Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Super Paper Mario

To be honest, I was really done with the standard 2D side scrolling platformer games after Super Mario 3 for the NES. To me, it was the final word on the genre. Sure, I enjoyed the hell out of Super Mario World for the SNES, and more recently New Super Mario Brothers on the DS, but neither of these titles represented any sort of leap forward.

Today, I found out that that dormant genre still had a lot of potential, and that potnetial is realized in Super Paper Mario for the Wii. Unlike the previous Paper Mario games, the only one of which I had played previously being Paper Mario : The Thousand Year Door on the Gamecube, Super Paper Mario merges the classic side - scrolling gameplay of those previous Mario games with RPG elements from the Paper Mario series, and tosses them in a blender with a remarkable 2D to 3D switching mechanism.

Combat is no longer turn-based, which is an improvement in my opinion. It occurs just like any classic Mario game, with jumping on opponents being the main form of attack. There are many power-up items that you can pick up or buy in shops that can also be used in combat, although accessing them means digging through some menus. I wish they were a little easier to access.

Going back and forth from 2D to 3D is an amazing experience and essential to discovering all sorts of weird secrets and paths forward. The group of blocks in 2D might reveal a hidden pipe behind them when switched to 3D. Those rotating flame things from previous Mario games that required precise timing to jump past can now be avoided entirely by switching to 3D.

In about two hours of play tonight I made it past the first boss, and of course the battle required switching between 2D and 3D. It was a great battle, but easy to win once I figured out what to do.

The story is standard but the presentation is charming without being syrupy and in many of the scenes that come up, laugh-out-loud humorous. The designers of this game are to be commended not just for thier innovative 2D to 3D design, but their use of the mechanic to poke fun at the whole idea while mesmerizing players with it.

Super Paper Mario is visually stunning with an addictive play mechanic that offers the character development of an RPG, the action of a platformer, and the exploration elements found in both genres. It's so good that I fear that I'm going to blow through it in a few days and be left wanting more.

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