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I’ve always been a fan of the original Super Mario games. Super Mario Brothers and SMB3 are a couple of my favorite video games ever — fun, and occasionally maddening. I only got GOOD at them when I started playing them with an NES emulator that had a save function, but even when I was playing them on the original console and constantly falling into pits, I was having fun.
So, it was basically a given that the first game I bought when I got a Wii was Super Paper Mario. I hadn’t played any of the other games in the Paper Mario series, though I understand that they’re RPG games rather than platforms. SPM attempts to combine the two styles of game. In a way, this is perhaps the only flaw; I’m not a real RPG fan, so I found the excessive chatter between characters annoying (particularly in the opening sequence where it seemingly lasts for 5 minutes without any actual gameplay aside from hitting “2” to speed through the non-skippable text as fast as you can), and I’m not sure if an RPG fan would find the game satisfying, since the RPG elements are superficial. Luckily, this is a minor complaint (at least standing where I do on the RPG v. Platform divide) as the platform part is really, really fun.
The story is that you’ve got to save all worlds by visiting 8 of them to retrieve “pure hearts”. The actual plotline is much, much more in depth than that, but considering the first games were “Bowser has kidnapped the princess; help her” WITHOUT any other backstory, well, that’s enough for me. The conceit of the 8 different worlds is pretty interesting, though and allows a lot of fun. There’re loads of references to earlier games, including one level which is World 1-2 from the original Super Mario Brothers, INCLUDING the “secret” warp place. It’s a twist to make you smile, but it reminds you that those early games WERE great and still hold up.
Another great feature is that when you beat the game, you STILL get to wander around the worlds and play mini-games and, well, just explore and try to get different abilities, and, well, just wander around. There are many secrets — some of which you can’t get to until much later in the game. If I were to start over, I might end up going back through all the levels with the complete party before visiting world 8.
Speaking of the party — that’s one of the good things carried over from the game’s RPG origins; you start as Mario, picking up Princess Peach, Bowser and Luigi as the game progresses, each with their own special abilities. Peach and Luigi’s are the same as SMB2 (I’ve always found it interesting how that game seemed to contribute so much to the Mario-mythology, even though it wasn’t even a real Mario game), and Bowser’s up to his standard flame-throwing as you’d expect having played SMB and SMB3. In addition, the “Pixls” give you other abilities as well. Sometimes it seems that you have to switch for switching’s sake, but usually it’s presented as a puzzle that you’ve got to solve.
As many platforms, the game is basically just a matter of going forward, which can be sometimes unexciting — particularly since you’ve got so many hit points you’re almost invincible — but on the other hand, there aren’t any puzzles where if you didn’t get something in World 1, you’ve got to restart the entire game at World 8. As an aside, I’ve always HATED games that did that — Sierra seemed to be a huge offender in this case; I love the lateral thinking involved in the old Sierra games, and I like the idea of needing to grab something you wouldn’t expect to progress later — perhaps that’s just my packrat nature, clinging to the idea of “Hey, you’ll never know when you’ll need it!” — though it shouldn’t be a situation where it’s IMPOSSIBLE to go back and get it. A pain, sure — but I shouldn’t have to restart the game back to the very beginning.
The most endearing aspect of the game is that it’s so whimsical. Even though the fate of an infinite number of worlds is at stake, there’s still time to make old-school Nintendo jokes, or, well, indulge in the designers’ apparent moustache fetish. There’s no time limit — which gives the game a leisurely, relaxing pace. It’s a great game to unwind to, but not so sedative that you don’t care to play it. I couldn’t hardly wait until my next gaming session to finish the game, and now that the story’s over, I still like to go back to it and tool around. The chattiness is a small price to play for such a well-made, fun game.