How Super Paper Mario Feels Gamey

October 22nd, 2009


As we know from last time:

Super Paper Mario is about utilizing a palette of game modes to reach a certain means. Each of these “modes” is minimalist and presented in a structured way which doesn’t make the game as a whole feel like work.

This time my argument is simply that:

Each of these “modes” pull from a melting pot of different styles and genres of other games. If we pool this and the above idea together, I mean to say: you’re managing a series of gameplay styles derived from other games to win the game of Super Paper Mario, giving Super Paper Mario an inherently game-y vibe to it.

Super Paper Mario is a rich tapestry of different rule sets plucked from a broad range of games. So let’s talk directly about said influences and how their qualities are pertained in Super Paper Mario.

Super Mario Bros (2D Platforming)

You can derive this much from the game’s title alone. Super Paper Mario is an obvious throwback to the original Super Mario Bros. in its primary design as a 2D platformer. Even some of the initial stages mimic the original’s level design with a nod and a wink.

Super Paper Mario runs at a slower pace though, and fits neatly into the exploration style of Mario platformers such as Yoshi’s Island. Characters don’t really sprint or gain much momentum, jumps are always short and usually offer little platforming challenge. The divergences from the original are a result of equalizing the game with the RPG and puzzle elements. Much of the puzzling and exploration comes from the dimension flipping, yet flipping dimensions in a fast paced Mario platformer would only act to slow the game down and interrupt the flow.

The 3D platforming sections are generally quite barren and slow to walk around in, so the majority of the player’s time is spent playing the game as a traditional platformer. Mushroom power-ups, the Wii-mote’s layout similarities with the NES pad, world-stage (ie.8-1) level division and a player score also makes for good comparison.

Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door (Context)

Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door is, as much as the original Super Mario Bros., imperative to Super Paper Mario‘s design. It’s a significantly contextual influence and to a lesser extent mechanical. Many of the assets are directly taken or heavily derived from Thousand Year Door, as well as the quirky humour of the narrative and general vibe of the game.

Crash Bandicoot (Forward running 3D Platforming)

On it’s side Super Paper Mario bears a crazy resemblance to the Crash Bandicoot series. It’s kind of ironic when you consider that once Super Mario 64 was released, Crash received major criticism for not being a “proper” 3D platformer. Mario kinda waltzed in and crashed the Playstation party—at least until people finished Super Mario 64 and wondered what else they could play—and now Mario is totally ripping on Crash’s style. Don’t Nintendo have any dignity?

The forward running in Super Paper Mario is a stifle bit weird simply because Mario must be seen flat on the screen, therefore when he runs forward (as by the perspective) he kind of runs to his left (as by his flat character model). Whereas in Crash Bandicoot, Crash always faced forwards and ran away from the screen, which made a lot more sense. Both of them suffer from the same problem of not being able to clearly judge the distance of gaps.

Echochrome (Puzzling)

By referencing Echochrome what I mean to say is that some of the puzzles require you to manipulate perspective to open and close pathways which you can travel across. For example: switching into 3D to cross a bridge which isn’t foregrounded in 2D or switching into 3D to enter an area infront of the character. Both games require the player to think beyond the visual illusion or to create their own.

Wonder Boy (RPG)

Structurally Super Paper Mario is similar to the Wonder Boy series in that they are both My First Metroidvania kinds of games, with lite RPG elements sprinkled over a platforming base. Characters have a health system and must make their way through a rather simplistic world.

Zelda (RPG)

The pixl ability system is akin to the Zelda inventory system where new items are gained and then integrated into the game’s progression design. The earlier stages play to this structure well, but eventually Super Paper Mario doesn’t do as much to tutorialize the new abilities within the environment. Carrie and Fleep in particular are underutilized and aren’t very well integrated into the game.


As you can see Super Paper Mario internalise many design ideas from other games to create it’s own. Some of them are crucial to the game’s identity such as Super Mario Bros., others are more coincidental similarities such as Wonder Boy or Echochrome. Super Paper Mario requires the player to master the skills of these different games and then co-ordinate the different styles together to ultimately complete the game. For example, the player must switch between Super Mario Bros. and Crash Bandicoot style of play to solve a perspective problem which is very Echochrome-like in nature. It’s this overaching design which link the various styles together that gives Super Paper Mario an unmistakably game-y vibe to it. The previous games were very much a celebration of the Super Mario phenomena, in which case Super Paper Mario casts its net wider as a celebration of many different game styles and genres.

I’m sure there are other titles which I’ve missed out on here, do any come to mind? Please let me know in the comments.

Next Up: How Super Mario is a Great Crash Course for Video Games

Additional Readings

Mario & Luigi Interview: Bihldorff’s Inside Story – Retronauts

(Good insight into Treehouse’s localisation process)

  • Aren’t all Paper Mario games a celebration of many game styles and genres? Thousand Year Door for instance always reminded me of the Zelda series; using ‘items’ (or in this case, partners and abilities) as keys to solve puzzles and get through different areas.

    It’s also thematically a celebration of many ‘literary’ genres. The fairytale (chapter 1), the tactical strategy game (chapter 2), pro wrestling (chapter 3), horror movies (chapter 4), adventure movies/books (chapter 5), murder mystery novels (chapter 6), James Bond style spy thrillers (chapter 7), etc.

  • Ummm..I think that you can say that most games have some elements of different genres in them. Super Paper Mario is more of a genre hybrid than the straight RPGs. Nice comment on the themes of each chapter.

  • Thousand Year Door did have the 2D Bowser sections though, that’s a genre hybrid of sorts.

    It also had the quiz shows and mini games Peach was involved in, like the stealth gameplay.

    On another note, Super Paper Mario, while having more genre variety, kind of felt all over the place with the chapter theming. Thousand Year Door’s chapters were all basically media/book genres. Super Paper Mario’s were… well, randomness, a post civil war plantation, retro video games, outer space/shoot em ups, prehistoric times, feudal Japan and a weird hybrid of the Greek underworld and the Christian conception of heaven.

    Interesting themes, but less obvious ‘fiction’ based and more a mish mash of random and quirky ideas.