The Mario series is one that has stayed fairly consistent through its lengthy gaming history. The general concept remains the same; you play as an Italian plumber named Mario, sent to rescue Princess Peach of Mushroom Kingdom from the evil clutches of Bowser. As you explore your way through various themed worlds, you fight enemies like Goombas and Koopa Troopas by bouncing on their heads. You can also collect various power-ups throughout the game. This classic concept that almost anyone seems to know has stayed the same through almost every Mario game. My favorite Mario titles are the ones where they change the gameplay mechanics of the game while still sticking to the classic Mario roots. No, I’m not talking about “Super Mario Galaxy”. While that game was groundbreaking for the Mario series, I’m talking about a seemingly underlooked title series: “Paper Mario”.
“Paper Mario”, as implied before, takes the generic concept and plot of the previous Mario installments. However, this game takes a unique twist on the popular world of Mario. Instead of your typical sidescroller, “Paper Mario” takes the form of an RPG in which the entire world is based on paper. All of the characters, backgrounds and items are designed to look like paper dolls. This creates a really unique atmosphere never before seen in a Mario game. The entire world looks like someone created it for an art project at school. Everything has a cute, creative look to it. The “Paper Mario” series also changed the concept of fighting enemies. Since this is an RPG, not all NPCs are enemies. In fact, when you go to certain towns, Goombas and Koopa Troopas can actually be helpful to you and even serve as teammates. This simple concept of a paper-based RPG changed the entire style of the classic Mario game.
The battle style of “Paper Mario”, like many RPGs, is turn-based combat. Mario, along with his interchangable partner, battles unavoidable enemies or ones that they jump on/are attacked by while walking around outside of battle. The style of the battle takes place like a play, with an audience and curtains. Mario can perform his classic jump attack on enemies, which involve precision in button-pressing. However, some enemies will actually damage Mario if he attempts this, such as those with spikes on their heads. Because of this, Mario can perform other special attacks, including using a hammer or his fire power. You cannot spam these special attacks, however; you have a limited amount of Flower Points that you can use. You can earn these by getting Star Points in battle. The audience can actually help Mario by throwing special items at him if he performs well. They can also throw damaging items at him if he performs badly, so you are always on your toes. With the addition of “Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door”, Mario’s teammate may also attack enemies. Each teammate has their own attacks and abilities, and can be hurt or healed just like Mario would. Even when I find myself avoiding battles in other RPGs, I find myself sometimes going out of the way to attack enemies, just because the battling style is so much fun. Overall, the battling for “Paper Mario” is a unique take on the typical battling style of Mario that also breaks away from the traditional RPG model.
The paper-based art style is evident while battling, but it mainly helps contribute to out-of-battle play. “Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door” added various mechanics to Mario that helped tie in the theme of paper to the gameplay. Mario is “cursed” at selected points throughout the game with certain abilities that help him move his way around the world. On certain areas, Mario can turn into a paper airplane and fly his way across gaps to normally unreachable areas. He can also turn himself to the side so he is paper-thin, allowing him to wedge between bars or alleys. He can also become a boat, allowing him to travel on water, even though he’s made of paper. Your teammates can also help you get around the world. Goombella, for example, will help explain the world whenever you have a question, which is great for a first play-through. Some teammates can be used to attack enemies from afar before they can get to you, or conceal hidden pathways or items. Mario also enters and exits pipes by contorting himself into a crumpled piece of paper. Every enemy, character, building, and door acts in this paper-themed way, allowing for the graphic style to be there not only for a unique twist on the traditional look of a Mario game, but to actually serve a purpose in terms of changing the way you play.
The music of the “Paper Mario” series is also something to be admired. The music changes with each place you go and helps fit the theme perfectly. All of the music is fast-paced and whimsical, yet still fits the theme of wherever you are. For example, the Tubba Blubba theme is very haunted house-esque, but still carries a whimsical and catchy vibe to it. It helps fit the plot of whatever is happening at the moment and ties the entire game together.
The “Paper Mario” series is a unique addition to the Mario franchise that allows for many hours of puzzle solving, turn-based battling fun. The interactions between Mario and his teammates or NPCs are hilarious, adding to the game’s fun and casual theme. It breaks the fourth wall every now and then, as well. The battling style is fun and entertaining, and the paper-based theme creates a whole new experience for any new or seasoned Mario fan. This title series is a great addition to the franchise, and one you should look into if you haven’t already.