Through all of my experiences with RPGs, I have never found any series to be too similar to another I have played. And thankfully, I can say this for Paper Mario, Nintendo’s second attempt (with ingenius developers Intelligent Systems) at an RPG starring the red plumber. Whilst its battle system may not be as deep as other role-playing games, it more than makes up for it with its charming and colourful world, characters, and story.
Here’s a little bit of trivia for you: Paper Mario’s Japanese name is Mario Story, and this game certainly holds true to this name. Bowser is able to gain the power of the Star Rod, a fabled rod that has the power to grant all wishes, from the Star Spirits and uses it against his long-time nemesis. And so it is up to Mario to save both Princess Peach and the Mushroom Kingdom, by saving each of the seven Star Spirits, who are the only beings capable of negating the power of the Star Rod. Sure, this is nothing but a cute and charming tale that compliments the adventure to an amazing extent, but I found the fantastic and witty dialogue to steal the spotlight for Paper Mario. Aside from Mario, Luigi, Peach, and Bowser, all the characters you meet are all brand new. I felt that every one of Mario’s partners felt unique in their right in regards to their personality, and the constant stupidity of Bowser’s troops (and the secret diary he has at one point) kept a smile on my face throughout the game. In terms of actual story depth, you’re not finding the successor to Shakespeare here, yet I’d hard it hard to forgive you if you were to pass on a simply great script that will genuinely make you happy.
At its core, Paper Mario is an RPG, although there are some things it does differently. Your basic attacks comprise of a jump attack and using your hammer to bash foes, both of which are upgraded as the story goes on. Throughout your journey, you will meet up with various party members, where one at a time can join you in a battle, each with their own distinct traits. Goombario, for a start (as he is your first partner) can use his tattle ability to give the player some helpful advice regarding the fight at hand, like what they might be weak too, and even revealing their HP. Bombette, on the other hand, can simply bash into an enemy, or explode to affect everybody, par the hero, with good results. There is also the action command. This can involve hitting the A button at the right time, holding the joystick to the left and then releasing when the light turns green, or taking aim with a reticle, in order to increase the damage you are dealing. In a similar fashion, press the A button at the right time when being attacked to protect yourself a good bit. In addition to your RPG-standard HP, you also have FP, or Flower Points, which dictate how often you can use better moves (as in, a move costing 4 FP is likely to be more effective than one that costs 2 FP).
Badges are also a key role in combat, as they can enable certain abilities for the Italian plumber to use. There are some basic stuff, like one that increases your damage or defence, but then there are more unique and very useful powers, such as not having to spend a turn switching out a partner or being capable of jumping on spiked enemies. And like the moves that cost more FP, more effective badges will cost more Badge Points, or BP, so part of your strategy is deciding which ones to have in your arsenal at any given time. The Star Spirits also have differing abilities, and you unlock them one by one as you save one per chapter. Levelling up is done via gaining Star Points, with more coming from harder enemies. With every one-hundred of these you level up, granting you the chance to upgrade either your max HP, FP, or Badge Points.
Moving around is also a large part of the adventure. You will have to make use of your partners in order to solve puzzles or pass otherwise un-passable terrain. Engaging in battles is as simple as making contact with a bad guy, and jumping on them or whacking them with your hammer can give you a head-start in the fight ahead. Just watch out that they don’t do the same to you. Of course you can hold onto items, but disappointingly only 10 at a time. It was kind of frustrating when I ran out of Super Mushrooms to heal. Thankfully you can ‘check’ items at a shop, and pick them up when you have more room. The world is also quite big, and despite there being handy warp pipes down in the sewers of Toad Town (the main ‘hub’, if you will), it was often a pain getting to said pipes. Paper Mario does cement the battling system to some degree. I didn’t find there to be enough depth with the game, seeing as you can only get stronger in terms of power and defence when you gain new key items or use badges (although the badge points max out at 30), or come to special blocks that can move a selected party member to the next rank. In addition, having to deal with enemies was simply a matter of learning how fast their attacks can come, with the occasional status effect and the odd unique action command. However, the challenge comes with experimenting with what badges to use, who is the optimum partner for fighting, or when to use more powerful attacks.
It’s an Nintendo 64, so I won’t spend too long given that it simply can’t be compared to the graphically superior games of modern times. However, for a game from this era, it does like kind of pretty. Instead of characters made of various blocks and other polygons, the people in Paper Mario are paper (it is in the title after all). Every person, be it human, Toad, or Bowser, are flat sprites, as if they were cut out of a book. The landscape itself also continues this motif as houses look like cardboard boxes, and when you enter one it even unfolds so you can see what is going on inside. It’s cute little nods like this that make Paper Mario stand out from the rest of the N64’s library in terms of looks, and it doesn’t look too shabby either.
The soundtrack holds up well for Paper Mario. There’s this kind of childish, upbeat tone to the music, which adds to the picture-book vibe seen from the aesthetics. It really is the soundtrack to put you in good vibes, as this is a game that excels in doing so! I have taken a liking to the file select theme, wishing that one day I can whistle too.
Paper Mario is unquestionably a special RPG. Its battles may not be as fun as the typical role-playing, and there are some troubles I had in regards to traversing the big world. But it more than makes up for it with what makes this particular Mario spin-off so special, and I’m not talking about stupid badges. Throughout the adventure, I more often than not had some sort of smile on my face. And it is because of the quirky characters, the hilarious dialogue, and just how charming it is on the whole. This is a game where you have to go through every nook and cranny of a toy box, to solving a penguin murder mystery. Paper Mario holds up greatly thanks to its amazing charm and witty script, and that is why I am awarding it a 9/10. If you care more about battle mechanics in an RPG then you may have to look a bit more into it, but you’d have to be as stupid as one of Bowser’s goons to pass up a game that is full of charm and originality.
I played this game on the Wii U Virtual Console, but I’m sure it won’t matter where you play this game. If you don’t mind games starring this paper-thin plumber, then how about you check out my review of Mario and Luigi: Paper Jam for the 3DS. Albeit they are different, but who knows, you may enjoy the article at least!