Super Paper Mario

Super Paper Mario is the third entry in the Paper Mario series, and markedly different from its predecessors. It’s now a platformer with RPG elements rather than a turn-based RPG, and the playable characters are entirely comprised of established Mario characters rather than new ones. Overall, I liked these changes, and I think the game is a much better experience than The Thousand-Year Door overall. The plot was also much more complex and compelling this time around, though it does unfortunately suffer from the kiddie-game problem of needing to signpost all its twists with sledgehammer levels of subtlety.

I really enjoyed getting to play as actual Mario characters this time around. As I said last time, I love Bowser, and having him around all the time was delightful. I also enjoyed having to actually fight him in surprisingly intense battles before he joins! He and Peach were great in the original Super Mario RPG too, though they were somewhat overshadowed by the new characters there; while I did like that balanced approach too, the tightness of the cast worked really well here. The game recognizes that it doesn’t have a lot of time to develop its characters, so by using characters we already know and love it can hit the ground running and avoids the previous games’ problem of paper-thin, forgettable characters.

They also managed to actually make the new villains work this time! The villains all have varied designs, personalities, and internal politics that make them delightful to watch. I’m a total sucker for the “evil council of recurring bosses” trope, and the one-on-one duels in the final chapter were super fun. Also, major props to Dimentio for being so gloriously competent, including just casually showing up in the heroes’ inner sanctum and straight-up murdering them. I always love when villains are active threats instead of just sitting in place and politely waiting for you.

Bleck’s side of the plot was… very bad, though. His backstory has no thematic relevance to anything else in the story, so the big reveal is a complete non-sequitor. We never get to see his homeland or learn why they were so insular and racist or why his star-crossed love has any significance to the wider plot at all. We don’t even really see what Timpani saw in him in the first place — their love is entirely told and not shown. There are so many plot threads regarding him and the rest of the backstory that are just completely dropped or relegated to some vague optional text in the bartender’s stories. It overall felt like a completely separate plot tacked onto this one, and didn’t really fit with the rest of the story or the Mario franchise as a whole.

Also, I’m sorry, Timpani, but if your boyfriend is willing to murder everyone in existence, he is a terrible person and you should not love him, even if he did it because he thought you were the only thing in the world that mattered (which is also a red flag). Emotionally stunted men having disproportionate murder-suicide tantrums is a real problem with very real consequences, let’s stop justifying it please.

The environments were really nice this time around, though — they’re somewhat similar to Super Mario Odyssey in that each one has a different artstyle and setting, to emphasize that these aren’t just different places but different universes. The Underwhere was particularly cool, funny, and genuinely spooky at times. (The Overthere was really boring and tedious, though.)

The shift away from RPG gameplay was understandably controversial, but the levels and platforming were so good I didn’t mind. (And to be honest, after how tedious TTYD was, I appreciated the more brisk experience.) The 3D flipping mechanic was brilliant and added so much depth to the levels, and each of the characters’ special abilities, though simple, were all very useful and distinguished them well.

Unfortunately, they did not balance the RPG elements they chose to retain well at all. The previous games were already on the easy side, but the combat in this one is an absolute joke. Whereas the previous games only boosted your attack power in small, careful increments, attack modifiers in this game are multiplicative, and they stack. Bowser gets double attack power right off the bat, and this stacks with the double multiplier for using Pixl abilities and a multiplier for having collectible card items in your inventory, plus there are items that temporarily double your attack power on top of that. Oh, and his special move is fire breath, which has huge reach and annihilates jump-proof enemies. Even without Bowser, you’ll be killing enemies in one hit more often than not, and bosses are the epitome of “I’m not locked in here with you, you’re locked in here with me.” They definitely should have rethought how they were going to handle the RPG elements, particularly the attack boosts; it might have been better to keep attack boosts fixed to certain points in the story like the previous games to keep the power creep from getting out of control. I’m also disappointed they removed badges since that was one of the most fun elements of customization; the Pixls are a cool new mechanic but they’re not really the same.

I also appreciated how much more permissive the recipes were this time around. I was surprised how many materials I thought would be useless turned out to be cookable — even POW blocks! It made me a lot less nervous to experiment. I also appreciated that you could get recipe lists from exploring, and that they showed you not only recipes but where to find rare ingredients, which was always an annoying hassle in the previous games. It’s just a shame they’re all pointless because of the aforementioned trivial difficulty.

So overall, very fun, only a few issues, do recommend. The art and music were fantastic, the story and characters were actually engaging, and the platforming and puzzles were quite good.

3 Comments

  1. mcbender says:

    This game was very polarising when it came out, and probably started the schism in the Paper Mario fanbase (because a lot of people were very disappointed not to get more of the PM64/TTYD style RPG combat and badge system, and never got over it). Reframing it as “a Mario platformer with Paper Mario/RPG elements” rather than “a Paper Mario game”, there’s a lot to like (and it’s full of great homages to early main-series Mario games), but I understand why some felt cheated out of the “Paper Mario” that was in the title. Ignoring the context, it’s a great game, but the fans couldn’t and the discourse never recovered.

    For that matter, I think many of the RPG elements hurt it more than they help. It would probably have been a better experience if they’d removed the scaling attack and HP values and rebalanced everything accordingly, for instance. (One thing that always frustrated me was that all the non-healing consumable items either didn’t scale and were useless, or scaled and became overpowered, so they were almost never interesting. I never wanted to use anything that doubled my attack etc, despite thinking they were neat, because my attack was too high as it was.) This game would have been much better if they’d leaned further into the direction of platformer with exploration/adventure elements and away from RPG, I think (and I say this as someone who loved the RPGs).

    The writing in this game is some of the best in the series, and probably the main draw. That said, I agree with your gripes about Bleck and Timpani: I almost want to say the plot has “Harry Potter syndrome”, in which “love” is this all-powerful, all-important thing because the narrative says so, but you never see any evidence of the characters caring about each other or that influences their actions. You’re just told There Is Love And It Is Good, and that’s not to be questioned because reasons. I understand the desire to create sympathetic villains (both in the generic because it’s more interesting, and in this specific case to contrast with Dimentio), but this isn’t the way to do it. (There’s also the whole predestination aspect mucking it up, raising questions of whether Bleck even had any agency in what he was doing. Because what we needed was yet another way the plot could excuse his actions.)

    I’m also not terribly fond of anything surrounding the Bowser-Peach forced marriage, but if they insist on doing it, this game’s approach was one of the better ones (I think this was the first time we saw it crop up? or at least in explicit terms, rather than just the implied “well what is he kidnapping her for, exactly”). It’s certainly handled better here than in Odyssey, at least (sigh, much as the gameplay of Odyssey was fantastic, the plot is gross and cringeworthy).

    Some of the twists this game pulled were genuinely daring, though (like having the apocalypse actually happen halfway through Chapter 6, or the scene where Dimentio just shows up and kills the party), and many of them are still memorable all these years later.

    1. I will say, I did find it hilarious that the world literally ends if Peach and Bowser get married.

      I would love to hear your thoughts on Odyssey’s plot in my post on it!

      1. mcbender says:

        Oh yes, if they were going to do that, that was absolutely the best joke they could have made.

        I might need some time to properly collect my thoughts on Odyssey and get them into coherent form, but I’ll see what I can do there. I forgot that you’d reviewed that earlier.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Skip to toolbar