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.