Super Paper Mario (Wii) review
"The lack of challenge is the game’s biggest issue, but it opens the playing field to people looking for a more casual experience. "
The stage is set. The bride, resplendent in her white dress, looks dreamily across the altar at her groom. With a little coerc- err, convincing from the other attendees, she speaks the words that will bind them together forever. But wait a second! Bowser’s not supposed to get the girl.. is he?
Well, it seems the answer to that is a resounding NO! In fact, the idea is so perverse, Bowser and Peach’s wedding has actually rent the fabric of the universe! So of course, Mario is called upon to play the role of hero for the umpteenth time, saving the "newlyweds" and everyone else in the process.
Thus begins the third installment of the Paper Mario franchise, the first game in the series for the Wii. Like the opening sequence, Super Paper Mario approaches the franchise from a different angle. While the original game (and its sequel, The Thousand Year Door) were RPGs, this iteration is a platformer with RPG elements.
In a nod to the older Super Mario games, there are 8 worlds to conquer with 4 stages per world. The stages are 2D and relatively linear; however, early on Mario obtains the ability to flip into 3D. This allows you to bypass obstacles previously insurmountable, as well as find hidden enemies, paths, and treasure.
Eventually Peach, Bowser, and Luigi join you as playable characters. Switching between the four characters allows access to each of their unique abilities, which frankly, vary little from other Mario games. Peach can float or use her umbrella to completely deflect damage, Bowser breathes flame and is super strong (but super slow too!), and Luigi jumps extremely high, but has little control when he lands. I found myself sticking to Bowser just because he was able to defeat enemies faster and from further away. I also relied heavily on Peach to completely nullify damage, leaving Mario and Luigi for use only when absolutely necessary.
Mario’s party also gets assistance from creatures known as Pixls. These creatures are living, geometric line drawings with a wide range of uses - from becoming a bomb that lets you clear rubble out of the way to a platform that lets you traverse spikes without fear of damage. Yet another one, Tippi, serves as a guide and cannot be switched out. Pointing the remote at the screen lets her search out hidden items, doors, and platforms. She also provides information about on-screen objects when aimed at them, including tips on enemy weaknesses.
Experience is gained by defeating enemies and is displayed at the top of the screen as a traditional score. Extra points can be earned by wiggling, shaking, and otherwise manipulating the remote as you bounce off an enemy. But not all enemies can be defeated by a simple stomp on the head.
Discovering the hidden method to defeating enemies is one of the more interesting and enjoyable aspects of the game. The variety of enemies adds a little more flavor to the basic "jump-stomp-move on" pattern that is so familiar. Some of them have spiked hats or armor. Some can only be stunned for a time. Others need special techniques that are not immediately obvious. A perfect example (and a personal favorite) is a giant eye named, unsurprisingly, Mr. I. Jumping on it, breathing fire at it, and bombing it did no good. The only way to defeat it is to flip into 3D and run circles around it - definitely a first for the series. Boss battles, while not particularly difficult, are still centered around exploiting the unique weaknesses of each.
Unfortunately, there is little challenge to the main game. It can be finished in 20-25 hours or less, and rarely will the Game Over screen be seen (unless of course you venture into an area with no healing items). However, for people who want to invest a little more time into the game, there are quite a few sidequests and things to collect.
Three optional areas are available as well; the Pit of 100 Trials in Flipside, the Pit of 100 Trials in Flopside, and King Sammer’s kingdom. The former two are available after a certain point in the main game (and are great places to level up if you’re so inclined), and the latter is available as a post-end game challenge. For a person who has to have 100% this can be a bit of a nightmare though since some of the cards and items are very rare.
The sense of humor that has always been a staple of the series remains intact. From a stage lampooning dating simulators to Dyllis’s invitation to "spank" the flavor out of her cooking, there are many giggle (and groan) worthy moments in the game. Nostalgia rears its head when an invincibility star turns your character into a giant version of their 8-bit counterpart, literally smashing everything in their way.
At the beginning, I was not certain how comfortable it would be to hold the remote like that, or how effective the limited motion controls would be. But holding the Wii remote on its side quickly begins to feel natural, and the controls are very well-executed. Although pointing the remote and shaking it occasionally feels gimmicky, it doesn’t detract from the fun to be had.
However, there is no way to switch between either characters or Pixls on the fly. Even though there is technically a shortcut to opening the menu, you still have to scroll to the correct menu and select the option from there, so the shortcut saves all of two seconds. I got annoyed with the menus very fast, especially when required to switch quickly from one character to another.
Inventory capacity is limited to ten items, with the store being able to hold 30 more for you. While this is in line with the other games in the series, it actually feels like a cheap way to increase the difficulty level in some areas. The optional areas do not allow you to leave and return to the same spot, so if you run out of healing items and you exit the area you have to start all over again at the beginning. And since each of the three areas consists of 100 mini stages (100 rooms each to the Pits, 100 straight battles in King Sammer’s kingdom) it is easy to quickly become overwhelmed and frustrated.
Overall, this is a very solid game. Colorful graphics, interesting characters, and occasionally catchy music add a certain charm that makes the game fun to play. I found myself laughing hysterically during quite a few scenes, and obsessively trying to collect just one more character card or treasure map before shelving it and moving on. The lack of challenge is the game’s biggest issue, but it opens the playing field to people looking for a more casual experience.
Staff review by Danyal Vierheller (May 01, 2008)
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