When first announced, I think just about every Nintendo and Mario fan was elated with the fact that the Paper Mario franchise would be making its way over to the Wii. After a bunch of rumors, screenshots, movies and other teases, Super Paper Mario has finally made its way to retail.
I really, really wanted to like Super Paper Mario. I don't mean that I was really excited for it (I wasn't, very) or that I'd overhyped it in my mind (I hadn't), but I didn't want to have to give another Nintendo game a sub-6 score and I really appreciated what SPM tried to accomplish.
But here we are.
Super Paper Mario is, in many ways, the perfect 5/10 game -- in that it does half the things it attempts really well, and the other half really poorly. It's got cool graphics, some fantastic gameplay ideas, and a great overall vibe, but it frequently fails where it counts -- namely, in the area of difficulty. Now, one may say that the Mario games aren't supposed to be Ninja Gaiden, and that's true, but at no point during the entire time I played Super Paper Mario did I feel even remotely challenged.
This crippling weakness actually stems from one of the game's strong points -- the marriage of the platforming and RPG genres. Hypothetically, such a combo would make for awesome gameplay: difficult platforming with a strategic stat-building element. The problem, though, is that the platforming never gets even remotely difficult, and the stat-building only makes things easier. If one was to take the platforming aspects and make a separate Mario game out of them, it'd be the easiest Mario game ever made -- unlike any of the other platforming games in the series, there are relatively few enemies and very few difficult jumps.
Now take the incredible ease of the platforming, and add an HP system. Not only is it extremely easy to navigate the platforming levels, but you're seldom punished for screwing up: running into an enemy usually only takes off two or three hit points (by the midpoint of the game, you'll have around 25), and falling down a bottomless pit only takes away one.
And even if you do get low on health, you can just use one of many plentiful health potions to get you back up to fightin' strength. As a result of these factors, the player is never forced to be careful: you can hurl yourself into easy situations with reckless abandon and get hit as many times as you want, because you'll only lose about a third of your health (which will immediately be replenished). There are puzzles too, of course, but these are almost always very, very straightforward (look around, get stumped, go into 3D mode, find a clue, solve puzzle, repeat).
It's worth mentioning that I didn't die once, in the entire game. Not a single time. Since I never felt challenged, much of the game felt less like an actual video game and more like a series of tasks: go here, flip this, come back. Of course, almost every other game on the planet works off this framework, but the total lack of difficulty in SPM made the flaws in this system much more obvious. The game began to feel more like an interactive movie than a truly playable video game experience.
That being said, though, it's a pretty cool interactive movie. The dialogue (though way too plentiful) is frequently funny, the graphics are great, and the levels themselves are entertaining, albeit in a passive sort of way (you'd have about as much fun watching someone play SPM as playing it yourself).
All in all, as much as I'd like to recommend Super Paper Mario, I can't. The total lack of difficulty undoes any sense of flow the game might have had before, turning what could have been an exciting platforming adventure into a series of plodding, self-contained tasks. While the aesthetics are great and the core game mechanics are very entertaining, I can't honestly say that it warrants a purchase. Rent it, if you're curious.
Final score: 5
I gotta tell you, gang, I'm really wrestling with the idea of slapping Super Paper Mario with a verdict, despite the fact that I enjoyed the hell out of it. It's one of those games that I imagine I'll be revisiting a number of times over the years -- the sort of title that you don't trade in, that retains a permanent position on your shelf. One romp through World 3 solidified this opinion, and despite the several ill-conceived levels and design decisions that are peppered throughout the remainder of the game, my adoration stands. It's a weird kind of love, though, the sort that you have to qualify with an asterisk and a brief explanation.
What got my gears a-turnin' when this game was announced was, naturally, the redirection of the Paper Mario series as a primarily platforming experience with RPG elements. Nintendo came close to real success in the final product, but came up just a bit short -- Super Paper Mario is a bit too simplistic and far too easy to set it alongside the likes of New Super Mario Bros. and its 2D antecedents.
That being said, I still had a blast playing it -- the game's use of 2D/3D flipping as part of its platforming and puzzle elements do well to complicate what we've come to expect from the genres it represents. Ironically, this is also one of the game's greatest limitations; the need to design levels with "flipping" in mind makes for some very, very plain 2D landscapes with not much to do until you make a break for the third dimension. It's disappointing, but only when compared to the amazing level design witnessed in some of Nintendo's titles in years past.
That mythical "Nintendo polish" is showcased in almost every aspect of Super Paper Mario's production. Visually, this is perhaps the best game we've seen on the Wii yet, and it has nothing to do with horsepower, but is instead owed to the game's sense of style and some phenomenal art direction. The writing, as I'm sure you've heard up and down by now, is nothing short of spectacular. Nintendo's willingness to poke fun at itself, its fans, and gaming culture in general (World 3 will make you piss yourself laughing, guaranteed) is refreshing in the midst of an industry that takes itself just a hair too seriously. This may be one of the funniest games ever made.
Super Paper Mario is perhaps the best evidence we have that Nintendo has their audience pegged. It's a mastery of delivery, in a sense -- the developers at Intelligent Systems along with the crack team of localization writers and editors at Nintendo of America have crafted a game that is built to enthrall a particular group of gamers and offer half-decent entertainment to the rest. Make no mistake that Super Paper Mario is not revolutionary as a platformer, nor does it do much to shake up the RPG genre. It is notable, however, that the combination of these elements -- as well as a hefty dose of capitalization on Nintendo's long history of classic gaming -- that makes this game shine. As a total experience, Super Paper Mario is brilliant.
Final score: 8.3
After playing Super Paper Mario for a while, I must say, RevAnthony certainly makes me feel like I'm a complete dumbass. This game really is a love/hate relationship for me, so this review feels extremely awkward. When the game is good, it's phenominal; when it's bad, I want to punch it. This is also my first time playing a Paper Mario game, for those of you wondering why I bring up blatantly obvious things.
The writing in the game is usually witty, inventive, and everything that I'm told a Paper Mario game is -- anyone who's seen the news on World 3 knows why its pure awesomeness. Yet, on the flip side is the fact that there is way too much text to go through -- and not all of it is good. For example, there's one character that spoke all in rhymes, and for extended periods. Even glancing over the text made me roll my eyes in pain.
The graphics for the game have a unique look that I don't believe could get any better if you tried to improve it on the PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360. Like I've said before, stylized graphics work best on the Wii. The transitions from 2-D to 3-D are nice and smooth. The repeated animations that are common to sprites bother me slightly, but that's just a personal problem.
Now, as for controls: on one hand, the transitions from 2-D to 3-D are fluid, and I never have any problems doing what I want to do when it comes to pressing buttons. On the other hand, using the Wiimote to aim is not all that great. I admit that my setup is fairly tight in my room, but I don't experience in any of my other games (not even Red Steel). I've even moved back to a much more comfortable position, but I would experience erraticness with the controller, as well as it ocassionally sticking in the minigames.
Usually the puzzles are fairly straightforward, but about a quarter of the time, I have to either look up the answer because it's so damn obscure, or call Aaron Linde at extremely inappropriate times (either poop emergencies or sex) to find the answer. Combined with monsters that can sometimes be irritating, such as when I'll suddenly get gang-raped out of nowhere and lose 1/3 of my health, or get hit by an errant attack and die just as I'm about to use an item.
Like I said before, when it's great, it's great. The problem is this is only about half the time. Right now, I think it's the most enjoyable game on the Wii, and I would say that anyone who has a Wii should pick up the game. It's a decent game, it's just that it could do with plenty of improvements.
Final score: 6
Super Paper Mario is a darn good time, simple as that. I wish I could just present a photo review because the giant smile on my face throughout almost every sequence would pretty much sum everything up real nice. Now, that is not to say the game is perfect. However, in my opinion, the strengths far outweigh the weaknesses and result in a final product that is unlike anything I have ever played (and that's a very good thing!).
Strangely enough, I actually agree with most of the good Reverend's points. In particular, yes, the game is very easy. Now, is it too easy? I don't know about that. Super Paper Mario was never meant to be a hard game. In fact, I would argue that the lack of challenge is not due to a fault in the game design as much as it is a testament to the title's fantastic pacing. Just because a game is "easy," should it really be criticized? Not experiencing any frustrating hiccups during the game's flow was refreshing, to say the least.
And speaking of refreshing, one area that is sure to spark debate is the amount of text-heavy cutscenes that are frequently encountered during the game. Being a giant fan of old school Nintendo games I could not help but actually laugh at loud at a few choice sequences (the Peach dating sim in particular had me ROFL). Although there is a lot of text in the game, I was so engrossed and entertained by the writing that never once did I bore of the numerous conversations.
It is very rare for a game like this to offer a player so many different characters (playable and non-playable), each one with his/her/its own unique personality. And to top it off, all of this was accomplished without any voice acting; that's a pretty impressive feat. Call me old-fashioned, but I have yet to join the "Nintendo has to have voice acting!" crusade that seems to be growing in numbers every day. To me, it is the little detailed touches in the text itself -- like how speed and font help portray emotion -- that make a game like this special. Why take that uniqueness away? Until that gets old, there is no rush to have characters talk just for technology's sake (see: Symphony of the Night).
I could continue to wax poetic about all the things I loved (don't even get me started on the art style and level design!), but that would deny the opportunity to point out some things that could definitely be improved. The ability to switch characters, for instance, is a welcome change (that is introduced at just the right time), but the other playable characters are not used nearly enough. In addition, since I loved the last two Paper Mario games so much, I had trouble adjusting to the fact that this sequel did not feel as "open."
Granted, the game dropped some of its RPG pounds to fit into a sleek, platformer dress, but having only one main hub town and no real reason to go back and visit previous locations made the game feel a little too linear. In that, I do agree with Anthony that at times it felt like I was just performing a series of tasks.
But when it came down to whether this game should be recommended or not the answer was easy. Despite some of the grumblings that I may have had during certain parts (boo, slowdown!) the overall polish and personality in the final product easily make it one of the best titles yet to grace the Wii. Even though the game is a port (and it shows -- never once did I think the game could not have been run on a GameCube) it is still one of the most original titles I have played from Nintendo in a long while. Honestly, if you are looking for something different or just plain fun, this is one experience that you really should not pass up.