Paper Mario – Nintendo 64
Platform: Nintendo 64
Developer: Intelligent Systems
Release Date (NA): February 5, 2001
Genre: Role-Playing Game
Nerd Rating: 9 out of 10
Reviewed by Flagostomos
Oh Paper Mario. Let me count the ways I love you. You brought back to life the Mario RPG series. You introduced new and beloved gameplay mechanics. You’re not Super Paper Mario.
If you couldn’t tell, this game is one of my most dearly beloved games of all time. I have been waiting to do a review of it until I could play it again and give it the proper review it deserves. Super Mario RPG was a great game and I will forever hold it in high esteem, but Paper Mario just has a more special place in my heart.
To understand the unique gameplay of this game, you must first understand its backstory. Originally there was going to be an actual sequel to Super Mario RPG: LOTSS made again by Square in conjunction with Nintendo. However, Square-Enix was formed and any hopes of a direct sequel was crushed when they began to make games for the rival Playstation. Nintendo threw around ideas for the next Mario RPG, and eventually landed on this game. They wanted a 3D environment with a unique look, and one lonesome drawer presented the idea of using 3D models yet having them be paper thin. The art direction for this game was born.
The gameplay uses the standard idea of an RPG, with battles that are turn-based with various actions you can take. Mario’s trusty jump and hammer are ever present, and of course Mario’s unique twist on items is present. However, unlike in Mario RPG where retrieving the star pieces did nothing towards the actual playing of the game, the Star Spirits in Paper Mario actually play a rather big role. Every time Mario saves one, they add their unique powers to Mario, making him even more powerful than he was before. Some are all out offensive attacks that are powerful in their own right, some are support powers. It is up to you to decide which to use and which to not use.
When Mario defeats an enemy he gets start points, and when he gets 100 star points, he gains a level. You can add to your HP, FP (special attack power) or BP (badge points, which we will get into later). Novice players will probably quickly max out their HP, then move onto FP, but more advanced players realize the power that badges have in this game.
Badges are gained through various means. You can find them in chests, some NPCs give them to you, and you can even buy the more powerful ones for coins or star pieces. Badges can easily turn the tide of the game. Mario’s normal attack power starts at 2 (with perfect timing) on both hammer and jump, and capping at 6 with the best upgrades. However with badges, you can manipulate battle physics to make Mario do way more damage than that. There’s also attack badges that give you powerful moves, like the Power Stomp, Power bounce, quake hammer, and others. The badge system is what makes this game so replayable, in that you are always trying out new badge combos.
Mario also has allies this time, but they play a more limited role than they did in SMRPG. While they were full on playable characters in SMRPG, being able to equip armor and weapons to them, in this game the allies are simply just there. That doesn’t make them any less useful though. They each have a powerful standard attack, and their special attacks are more often than not what change the outcome of battles. You can find blue blocks that allow you to upgrade them, giving them more attack power and a new special move. It’s worth it to explore the whole world to find all the upgrades possible. Then you get a red orb that allows you to max them out at two upgrades, making them the most powerful they can be. You will want to upgrade everyone, except Goombario. I’m sorry little buddy, but you are useless as soon as Kooper joins the team. The allies themselves don’t have an HP bar, but they can take damage from some attacks that renders them unable to move for a certain amount of turns.
All in all, Paper Mario has solid gameplay that challenges novices and pros alike. It’s not hard for anyone to get into, but it provides amazing challenge to master.
The story is lackluster, I will admit. Peach is going to be kidnapped, that is always a given. However, it’s done in a unique way this time, and I will leave it up to you to find out. The individual stories that each ally has makes up for the otherwise cliche story. The NPCs we meet become real, causing you to feel a wide arrange of emotion for them. I don’t want to provide any spoilers here because I want you to go out and play this game. All I will say is that you will almost cry when the game is over, because you don’t want it to ever end.
The controls are really good, and it’s what you’d expect from an RPG on the 64. Mario can walk in all 8 directions, jump, use a hammer outside of battle to gain a first strike or break boxes, and overall he’s easy to control. The puzzles are played out at a speed that you don’t need to react too quickly almost ever. There’s minimal platforming but it’s nothing you can’t handle. The hardest bit of the controls is figuring out the timing in battles. However, if you compare it to SMRPG and the difficult timing on many of those moves, you have maybe 6 commands you master and that serves you throughout the entire game.
The graphics, as I mentioned, are a unique play on the idea of a 3D world. Environments themselves are 3D, but every sprite is actually a flat piece of paper. It’s not even 2D! It’s paper thin. However, they can still interact with the environment and so it makes for interesting take on the “Paper in a 3D world” idea that this game transmits. I’ll just leave it up to you to decide how you like it, because you are going to play this game right?
The audio is impressive. Some Mario tracks make a return, but for the most part the game has a 100% unique track. The star spirits music being one of my favorite Mario themes from any game. The audio does a perfect job of setting the tempo of the game. When things are bad, the music reflects this. However as good things happen and Mario grows stronger, the music again changes to reflect this. Every track is memorable, every track is masterfully done.
There are countless ways to play this game. Trying out new partners, new badge combos, seeing how fast you can get through the game. Your first playthrough will probably be double the time until you learn the little nuances that the game utilizes for the puzzles. It really forces you to think outside the box. There’s also secret bosses that make appearances, and the hardest two fights of the game are actually not even the final boss. Once you get good at badge combos and fights, you will want to test your abilities against these ultimate enemies.
Why didn’t they send the Dojo guy after Bowser anyways?
Paper Mario is and forever will be my most favorite Nintendo 64 game. If you own a Nintendo 64, this is a must have for your library. Or you can get it for 10 bucks on virtual console. Buy it and play it, you won’t regret it.
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