8.8

Paper Mario review
Paper Mario (Nintendo 64 Review)

The good:

Exceptional plot & environments to explore
“Partners” bring a breath of fresh air to the RPG genre
Effective turn based combat system
Items, Badges, and Abilities bring a sense of variety to the game
2D Visuals on a 3D system provide a new look to Mario and company
Impressive musical scores

The bad:

Too much dialogue at times
Not as difficult as other Mario games
Visuals are not for everyone

Summary:



In the year of 1996, the Nintendo 64 produced one of the most revolutionary games of all time. Super Mario 64 created standards for Mario games that could never be replicated, even with the most valiant of efforts. Six years in the future, gamers were introduced to a 2D version of Mario that looked like it arrived straight out of a picture book, or perhaps one of those doodles you were drawing in 5th grade math class. By the time Paper Mario was released, Mario was starting to become a saturated, but continuously successful product. Mario & company were golfing, playing tennis, and hitting dice blocks on cakes for what seemed to be an eternity. What could the Mario series bring to the table that could possibly stand on its own as a unique title, yet still look up to the standards that the predecessors have established?

This is where Paper Mario 64 comes in, an impressive plunge into a world never really seen before. A colorful, 2D environment coupled with a flat looking Mario that looked straight from the musings of a childhood artist. Gone were the 3D landscapes that graced Peach’s castle in Super Mario 64. At first, it seemed like a step in the wrong direction, a Mario title that seems a bit too different, a bit too kid friendly. This statement could not be any more incorrect, as the 2D environment fits perfectly into Toad Town and the other landscapes of Mario’s adventure. The new visuals and dynamics of the game make it appealing to children, while the various customization and familiar plot make it a must have for any N64 owner, regardless of their age. While Paper Mario cannot reach the pinnacle of success that Super Mario 64 created, it gets about 3/4th of the way there.

Plot
If the box art wasn’t enough to show that this isn’t your typical RPG, that not so subliminal fact will become obvious of how Paper Mario 64 begins. Mario receives a letter from the castle (sounds familiar enough…for now.) asking him to come to a celebration. As Mario makes his way to the castle, he gets a first glimpse of Toad Town, a hub of activity that seems to be the void of the usual disaster we’re used to experiencing. For once, there’s no indication of Bowser for the first few minutes, a rare sight to say the least. This lack of peril will only last so long however, as the Koopa King barges in uninvited with a new scheme. There’s no tutorial, no beginning stage this time around. Mario is tossed into battle totally unaware of the mess he’s getting himself into. To summarize, he loses to Bowser without giving up much of a fight, causing him to faint while the castle itself begins to shoot up into the sky. We see the plot arrive in full swing during one of Mario’s dreams. Bowser has locked away the seven stars, sage like figures that control the heavens and allow wishes to come true. The star rod, a main source of power for the stars, has been taken over by Bowser and used to make him virtually invincible. With this in mind, Mario sets out on a new adventure that will require plenty of help along the way. Snow, lava, and arid regions are just several of the many elements found within the game. Mario's adventure progresses through “chapters”, concluding only when he defeats the world's main boss. Overall, the plot is simple enough to pick up and play, but carries enough variety to keep interest at its peak. With the many landscapes to experience, this game never really becomes tedious due to the ever changing worlds. The mansions and structures of these worlds contain many traps, enemies, and rewards to make exploring an enjoyable RPG experience. Bosses range in size and personality, resulting in suspenseful boss fights with unpredictable outcomes. By facing these bosses and enemies, Mario will gain star points in order to level up. Choices are constant in this game and require a more strategic approach to the game. (Health Points, “Flower Points”, and Badge Points can be increased, each with their own positives and negative.) The plot is simple, yet engaging. Those familiar with the Mario series will pick up on the familiar formula seen throughout the game, while those new to the series will be pleasantly surprised by the intriguing plot and storyline.


Game Play
It should be noted that Paper Mario 64 is not the first time Mario arrived in an RPG game. Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars in 1996 was the first Mario game to be in RPG format, relying on several of the elements seen in Paper Mario (Team mates were integrated into this SNES classic first, not Paper Mario) However, Mario’s hybrid adventure relies on game play mechanics that are unfamiliar to pretty much everyone without direct experience to that title produced decades ago. For one, Paper Mario 64 relies on turn based combat when defeating enemies and bosses, something that can leave fans a bit skeptical on such a new way of fighting. Mario has multiple options when fighting, ranging from fighting, using an item to increase his stats, and in the worst case scenario, fleeing to escape that not so desirable game over. The use of item adds a whole new perspective to the game, as they can be cooked and mixed to create a far more superior item to carry along your travels. The seven stars will also provide an edge in battle as well. By collecting one by one, Mario gains special abilities, which range from freezing enemies in time to hurling stars straight into the ground to deal a heavy amount of damage. Game play wise, the many options and decisions may take some getting used to in the games’ beginning stages. After the first world, turn based combat in a Mario game doesn’t sound so twisted.

Mario will have to use his surroundings to succeed in this battle system



Partners?
With the excess of Mario titles available for the Nintendo 64, a relatively unique concept is crucial to keep the series from becoming saturated and forced. An incredibly positive factor in Paper Mario is the introduction of partners into Mario’s adventure. (it’s about time he had some sort of help, right? Varying in color, personality, and battle style, partners change the very way you go about battles, turning a simple looking mechanism into a complex feat that demands strategy, focus, and a keen sense on which partner will help in which battle. Your first partner, Goombario, resembles that of a small child meeting his role model for the very first time. While inexperienced, his ability to inform Mario of enemies and landscapes will be a constant help when one is stuck with nowhere else to go. Partners will assist Mario in swimming, flying, and vanishing in the most crucial of times, bringing a piece to the Mario series never truly seen before. As the game progresses, partners can be updated to create attacks that practically turn the tide of battle into your favor. Regardless of preference, there will be at least two or three partners you’ll use constantly, and that’s half the fun of the game. Sidekicks bring about a dynamic to Paper Mario that doesn’t feel forced, but crucial in surviving many of the more difficult worlds.

Partners are used for much more than a fighting sidekick. They’ll assist Mario in out of combat obstacles too



Customizing!
Where would a superior RPG be without options to make your character stronger, faster, and an exceptional amount of new abilities? Thankfully, Paper Mario 64 doesn’t seem to forget this rite of passage. Okay, so maybe you’re not going to get a new suit or some shining weapon. Instead, Paper Mario 64 focuses on the use of badges to assist Mario in combat and traveling. “Badge Points” make their first appearance in the Mario series, and serve as a catalyst other players will be more than willing to embrace. Certain badges will require “x” amount of points to wear, demanding the player to turn their attention to other things then simply increasing HP at every opportunity. Without badges, the game becomes a tedious style of generic jump moves and an overall lack of creativity. There are tons of badges to acquire, whether by purchase, visions, of by complete accident. “Star Points” can also be traded in for rare badges, turning the game into a frantic scavenger hunt in the most remote of regions. Multibounce, Quake Hammer, and “I Spy” are just several of the many options you’ll have to choose them, each with their own distinct powers. Badges provide a whole new dimension to a game all ready comprised of multi side quests and customization options that will be sure to keep anyone entertained.

Like being on the more cautious side? There’s a badge for that.



Visuals
After the 3D masterpiece that was Super Mario 64, fans were presumably eager to see another visually impressive Mario RPG. What they received was different, but nothing to scold at either. If the title hasn’t given it away yet, Paper Mario 64 combines a 2D Mario and throws him into a world that can’t seem to make up its mind. The landscapes and objects within the game are certainly 3D, while the characters and citizens interacting in them are flat, 2D illustrations that would make most artists. Despite this hybrid of visuals, it works incredibly well with this game, so much that you cannot truly envision what the game would look like without it. Paper is made of the bridges you walk, the bosses you face, and the stars you eventually ascend into the heavens with. This unique visual representation creates a charming, colorful game that will appeal to any Mario fan regardless of age. Sure, it’s nothing breath taking, but it does offer a fresh glimpse into a character that is used to seeing that same old spotlight. Even if you’re not a fan of the simple looking visuals, you’d have to admit that they stayed true to the title.


Audio
As far as music goes, the scores the surrounding the Mario series haven’t been really regarded as anything overly spectacular. What is apparent is that the music has always blended into the game in perfect fashion. The music in Paper Mario 64 is often fast paced, erratic, and at times extremely catchy. This is a game that offers no rest in plot, visuals, or audio. The addicting tune of Toad Town is blended in with not so generic quirks and beats to make anyone stop what they’re doing, press pause, and take a few seconds to listen to the contagious music that Yuka Tsujiyoko has produced. The musical scores have the ability to give off an aura of tranquility, to a moment of suspense and eeriness to a matter of seconds, and that’s what makes it such an enjoyable experience. As stated before, you’re not going to find the next orchestral masterpiece in this game, but you will find a plethora of tunes that resonate clearly throughout many worlds and battles.

Flaws
Despite a variety of side quests and options to customize, the game never really puts these rewards into complete use. The game can be very easy with little to no strategy necessary for this first 60% of the game. Players are not truly challenged until the last few worlds, and even that’s a stretch in some cases. Strong AI is uncommon in this game, as most enemies and bosses have two to three moves that are easily avoidable. An excess of dialogue diminishes the overall quality of the game as well, RPG’s are known to have an awful lot of talking, but Paper Mario has enough to become very annoying quickly. Every citizen has something different to say, which carries a high amount of interest for the first 20 minutes of the game. The constant filler statements can put anyone into a daze, even Mario himself.

As previously mentioned in this review, the graphics can be summed up in one simple word: colorful. Something is always happening in the back round in this game, which can also be seen as a flaw of Paper Mario 64. One may argue that the graphics are too busy, too kid friendly, and that opinion is certainly justified. Shy Guy’s Toy Box looks like a primary source from a children’s book, relying on fluorescent coloring and building blocks to serve as obstacles in Mario’s way. While the game itself is pretty enjoyable for any age, its graphics may be leaning a bit more towards those still in their childhood. Good for nostalgic purposes? Of course! However, your opinion of the graphics will most likely depend on current age.

End of Chapter
In conclusion, Paper Mario brings back an RPG element not seen in years, and it makes us think “why didn’t they think of something like this quicker?”. It’s simple, yet intriguing plot, quirky audio, and abundance of customization options will keep anyone hooked looking for the Seven Stars and many other treasures. While it does contain a few flaws, Paper Mario 64 is a worthy title for any Nintendo 64 owner and Mario fan. It’s no Super Mario 64, but it manages to hold its own to near perfection.

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