Original Release Date: 2001
Price now: £100-250
With the release of Paper Mario: The Origami King, for this retrospective we are going back to the series’ roots with the original Paper Mario. Paper Mario originated on the Nintendo 64 20 years ago(!) and is the first of a series of games, with the Switch release being the sixth in the series.
Paper Mario takes place in the Mushroom Kingdom where, as always, Bowser is up to no good! This time, Bowser and his assistant Kammy Koopa have got their hands on a Star Rod which has given Bowser the power of invincibility. In order for Mario to defeat the evil duo, he must gather the power of seven-star spirits in order to defeat Bowser, however, they have all been turned into playing cards! The story unfolds (sorry) in the form of a book, with each quest to save a star-making up a chapter of the book. Players mainly take control of Mario although Peach is playable between each chapter and aids Mario in various ways.
The difference however between this game and other adventures the plucky Italian plumber embarks on is that Paper Mario is, for the most part, a turn-based RPG. Players directly control the lead character in a 3D world which has platforming elements, but rather than directly jumping on enemies or frying them with a fireball, players walk into enemies which kicks off a battle sequence. During the battle sequence, Mario and the enemies take turns to hit each other, with Mario using a combination of jumping or if this is not possible, hitting them with his hammer. As with other RPG games, Mario has hit points as well as flower points, which are spent to use special abilities in battle.
As the game progresses, Mario meets allies that help him along on his quest, each with different skills and abilities. These skills range in uses both in and out of battle, for example, one character can tell the player an enemy’s stats while another can hover and use shells to hit objects (or enemies) that are out of reach. Mario is only able to have one partner with him at a time but has the ability to swap them at any time both in battle or while exploring. The player is able to choose the turn order of Mario and his allies as well as directing them to attack enemies in various ways. The allies however do not have their own HP bars as with other RPG’s but are rather stunned and unable to move for a time if they are hit by an enemy. As with most RPGs, players are able to level up but rather than EXP, players earn Star Points by defeating foes.
While adventuring in the overworld, much of Paper Mario’s puzzles are environmental and need to be solved in order to progress to the next trapped star. As mentioned earlier, the player meets new allies with abilities that are needed in order to make further progress such as traversing a large gap or blowing up a wall. As well as environmental puzzles, the game has a large number of NPC characters which Mario can interact with in order to progress the story or obtain items. The game also features a large number of badges that can be either bought, found or obtained from NPC characters and can be equipped to Mario to boost his abilities and give bonuses, although Mario can only equip a certain number at a time.
When looking at the game graphically, it holds up remarkably well after 20 years which is much to do with the game’s style. The characters and some environmental additions are made of paper in 2D but the world surrounding them in full 3D. Whereas games like Super Mario 64 have completely 3D worlds, this tends to age poorly and show the game’s age. Paper Mario however manages to look much less dated as the bright cartoony nature of the characters and things like bushes and trees pop against the 3D surroundings. This means that rather than focussing on the slightly jagged looking 3D platforms, the player’s eye is drawn to the 2D visuals and although the mix almost feels like it shouldn’t work, it does to great effect. The addition of making the story into a book, combined with some amusing visuals based on the characters 2D nature (such as Mario falling from height and floating down like a leaf), means the game has managed to keep its charm over the last 2 decades. The same can be said for the music, which arguably Nintendo almost always get right. The orchestral score is used to great effect and blends seamlessly into the action and the changing areas.
Paper Mario is a charming game and plays as well now as it did back in 2000. The visuals, while not for everyone are quirky and the gameplay is both accessible for those who are not big on RPG’s, but also has a fair level of depth for fans of the genre. The story, while perhaps not as engaging as other RPGs, still has the fun that makes Paper Mario a Mario game, and let’s be honest, who really plays Mario for the story? The game does what it sets out to do in that it is a light-hearted RPG with a lovely style that is accessible to everyone. Unfortunately, an original copy of this in English will cost a pretty penny but if you do get the chance to play it, it’s well worth seeing how the series began.