RETRO

Paper Mario (2000) [N64] – The Pixels

It is only a paper moon
Sailing over a cardboard sea
But it wouldn’t be make-believe
If you believe in me

-Yip Harburg and Billy Rose, It’s Only A Paper Moon

 

 

In the ’90s, Nintendo and Square teamed up to develop and release Super Mario RPG. It was a massive success. It was a critical and financial blockbuster. So, in typical Nintendo/Mario fashion, a sequel was basically required. Nintendo pretty quickly hit a road ?-block, though. Square was too busy with Final Fantasy VII to devote time and resources to a Super Mario RPG 2. So, they declined Nintendo’s offer. This is a big reason why Paper Mario is so different from Super Mario RPG.

It isn’t all different, though. It still contains the basic premise of stars granting wishes and those wishes, again, being in danger of never coming true again. You aren’t searching for seven star pieces this time, though, you are looking for seven Star Spirits—elders who protect the home of the stars. Only their restored power can give Mario the ability to defeat Bowser, who has become super powerful after stealing the Star Rod, and save Princess Peach (again).

Paper Mario Luigi

 

 

The 8-bit Review

Visuals: 8/10

Thanks in large part to the “paper” theme that comes from the game’s storybook setting, which resulted in the use of 2D character sprites in an otherwise 3D environment, the visuals of Paper Mario hold up a lot better than most other games from the same era and especially the same console. And, that’s saying nothing about the fact that the “paper” theme itself was very unique, and it provided for several comical gags. Playing on this further, battles take place in what appear to be diorama settings of paper, cardboard, tape, and string. Attractive and creative.

Paper Mario Bowser and Peach

Audio: 7/10

The soundtrack for Paper Mario is very large, even by many of the RPG standards of the time. For example, every boss has two themes, one for battle and one for dialogue. The soundtrack is also dynamic and well-varied, making the world feel fuller and more diverse. Unfortunately, it just isn’t as good as you want it to be after the greatness of the music in Mario’s first RPG adventure. While it fits with the simplicity of the game, there is a certain “toy-like” quality to much of the music that makes it less repeatedly listenable that it should be. There are plenty of good songs, though, and a few that are likely to get stuck in your head. There are also the expected nods to Kondo classics as well as tons of recognizable sound effects.

Gameplay: 9/10

Paper Mario has solid gameplay. It may be simple as far as RPGs go, but that’s by design. As Mario games have become famous for, the game teaches you its gameplay and many of its nuances as you go. And, for more curious or experienced players, it even holds several gameplay secrets. The developers even had enough foresight to protect the simplicity from equating to being too easy by limiting the level system. Not only can the three upgradeable categories cap out, but earlier/easier enemies eventually stop giving you Star Points (experience) entirely. This prevents you from over-leveling or having to grind. Also in this system is the stand-in for a skill tree. Badges can be found and worn to provide Mario with buffs or special attacks. However, you only have so many available badge slots, and each badge takes up different amounts of those slots. So, picking the right combination becomes very important, and again, prevents you from becoming too powerful (mostly).

Paper Mario Toad House

accessibility Accessibility: 10/10

(In a good way) Paper Mario is like Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest in that it was designed with introductory players in mind. And, just like Mystic Quest, it also offers just enough challenge and features to appeal to more seasoned gamers, as well. It’s even more accessible than Super Mario RPG was. There are fewer menus to navigate, as the game removed buying and equipping weapons and armor, and your in-battle party maxes out at two members. The story is light and the world is mostly linear, so it’s really easy for almost any level gamer of any age to figure out, even if they’re unfamiliar with RPGs.

Paper Mario koopa battle

challenge Challenge: 7/10

In line with it being a bit of an introductory RPG, Paper Mario sports a very smooth difficulty curve. There are tutorials on how to fight and use certain abilities early on, and the enemies slowly, but steadily, get stronger and more plentiful. The leveling system also prevents you from being able to over level which helps maintain the balance throughout. Unfortunately, aside from a boss or two (including the final battle), there isn’t too much challenge in the difficulty curve.

Paper Mario Tutankoopa

replayability Replayability: 6/10

The biggest factor that keeps Paper Mario from being more replayable is its simplicity. Many RPGs offer replayability through their intricate storylines and world-building sidequests. Unfortunately, the story here is very basic, and the side quests are few and far between. Another feature that a lot of RPGs have to offer in additional playthroughs is party building. Each different combination of party members can create a fresh experience. That only somewhat applies with Paper Mario. True, there are a lot of combinations with eight companions and a max part limit of two, but a lot of enemies and situations call for a specific member. So there is not as much freedom as you may like. There are Star Pieces and Badges that you could go back to try and find, but that’s mostly it aside from just replaying an enjoyable experience.

Paper Mario idle gif

uniqueness Uniqueness: 8/10

Paper Mario does a good job of setting itself apart from Mario RPG as well as other RPGs in a few ways. For one, as I mentioned earlier, it’s a good game for someone just getting into RPGs. There aren’t a lot of games in this genre that you can say that about. The “paper” theme and visuals also make this first game in the series quite unique. The game features a slew of original characters (that have unique skills used throughout the world) and an original take on the Mushroom Kingdom, while still giving fans plenty of the familiar faces and characteristics we’ve come to love.

Paper Mario Sushie

my personal grade Personal: 7/10

Is it everything I wanted? No. I knew, going into it, that it would not live up to Super Mario RPG and the memories and nostalgia I have for it. It was a lot of fun, though. I enjoyed this version of the Mushroom Kingdom, a lot. It was great interacting with good goombas and koopas and other new and familiar foes while fighting evils ones. As I said before, it works best as more of an introductory RPG, even if it puts twists on certain elements.

However, unlike Mystic Quest, this game gives you much more freedom to play how you want, which adds much more playability and replayability to it. It’s got the adorable charm of any good Mario game while also being one of the extremely rare RPGs to make it to the N64. It also launched an entire series. And, honestly, I can see why. It’s fun, it has memorable characters, even if the story isn’t anything extraordinary, the gameplay is tight, and it looks and sounds good. Paper Mario is definitely one of the better games the Nintendo 64 has to offer this long after its heyday.

Aggregated Score: 7.8

 


 

ABXY Reviews leads a double life of unfathomable hipness, if his expertise in jazz is any indication. Music maker, fandangoist, writer, you can also find this hip cat on Twitter and on YouTube.



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