This editorial contains mild to heavy spoilers from the first three Paper Mario games. It has been written as a retrospective intended to be viewed by players who have already finished the games or those who haven’t but would like to know the gist of the stories thus far in light of the upcoming release of the fourth installment for Nintendo 3DS.
I remember when I first laid eyes on the Paper Mario series. That day was near the turn of the century, and I recall being taken aback by the beauty of the pristine, spot-on visuals. There was something about it that just tickled my fancy. The first installment was released during a time when the market was plagued with scores of hideous titles that would burn my retinas with their lackluster visuals. That era of 32-bits was certainly a harsh one for my peepers, and I am excessively grateful that I took part in it as little as I did due to my diehard devotion to Nintendo 64.
In a world that was filled with bad graphics, Paper Mario couldn’t have come out in a better season to 1-up them all with its sheer simplicity.
Unlike the rest of the pack, this game wasn’t all about 3D – it was about expanding 2D. And it acted as the catalyst that would trigger this whole new branch of artistry. The first Paper Mario succeeded in paving the way for such beauties as Viewtiful Joe, Ōkami, the Toon Zelda series and a host of other titles whose developers would also dare to try something different after an inspirational spark was lit in their midst by the pioneers at Intelligent Systems’ willingness to think outside the box.
The story of the first game in what would become a beloved subseries unfolded in typical Mario fashion, with Bowser kidnapping Princess Peach. Only this time, the Koopa King had a new trick up his spiked bracelets – the Star Rod, which gave him the power to grant all his sinister wishes, including invincibility. He immediately put his new magic to work, swiftly annihilating the mustachioed plumber with one sizzling attack and knocking him out the castle window.
All was not without hope, however. The elder of Star Haven soon informed Mario that if he could attain the seven Star Spirits that were scattered across the land (with the elder being one of them), he would have just enough oomph to counter Bowser and restore order to the Mushroom Kingdom.
In the end, of course, Mario saved the day.
But he didn’t do it alone.
Throughout his quest, Mario was joined by eight (mostly) memorable party members, with each of them being from a different species of villains from games past. This idea of endowing Mario’s former foes with individual personalities and character traits is without question one of Paper Mario‘s greatest achievements.
Hmm, someone’s missing…
The first entry took off with flying colors as far as gameplay and imagination are concerned. My only criticism would be that the game is exceedingly weak in the Luigi department. But the neglect of this hero is understandable if you accept at least one of the following three reasons for why Intelligent Systems may have decided to toss him to the wayside:
- It was a setup for future Paper Mario games, where Luigi would take a more pivotal role and his unimportance in previous titles would be used regularly for riotous comedy.
- It was the first Paper Mario game, and Nintendo didn’t want to put any emphasis on Luigi.
- He was just about to get his own game, Luigi’s Mansion, the next year.
It is interesting to note that Paper Mario was originally planned to be a sequel to SNES’s Super Mario RPG, but was later renamed due to a legal conflict with Square. Nonetheless, anyone who has played both games will still notice several similarities between the two, like the annoying absence of a certain green beanpole.
Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door
The plot of the follow-up for GameCube revolved around Mario, who embarked on a mission to collect the seven Crystal Stars in order to open the mysterious “Thousand-Year Door.” Peach and Bowser held even more integral parts in this iteration as playable characters who would regularly unlock key elements of the story inbetween each of the game’s eight eventful chapters.
Each of these chapters would generally consist of Mario meeting an ally in a themed location and then the two of them getting caught up in some quirky subplot until they obtain a Crystal Star. These escapades usually involved trumping a mini-boss, like the giant she-dragon Hooktail, or Doopliss – a ghost in a party cap with an inclination to commit identity theft.
Behind the scenes, however, Princess Peach is quickly kidnapped by a band of aliens known as the X-Nauts. Their leader, the ruthless Grodus, whisked her away with the intent of offering her body over to the dark demon he believed lurked behind the Thousand-Year Door.
As it turns out, Grodus was right. The legends that shrouded the mythical door in a veil of mystery were mostly fictitious; it did not hold insurmountable hordes of wealth like generations of locals had fabled, but a demonic presence known as the Shadow Queen.
And if it hadn’t been for Mario and the encouragement of his allies, the opening of that door would have signaled the end of civilization.
Yes, in case it isn’t obvious, what I am implying is that the heroes prevailed in the end.
Meet the Fellowship.
Like its predecessor, The Thousand-Year Door was a standard RPG with a turn-based battle system and a heavy emphasis on action. But as you would expect, the formula was further fine-tuned as the developers became increasingly familiar with the peculiar universe they had created.
This, to me, is the greatest game of the series thus far. With beautiful scenarios, a colorful cast and a hilarious localization rearing its comedic head in virtually every speech bubble, it eclipses both its prequel and its sequel from nearly all angles of the dioramaic spectrum.
Super Paper Mario
The third installment abandoned the typical RPG format of previous entries and took on more of a Platformer style, while leaving many of the unique qualities of the series intact. The game would be hailed as the first sidescroller to fuse elements of 2D and 3D gameplay together. This art is often affectionately called “2.5D”.
Once again divided into eight chapters, the plot unfolded gradually as Mario (with help from the fully playable Peach, Bowser and Luigi) sought out the eight Pure Hearts in order to revert the inter-dimensional rift that Count Bleck, the game’s lead antagonist, opened to usher in the fulfillment of an apocalyptic prophecy written in the ancient Dark Prognosticus tome.
Pixls, which hardly bested true party members, were new creatures introduced in the game that Mario and crew could use to access special abilities. Tippi, the Navi of the Paper Mario universe, is the primary Pixl and focal point of much of the game’s dramatic story.
Inbetween each chapter, players were given short tidbits of a soap operaic account in another dimension depicting the love and relationship between the humans Timpani and Blumiere. Just as it was with Romeo and Juliet, their two family lines despised one another, so much so that Blumiere’s father ended up placing a curse on Timpani to separate her from his son forever.
Driven insane by the loss of his one true love, Blumiere had begun to seek the destruction of the universe under the guise of “Count Bleck.” Timpani, now Tippi, had no recollection of any of this, having lost her memories after being cursed and banished to the 2D world in the form of an innocent, butterfly-shaped Pixl.
At the game’s climax, the four heroes from the Mushroom Kingdom brought the eight Pure Hearts they had collected to the inner sanctum of Bleck’s castle and attempted to reverse the void in time and space that Bleck had created at the start of the story.
But things don’t always go quite as easily as they are planned.
Though Bleck would come to his senses and repent by the beckoning of Tippi, Dimentio, one of Bleck’s crazed subordinates, wound up shattering the Pure Hearts and revealing himself as the game’s true villain.
However, Dimentio could never have predicted that the rekindled passion of Bleck and Tippi would restore all eight of the Pure Hearts, giving Mario and co. just enough power to defeat him, restore the rift in space and turn everything back to normal – save Bleck and Tippi, whose ultimate sacrifices of love would cost them their lives.
I guess they’re both supposed to be in some form of heaven.
My biggest beef with Super Paper Mario is that the ability to flip into 3D is exclusive to Mario, meaning that the player has to switch to the portly plumber over and over again. True, this isn’t that big of a deal if you stay in red; but since my twin and I mostly wanted to slip on a dress and go green, we were quite peeved at this frequent stall in precious time.
Paper Mario 3DS
“It’s two Goombas and a Koopa Troopa. Why don’t you just jump on ‘em?”
Little is known about the forthcoming title; but from what we have seen, we can confirm that it will be returning to the series’ roots with the inclusion of varied, singular party members and an emphasis on turn-based strategy battles.
No date is scheduled as of yet, but we can probably bank on it being released sometime in the next twelve months.
This game may very well pull me into purchasing a 3DS at full price.