September 22nd, 2009
Here are a handful of thoughts about Paper Mario (N64) before I delve into the core analysis;
Paper Mario is the Super Mario Bros. phenomena realized. It’s a game developed on the childhood sentiments of the generation who fell in love with video games.
It’s self-knowingly this kind of game, and for these reasons I totally adore the Paper Mario series and its portable equivalent the Mario & Luigi series. Super Mario RPG for the SNES was the progenitor of this sub-series. Although Super Mario RPG lacked the charm of the Paper Mario games, it would go on to set the precedence and provide the structural model for internal studio Intelligent Systems to later pitch the idea of a new Mario Bros. RPG to NCL. In fact, Paper Mario was originally titled Super Mario RPG 2.
Flat and Isometric
One might deduce that Paper Mario was the amalgamation of two of the Super Nintendo’s premier games; Super Mario RPG and Yoshi’s Island. Ironically, as both games moved into the N64 generation, their visual aesthetics switched. The faux-3D Super Mario RPG evolved into the flat, cartoony Paper Mario and the flat, cartoony Yoshi’s Island saw the the faux-3D sequel Yoshi’s Story.
Thousand Year Door
Many media outlets laud Paper Mario: Thousand Year Door, yet the original Paper Mario always seems to get fewer mentions than its sequel. This is quite baffling really as I believe Paper Mario by far exceeds Thousand Year Door in all departments. Being a sequel, Thousand Year Door had to alternate itself from the original. With Nintendo’s key franchises adored for their tradition – and the base franchise games of each generation (Super Mario World, Zelda:OOT etc.) always dishing out a new iteration of tradition – it’s always difficult for the sequels to carve their own identity. This growing pain presented itself as an underlying detriment in Thousand Year Door. That’s not to say TYD was a bad game or even significantly inferior to Paper Mario, rather Paper Mario got so much right on its first attempt that a sequel would always live in its shadow. So why doesn’t it then? Why does Paper Mario champion over its sequel?
Simple answer. Paper Mario arrived too late and at the worst possible time to gain serious exposure. Furthermore it saw only limited shipments at a premium price. All of this while the N64 was disappearing off the face of the earth, the PSone was living it up and just as the Playstation 2 began hitting it’s stride. Paper Mario was essentially dead on arrival, relegating itself to a niche favourite.
Paper Mario is a perfect game. That is, it achieves everything it sets out to do. Unlike most game developers who continue to shoot themselves in the foot by setting high, unattainable expectations, the Paper Mario series is modest. By adopting this approach, Paper Mario feels like a fruitful endeavour. There aren’t gaping holes in the gameplay or chunks of filler, all 23 hours I’ve spent with it have been worthwhile and engaging. This is particularly notable for the RPG genre of the day where 60hrs of gameplay where prerequisites. Less fat, more enjoyment, better game, simple.
Paper Mario is similar to cartoons beyond appearances alone. You know how you can easily differentiate animated objects from their inanimate backgrounds in cartoons? Simply by the contrast between the cel drawing and the background? Well, Paper Mario features the same dynamic with interactional objects presented as 2D, paper renders in comparison to their 3D-rendered backgrounds. This doesn’t apply for all objects though, such as trees and so forth, but it still presents a surprisingly clear distinction.
Chapter Close Music
Of course, the whole game is nostalgic, but nothing touched me more than the ending of a chapter. On completing a given chapter, the screen zooms out revealing a stage, a remix of the castle complete music from Super Mario World plays accompanied by a similarly inspired narration at the bottom of the screen. Awww…
Talking about awwww….Twink is probably the cutest Nintendo character ever. I love him so much.