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CONSOLE: Nintendo 64 DEVELOPER: Intelligent Systems PUBLISHER: Nintendo
RELEASE DATE (NA): February 5, 2001 GENRE: RPG
// review by SoyBomb

Cut from a different cloth... or sheet of paper.

It finally came. Nintendo 64 owners had been waiting for a decent RPG since its inception into millions of homes worldwide, and quite frankly, Quest 64 just wasn't cutting it. There aren't that many others, aside from Aidyn Chronicles: The First Mage and perhaps Ogre Battle 64. So when an RPG for a system bereft of RPGs shows up, you begin praising. And when it stars Mario and is a spiritual successor to Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars for SNES, you commence a rain dance. RPG fans were joyful, even if it wasn't quite the perfect journey I expected.

Paper Mario follows a relatively predictable storyline: Bowser, in his infinite wisdom, nabs the Star Rod and gains immeasurable power, which he uses to abduct not only Princess Peach, but the entire castle as well, hovering it high above all else overtop Bowser's own dank yet humble abode. Ensuring his efforts won't be easily foiled, he also has his loyal minions around the world hold captive the seven Star Spirits, who could, when combined, reverse his evil plan. So, leave it to Mario, who must once again take it upon himself to rescue the seven Star Spirits and save the Princess. Wait a minute... seven stars... isn't that the plot for Super Mario RPG? Considering this game was originally called "Super Mario RPG 2", I'm not surprised. I am, however, disappointed in such a similarity as well. They could've at least made it EIGHT stars. Even the game's ending is too reminiscent

The similarities don't even there, though. Basic gameplay is quite similar, which is to be expected (and appreciated -- Super Mario RPG was pretty impressive in its own rite). Your journey as the infamous Mario will take you all over the various regions of the Mushroom Kingdom (which seem to change with every game), interacting with non-playable characters to find out more about where the Star Spirits are hidden. As is natural in most RPGs, there are towns to visit with shops and other amusing novelties (though I personally never found major use for items). You can even collect Star Pieces (not unlike Frog Coins from Super Mario RPG) to buy items from a single specialty shop. Much of your time will be devoted to the intricacies of Toad Town, the central village and gateway to the Princess' castle. It is from here where you will be able to access most other areas, both via pathways outward and through the maze-like underground pipeways. In regular "non-battle" mode, you can also hop around, spin a short distance, and use your hammer when the mood strikes. You'll also need to get around in dungeons, castles, and the like in search of the missing Star Spirits, locating keys for locked doors, snagging integral items and the like. The puzzles in navigating your way through are very simple to unfurl, requiring only minute amounts of thought. This is no brain tickler.

In between rescue missions of Star Sprites, we get to see the adventures -- or should I say, misadventures -- or should I say, Miss adventures -- of that delicate femme royale, Princess Peach. Not only do we get to watch, we get to control Peach as she sneaks through the castle in search of clues for where the next Star Sprite is being held captive. Then the apprentice star, Twink (great name, by the way), can deliver the news, usually after the Princess is carried back to her room over and over. I must ask, though: is Bowser really that stupid? The Princess keeps getting out and the only punishment she gets is being carried back to her room... only to escape AGAIN later! He must not be that concerned about some woman trying to help save the world. What a chauvinist! Playing as the Princess at first is interesting, but after the third or fourth excursion, I found myself dreading the royal interludes, praying they would end quickly and I could return to Mario's side for more jumping action.

But this wouldn't be an RPG proper without a little conflict, and that's where battles come into play. Yes, it doesn't take a genius to figure out that most peculiar areas of the Mushroom Kingdom have been overrun with nasty monsters, so naturally, Mario's going to have to take down more than a few angry foes. When encountering an enemy, the game switches to a separate battle mode where each party dukes it out. Using primarily Mario's legendary jumping skills and the smacks of his trusty hammer, you will go toe-to-toe with a variety of enemies, each with their own attack style and weakness. And, as with Super Mario RPG, accuracy is the key: when you attack or defend, by pressing the "A" button at just the right time will cause a bonus hit or better defense against enemy attacks. Good reflexes are needed; I also found that, after stopping for the evening, I had poor timing the next day. You may need a bit of time to ease into the rhythm. Mario can also equip additional attacks that use up Flower Points. Enemies you encounter, in general, aren't terribly unique (mostly re-uses of classic Mario baddies), while most bosses are at least somewhat creative. (Such is the case with townsfolk as well, all of which are ripped from Mario games past.) I do find fault, however, that boss battles, for the most part, don't have an epic feel, aside from the final battle against (dare I spoil it?) Bowser.


In addition to Mario's jumping and... um... hammering skills, Paper Mario is eventually given a Star Gauge, filled with -- naturally -- Star Energy! With this, you can use the abilities donned upon you by each Star Spirit you rescue, such as solid healing skills and lulling your enemies to sleep. The energy gauge raises a tiny bit every time Mario has a turn, but by using the special skill, Focus, you can jack it up faster at the expense of any other action. I used the healing skill, Refresh, more often than anything else. It's good to have.

To build up your skills in any RPG, you need to level up, typically via experience points. Paper Mario takes a slightly different approach. Enemies drop Star Points, and for every 100 you collect, you get to level up (and choose an upgrade of Health Points, Flower Points, or Badge Points). This is fine, although as you increase in level, enemies give you gradually fewer and fewer points until, after a few level ups, they give you nothing. Nothing at all. Zippo. If they didn't also drop coinage after every battle, I'd say that fighting weaker enemies is absolutely worthless. Actually, it probably still is because it's so relatively time-consuming and unrewarding. To further enhance our plumber in red, Mario can equip badges, the number of which is dependent on how many Badge Points he has available to use (increased by levelling up). Badges can provide special moves, increases in defensive/offensive power, and more. You can even get badges to change certain sound effects! How useful!

Thankfully, Mario is not alone in his quest for justice. Although it's a bit sad that there is no real "party" to build up, you can have at least have an auxiliary character in battle to aid you. Over the course of Mario's journey, he will meet up with eight different characters who will join your party and provide necessary assistance to survive all the hardships ahead. Aside from their usefulness as backup in battle, every character has a special skill in the field. The Paratroopa, Parakarry, can lift Mario and fly him short distances across platforms that are too far to jump; the trendy Bob-omb girl, Bombette, can blast open cracked walls; the Cheep-Cheep, Sushie, can help you traverse water. Over time, when you find special upgrading boxes, their battle skills and power can be improved.

Paper Mario seems to pride itself on its visual style. All the characters have been created as two-dimensional beings in paper form, flipping around when turning in a different direction. It's also neat to see, when Mario enters a building, the walls fold down so you can see inside (and back up afterward). It's not really a functional choice, as this new style doesn't actually affect the gameplay in any discernible way. And you ARE actually walking around in three-dimensional environments, so it's really only the individuals that are made of paper. The 2D sprites also cause other problems, particularly when we are zoomed in on them: they look like pixel hell. They were clearly drawn small, then enlarged during various close-ups, revealing exactly why we should keep our distance. This aspect doesn't severely deteriorate the experience, but it's technically unpleasant. And, sadly, Mario's facial expressions aren't as pronounced or numerous this time around. I was looking forward to that.

As for the music of Paper Mario, it's bland. That's all I can say to describe this. Whereas Super Mario RPG had a vibrant array of tunes, Paper Mario's soundtrack appears as though it was yanked from a muzak bank. The instrumentation is dry and the tunes are mostly forgettable, save for the few that you hear frequently throughout the game. This is such a disappointment as well. Sound effects are just as flawed in that there are so few of them, and what's there is horribly generic, pulled from the most dull of sound effects compilation discs. All in all, though I complain, the sound is far from awful. It just doesn't suit a game of the "Mario" series, and its audio will never be remembered in the Nintendo history books.

Paper Mario is far from the masterpiece I would have hoped for, but it's still a top game for the Nintendo 64. The game is of a decent length and is definitely more suited for beginners than the hardcore RPG gamer; there isn't a major challenge with this one. It's not cool that, once again, Luigi was shoved to the wayside in this adventure, but at least he is present and can say things (often begging to come along and being rejected for no reason). All in all, it's definitely a fun journey overall with a unique presentation style that is pretty much there only for presentation's sake. Still, find yourself a copy via used game shops or on the Wii's Virtual Console and you'll get some of that sweet Mario charm.

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