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The wafer-thin moustached one returns, this time in an adventure that positively oozes nostalgia...
- Spiritual successor to the 2D classics.
- Highly innovative.
- Stylish visuals.
- Game freezing glitch in the PAL version.
- Hub area can plod.
- Doesn't take full advantage of Wii.
Originally announced for GameCube before shifting quietly onto Wii, Super Paper Mario is the latest title to feature the eponymous incarnation of Nintendo's mascot. The third Paper Mario title following the 2004 original and the 2005 sequel, Super Paper Mario sees the pint-sized hero try to save the entire universe from a monocle-wearing megalomaniac called Count Bleck. Having kidnapped Princess Peach (who surely must be hands down a prime candidate for developing Stockholm Syndrome), Bowser, and Luigi, kick-starting an age-old prophecy foretold in a book called the Dark Prognosticus that culminates with the destruction of the universe. Obviously, this isn't going to be allowed to happen without a fight but thankfully, Mario is on hand to do his duty for all Man - and Mushroom - kind. Waking up in another dimension called Flipside and commanded to seek the eight segments of the Pure Heart, the one object in the universe that could end Bleck's plans, Paper Mario heads off to fulfil his destiny...
An extended part of the Mario RPG series, which began on the SNES in 1996, Super Paper Mario is much more of a typical Mario adventure with RPG-lite elements than a true Role-Playing Game. Likely a bid to increase the accessibility of the series game (something of a trademark for Nintendo's Wii titles) Intelligent Systems has dropped the turn-based combat of past instalments. Instead, Super Paper Mario plays out much more like the classic 2D adventures of the plumber, with 'real-time' bottom bouncing aplenty. The key feature this time around is the ability to switch the action from 2D to 3D space, opening up the possibilities for the team at Intelligent Systems to be doubly creative this time around.
A sheer masterstroke on the part of Lead Designer Ryota Kawade, the ability for Mario to widen his view on the world (quite literally) throws the doors open for a whole new experience. Oozing innovation at every step in a way that the Mario titles have generally failed to produce in recent years, Super Paper Mario's main dynamic is a near-tangible breath of fresh air that doesn't get bogged down too much by the RPG-lite elements of the game. That said, it's with some irony considering the heritage of the Paper Mario series that the least compelling parts of the game are the sections played within the walls of Flipside. Away from stocking up on health replenishing 'Shroom Shakes and pushing the story forward, there's very little enjoyment to be found in the streets of the hub world - there's always a drive to get on with the adventure, and with good reason.
It's a testament to the team at Intelligent Systems that the complex process of designing and building whole worlds and puzzles in both 2D and 3D to create an immersive adventure has succeeded. Getting stuck in the bottom of a precipice whilst in 2D is all of a sudden rectified by flicking over to 3D, where the right-hand wall turns out to be made of stepping blocks - Super Paper Mario quite simply plays with perspective in a way that hasn't been done before. Enemies can be avoided by flicking over to 3D space, hidden blocks can be uncovered, and gaps in the gameworld can be found, making players think in a very different way to before.
Besides switching views, Super Paper Mario also challenges gamers with a number of puzzles that push the ol' synapses. Without spoiling it too much, one puzzle sees Mario break a precious vase in a castle, only to be told to pay off the debt and raise (cue Dr. Evil pinky to mouth)...one million rupees! Seriously, that's not a typo. So how does Mario collect rupees? By jumping underneath a box and generating electricity, one rupee at a time. Of course, jumping one million times isn't going to provide gamers with the most enthralling experience in history so there is another way...which is where this spoiler ends. Some of the more 'unusual' puzzles include trying to get some paper for somebody in a toilet, and finding a safe place to release a fish so Mario can use the fishbowl as a space helmet.
For the most part however, the puzzles rely on an added feature for Super Paper Mario - 'Pxls'. Joining Mario on his journey is Tippi, a Pxl fairy that amongst other things can turn invisible objects visible and provide a breakdown of an enemy's Health Points and skills. Not alone in the world, additional Pxls become unlocked as Mario continues on his quest, each with their own unique abilities that help crack the various environmental challenges along the way. From Boomer's explosive powers to Slim's prowess in narrowing the already paper-thin Mario to pass through slits in walls, or Thoreau's ability to pick up most objects and enemies in the world (reminiscent of Super Mario Bros 2 back in the day), the Pxls are as much at the heart of Super Paper Mario as the switching between 2D and 3D. Mario's party expands later in the game too, though revealing their identities will only spoil it...
Besides breaking the so-called 'fourth wall', with several references to the 'one watching us' or 'if we are being watched right now on a screen', not to mention a use of 'txt' shorthand at times and an entire world ruled by a lizard-geek, Super Paper Mario is full of clever nods, self-references, and homage. The Mega Star from New Super Mario Bros. makes a reprise, this time transforming the heroes into screen-high versions of their original Super Mario Bros. forms, together with enough flowers and mushrooms to keep any herbivore happy...though they don't make Mario throw flames or (ironically) become Super. The links to the past go as far as recreating the first underground level (1-2) from the 1985 Super Mario Bros., including the hidden coins and hidden warp pipes, and references to the number of Bowser's castles destroyed by Mario over the past twenty-two years. Super Paper Mario is filled with enough nods to make any veteran gamer tingle warmly with nostalgia.
However, there is one early instance where nostalgia whole-heartedly drops in favour of a high-pitched scream and a frozen screen, rectified only by restarting Wii...thank god for the regular save blocks. But is this glitch an issue with our copy of the game? Apparently not, as forum posts across the web have confirmed that the Level 2-2 freeze is a bug found in the PAL versions Super Paper Mario. It's a shame that such an issue has been identified in the retail releases (though hopefully it will be rectified in a future update). How it managed to pass through testing without being found is difficult to understand, since it occurs if the player follows Mimi the Maid's instructions...here's a hint to avoid it...pick up the key before you return to speak to her a second time.
Ultimately, Super Paper Mario is the true spiritual successor to 'old skool' Mario games from the late 1980s and early 1990s - the 'Super Mario Bros' era - far more than the likes of Galaxy, Sunshine, and even the lofty figure that is Mario 64. It's quite literally a classic piece of gaming.
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