RPG Review #64: Paper Mario

NuMetalManiak Yes indeed, this is the 64th review, and I had to make it special somehow by picking a Nintendo 64 game. Sadly, this console was definitely not a big one as far as RPGs are concerned, although nearly every other genre got covered quite well on the Nintendo 64, from racing games (Mario Kart 64), to fighting games (Smash Bros), to shooters (Turok and Goldeneye), to platformers (Mario 64), to Ocarina of Time. Paper Mario was a game that stood out, an RPG developed by Intelligent Systems and produced by none other than Miyamoto himself. It was the second RPG game involving the red plumber, right after Super Mario RPG for the SNES, and it eventually became its own entire franchise for further Nintendo consoles. The game pits every character as 2D in a generally 3D world, with Mario-style progression through chapters and turn-based combat.

Gameplay: The overall feel of Paper Mario is comparable to the traditional RPG mantra, turn-based attacking, but this time with Mario's main assets. So expect the trademark jump and the trusty hammer in both battle and even out in the field. While characters are in paper (2D), the environments, as mentioned, are 3D, and Mario navigates as such. There's stuff to hit with Mario's jump and hammer, including trademark blocks and switches. Mario also gets partners in his journey, no, not Luigi this time, but some characters who are actually friendly members of the general Mario game bestiary. Each one has their own abilities both in the field and in combat both of which can be proven useful.

So combat. Being turn-based, it basically is what to expect from most, Mario and his partner attack, then enemy. Of course, this being a Mario game, the action command will emphasize combat greatly. In fact, Paper Mario was the game to actually coin the term "action command". It is used to enhance attacks when Mario or partner is attacking, and then doing the same for defending attacks. Sadly, defending only mitigates damage. I preferred being able to dodge attacks with the action command, much like how it was used in the Mario & Luigi games. There's HP, FP, BP, and Star Power. HP is already known. FP is for special moves. BP is actually Badge Points, in which Mario can accumulate points in order to pin certain badges, which of course, are augments to his combat abilities. Each of these three can be raised upon a level-up. Star Power are given for storyline completion, as Mario gains them after rescuing star spirits, and using Star abilities uses Star Power. They have marginal usage mostly. On the subject of leveling up, this game awards Star Points for defeating monsters, but a high-leveled Mario will not be able to get lots of points for defeating a much weaker enemy, which nullifies grinding. Note that Mario gets most of the damage, and he must be kept alive. His partners generally won't worry about attacks most of the time, but some can injure them.

The game in general will take about 20 or so hours, it's not particularly long nor is it hard. It has plenty of minigames, puzzles, and sidequests, but they also aren't hard to get the gist of. All shops in the game, in addition to buy/sell, can store in Mario's items, which is definitely useful considering Mario's absolutely horrible item limit of only 10. Mario also gets upgrades to both his hammer and jump boots, boosting both power and efficiency. And due to the layout of the plot, the game takes place in chapters. The intermissions in this game are quite interesting. This is because, yes, Peach is kidnapped, but the intermissions allow the player to control her for some time to gather information. All in all, Paper Mario is a mostly fun game to play. Grade: A-

Characters: Won't be going into much detail as far as our timeless Mario characters go. Everyone knows Mario, Peach, Bowser, Luigi, Yoshi, the enemies, already. What we do know is that Mario is a fully silent protagonist, never talking not even once, unlike the gibberish talk that happened in Mario & Luigi games every once in a while there. Notably, Luigi actually talks in this game, despite his incredibly minor role. I will be describing Mario's companions here, all of which are members of the enemy species in the game, but friendly enough to help Mario on his quest. Each of these partners can be upgraded a rank by the way of Super Blocks, giving them more power and abilities.

Goombario: You can tell who this Goomba idolizes by his name. He's a talkative character, with his tattle ability used in the field and in battle for gathering information. His higher-rank moves can be for stronger offense too.
Kooper: A wannabe Koopa Troopa explorer who journeys with Mario. He uses his blue shell to fling himself at enemies in combat, and can be used on the field to hit distant switches.
Bombette: A pink Bob-omb with the power of explosion, a purely offensive character.
Parakarry: The first party member actually seen, but the fourth to join. A Paratroopa who works as a postman but helps Mario out in return. Has some great offensive capabilities too and can help Mario across bigger gaps.
Bow: Lady Bow of the Boos joins to help Mario with a certain enemy, and sticks around afterwards. She can turn Mario invisible to protect against outsiders, and in battle, she's mostly utility-based, but has some decent offensive capabilities provided the enemy lacks defensive ones.
Watt: A Li'l Sparky Mario frees, she is used to light up dark places and even reveal invisible blocks. Her abilities range from paralyzing foes to piercing enemy defenses to buffing Mario's attack power.
Sushie: Obviously, this Cheep Cheep is for swimming purposes, but has some powerful offensive water-based moves useful as soon as you get her. She also has a defense buff.
Lakilester: Goes by Spike and fights Mario at first, but decides to help out. Mario can ride on his cloud to traverse dangerous areas, but in combat his abilities fall behind others especially considering how late he joins.

Aside from those, plenty of NPCs in the game, as well as Bowser and each chapter villain will strike as memorable. This game sure had lots of characterization, which was a huge plus. Grade: A+

Plot: This game is set up like a book, with chapters and such. Quite fun.

Prologue: A Plea from the Stars: Like any story, it starts with a prologue. Set up like Mario 64, Peach invites Mario (and Luigi too) to the castle as usual. And, as usual, Bowser comes up to spoil the fun, but he has stolen the Star Rod. While you'd think this would be a Kirby thing, it's its own thing here. He makes himself completely invincible with the Star Rod and totally defeats Mario, and in the meantime, Peach's castle is blown sky high, with Bowser's castle directly underneath it! And it's our floating fortress done. Meanwhile, Mario awakens near Goomba village, where the friendly Goomba's help him out and he gets a hammer. He also meets the recurring boss, Jr. Troopa, an eggshell of an enemy who attack Mario multiple times. Goombario joins with Mario and helps him against the red and blue Goombas and the Goomba King as Mario makes his way back to Toad Town. The prologue isn't over yet, as Mario is instructed to reach Shooting Star Summit and is tasked with rescuing the 7 Star Spirits. Meanwhile, Peach sees Twink, a Star kid who helps her and Mario out, while Bowser tasks the Koopa Bros. into guarding a Star Spirit.

Chapter 1: Storming Koopa Bros. Fortress: This chapter is pretty much exactly what it says, but Mario does more than that. In this chapter, Mario helps Koopa village of a fuzzy problem, and Kooper joins. Mario then goes to the fortress going through his inhabitants, and finding Bombette as well. The four Koopa Bros. are quite hilarious in their efforts to undermine Mario, including a Bowser robot and a team attack, but are ultimately no match for Mario who rescues the first Star Spirit, Eldstar. Meanwhile, Peach reads Bowsers diary (he has one?) and Twink relays information to Mario then.

Chapter 2: The Mystery of Dry Dry Ruins: Yep, Chapter 2 is the desert chapter. Mario first journeys to a mountain, then helps Parakarry find the missing letters. Then he joins. The desert itself is vast, and Mario gets a clue for the Dry Dry Ruins from Moustafa (a Little Mouser). After finding him, he gets excessive warnings from the king denizen, only to find it to be an enhanced Koopa known as Tutankoopa. Upon defeat, his Chomp chases him away, and Mario gets Mamar, the second Star Spirit. Meanwhile, Peach eavesdrops on a conversation for a clue for Mario.

Chapter 3: The "Invincible" Tubba Blubba: The Toad guarding the way to Forever Forest got spooked by a Boo, and Mario follows, into the game's version of the Lost Woods and to Boo's Mansion. The Boos are mischievous, yet friendly, and Lady Bow joins with Mario to fight against Tubba Blubba. Only problem, he eats Boos and is exactly as his name suggests, invincible. Therefore, Mario finds the reason he's invincible, his heart controls the monster itself, but when reunited, the monster and heart are both weak and easy to take down and Mario gets Skolar, the third Star Spirit. Meanwhile, Bowser questions Peach on what Mario hates, and the player can game this to Mario's favor.

Chapter 4: Trials in the Toy Box: Toad Town is in chaos as the mischievous Shy Guys are stealing things and being nuisances. Mario then finds the hideout of the Shy Guys, and goes back and forth between that place and Toad Town figuring out clues and such. He also frees Watt from a Big Lantern Ghost. Then he fights the whole Shy Guy squadron, led by General Guy in one of the shortest chapters in the game. Mario then wins Muskular, the fourth Star Spirit. Meanwhile, Gourmet Guy, an extremely fat Shy Guy, wants cake in Peach's Castle, and Peach actually has to bake one in order to get more information.

Chapter 5: Hot Hot Times on Lavalava Island: The way to this chapter is accompanied by a whale and the reknown explorer Prof. Kolorado, an expeditionary wanting to go to the tropical paradise and see the volcano. The Yoshi's in this game are all in here, and when five kids get lost in the jungle, Mario has to find them. He also recruits Sushie as a partner, and eventually gets some help for the volcano from...Raphael the Raven? Yes, that big bird is here too, as a friendly character as well. Inside the volcano, Mario searches for the Star Spirit, while Kolorado is in for treasure. Mario fights the Lava Piranha at the end, and the volcano blows, but Misstar, the fifth Star Spirit, saves them. Meanwhile, Peach for some reason is thrown into a gameshow and wins a prize.

Chapter 6: Dark Days in Flower Fields: By getting Magical Seeds, Mario can enter Flower Fields, which would normally be a sunny place, but the clouds are rolling in and the flowers are not happy. Mario helps out every individual flower, and also runs into Lakilester, going by Spike and working for Huff N. Puff. His girlfriend begs Mario to spare him and he ends up joining Mario in ruining Huff N. Puff's plans. Mario then gets the sixth Star Spirit, Klevar. Meanwhile, Peach is using her game show prize as a better means to sneak around her castle, but doesn't get very far.

Chapter 7: A Star Spirit on Ice: Yep, the ice world. Mario goes here on behest of Starborn Valley, but beforehand he is locked into a penguin murder mystery of sorts. Turns out the murdered one isn't actually dead though, so everything's fine. Mario journeys through Crystal Palace, with all sorts of slippery tricks and traps, and eventually reaches the Crystal King, who serves as the final guardian for the final Star Spirit, Kalmar.

Chapter 8: A Star-Powered Showdown: With the power of the Star Spirits, Mario can now take on Bowser. He gets the special Star Beam which can negate Bowser's Star Rod, then goes through his castle and Peach's castle to confront him. Unbeknownst to Mario, he falls into the trap that Kammy has set up, a platform further amplifying the Star Rod's power. But thanks to Twink and Peach's wishes, the Star Beam becomes the Peach Beam, and with it, Bowser will, of course, ultimately fall. The epilogue of the game actually plays out like the prologue, where Mario is invited to the castle again. I especially like the way this game was layed out, very well done. Grade: A

Music: Much like the Mario & Luigi games, the soundtrack is mostly unique, although from time to time there are the familiar Mario jingles. Many of the games tracks can be fun, especially the unique boss themes. The grassfield theme isn't a favorite of mine though, nor are the more ambient tunes that accompany creepy locations in general, because these themes are hard to hear. And I do get tired of town themes too. Grade: B-

Overall Grade: A-

A lot of fun can be had in the original Paper Mario, as it provides some decent gameplay, plot, and characters to the mix, and the music quite nice too. The whole feel of it is easygoing enough for the younger, inexperienced RPG gamer to get used to, and an experienced RPG enthusiast like myself can breeze through it quickly. The Nintendo 64 sure had some amazing games, but compared to the ones that are often considered the best, this one never got the same amount of popularity.