, and other neat stuff. The interactive environments and puzzles make exploring Paper Mario's world a delightful experience.

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Because this is an RPG, Mario can visit different towns to shop at shops and talk to talkers. Toad Town acts as the central hub of the game, leading to many other parts of the world, and it also serves as Mario's primary base of operations. There are other towns, however. Different towns have different kinds of denizens, such as a town inhabited by friendly Goombas, or a village occupied by nice Koopas. The game also has a lot of personality in the form of unique characters, like an old Gomba named Goompa, and an extremely obese Shy Guy named Gourmet Guy. The dialogue is well written and has a fair bit of humor, too. That makes it entertaining to entertain all the townsfolk with conversations, because they often have mildly amusing lines. Paper Mario fleshes out Mario's world with captivating characters, dapper dialogue, and tantalizing towns.

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The game is broken up into chapters, and between each chapter is an intermission starring the damsel in distress, Princess Peach. You control Peach during these interludes as she tries to escape from Bowser's smelly grasp. Because Peach can't do battle like Mario can, these sections of the game mostly serve to further the plot with cutscenes. Peach will often eavesdrop on Bowser and his troops to find out what they're up to, and then send a little star child named Twink to tip off Mario about where to go next. It's a neat method of storytelling, because when you get back to controlling Mario, you have better context for the next objective. The overabundance of text can be annoying, though. Additionally, Peach will sometimes be forced into a Metal Gear Solid inspired stealth section, where she must sneak past Bowser's heavily armored guards. The stealth stuff isn't too bad, but it can be frustrating at times. The Peach intermissions provide a nice break from the main adventure, but they're a little longwinded.

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Once Mario encounters an enemy on the field, he'll be taken to another screen to do a turn-based battle. If you attack an enemy outside of battle, you'll get a preemptive strike that leads to some extra damage being dealt before the fight even begins. Anyway, Mario's attacks are separated into two categories; jump attacks and hammer attacks. This adds a slight degree of strategy to the battles, because Mario can only harm flying enemies with jump attacks, and he can only damage foes with spikes on their heads using the hammer. He's also able to use consumable items, like mushrooms that restore health, and so on. Later, he can use Star Energy to call the Star Spirits to aid him in combat. Battles in Paper Mario are disgustingly simple, much more so than most RPGs, as you'll be doing single digit damage for almost the entire game. There aren't that many abilities available to you, either. Mario RPG already greatly simplified the RPG formula, and Paper Mario simplifies it even further. You could argue that it's too simple. The game does make up for this in other ways, however.

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Timed hits make a return from Mario RPG, but in Paper Mario, they're called action commands. Action commands are essentially interactive button prompts you do during the heat of battle. Just about every action in battle will prompt the player to do certain button inputs. Depending on how well these inputs are executed, the attack will either increase or decrease in effectiveness. For example, succeeding at Mario's jump action command will result in two jumps instead of one, effectively doubling the damage dealt. Unlike Mario RPG, the action commands are almost completely different for every act, so it's not exclusively about pressing buttons at the right time. For instance, using the hammer requires that you hold the analog stick left for a few seconds to charge it up, and then you release it at the right time to do big damage. This makes battles far more interactive, and thus, far more engaging. Timed hits were already an awesome concept in Mario RPG, and Paper Mario expands upon them considerably. What the battles may lack in strategic depth, they make up for with interactivity.

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Badges are the only form of equipment you get in Paper Mario. They function similarly to accessories in more conventional RPGs, as they give Mario a wide variety of effects. Many of these are passive effects, like the ability to resist certain status ailments, but some let Mario use new moves in battle. These special moves, known as techniques, use up FP or Flower Points, which is basically this game's MP. The thing about badges is that you need BP, or Badge Points, to equip them. You get BP from leveling up, and each badge requires a different amount of BP to equip. Multiple badges can be worn; Mario can wear as many badges as he has BP to equip them. Removing a badge will give your BP back, so you can swap them around in the menu whenever you want. Despite its simplicity, there's an incredible amount of depth to the badge system. There are countless badges, many of which have effects that complement each other, so the possibilities are nearly endless. You can either change badges to suit every situation, or go with a more general setup; it's all up to you.

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Partners are friendly entities that can join Mario's party. Even though Mario can have many individuals in his overall entourage, only a single partner can be out at a time, but he can switch between them whenever. Each partner has different abilities in and outside of battle. Outside of fights, partner abilities can be used to solve puzzles and gain access to new areas, adding a slight Zelda vibe to the game. Inside of fights, partners will use special abilities to damage enemies, complete with unique action commands. However, partners don't go by the same rules as Mario, as they can't equip badges and don't have HP. While partners can't die in battle, they will become paralyzed if an enemy attacks them, briefly preventing them from taking any actions. It's possible to permanently upgrade a partner's overall strength by finding special hidden blocks, but this can only be done twice per partner. The partner system adds more depth to the game without detracting from its innate simplicity, though partners not having HP makes it feel like they're not fully fledged playable characters.

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Upon mercilessly murdering enemies in battle, Mario will obtain star points, which are just this game's version of experience points. Like most RPGs, Mario will level up once he accrues enough star points. Unlike most RPGs, however, leveling up doesn't strengthen Mario's attack or defense power. Instead, you're given the option to boost one of three stats: HP, FP, or BP. Under normal circumstances, you can't increase Mario's attack and defense power. Some extremely rare badges can perform those functions, but generally, Mario's offensive and defensive stats only permanently go up through key story events. As a result of that, the game is a lot more balanced, because you can't grind until the point of being able to obliterate everything in one blow. Further adding to that, the game's experience system discourages grinding, as weak enemies will eventually give Mario almost no star points at all. Grinding is the epitome of all that is not fun in the world, so it's a good thing Paper Mario is against it.

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Star Pieces are optional collectibles Mario can find throughout his arduous journey. They're hidden all over the darn place, so you really have to keep your eyes peeled to find them. As for their purpose, Star Pieces can be traded in for special badges. Many of these badges happen to be really good, and some can only be acquired in this manner, making the gathering of Star Pieces a worthy endeavor. This is basically the game's main side quest. Of course, you can completely ignore this part of the game if you're not into looking for stuff. Unfortunately, there aren't very many other side quests. The few other side quests that do exist are the annoying sort, usually coming down to fetch quests. The main quest is substantial enough on its own, so the game doesn't exactly need side quests to lengthen it. However, it would have been nice if there was more effort put into this area.

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Good writing, good humor, interactive environments, and interactive battles make Paper Mario a fun RPG. There aren't many things Paper Mario gets wrong, aside from being a little too simplistic, and the tendency for the game to constantly hold your hand with numerous tutorials on overly basic stuff. The game can also be a bit wordy sometimes, but that's sort of the point of an RPG. It's obvious that Paper Mario is intended to be baby's first RPG, what with how simplistic it is, but there's enough substance here for even adults to enjoy it.

Word Count: 2,169