Mario's third paper adventure takes place outside of the Mushroom Kingdom. It begins with Princess Peach and Bowser getting married while the mysterious Count Bleck orchestrates their wedding. In doing so, he creates a Chaos Heart which he'll use to destroy all worlds.
Following the Light Prognosticus, Mario must find Peach, Bowser, and Luigi. All the while they must save the Pure Hearts, defeat Count Bleck, and counter the prophecy of the Dark Prognosticus, the tome which will condemn the entire world.
Much like Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, Super Paper Mario excels in writing and dialogue, It's charming, witty, and never takes itself too seriously. At the same time, it tells of the story between two lovers - Blumiere and Timpani - and their tragic parting which leads into the adventure. You'll encounter memorable characters among the NPCs and bosses alike.
Unlike the previous titles in the series, Super Paper Mario plays in real-time. Doing away with the Flower Points (FP) and turn-based battling, Nintendo opted to make this title a hybrid platformer/JRPG. You'll spend time playing in a 2D realm while also flipping into a 3D space. The 3D space opens up literally a new dimension for exploring and allowing you to find coins, items, and even enemies raring to go.
You can play as Mario, Peach, Bowser, and Luigi. Peach can float and shield herself with her umbrella while Bowser deals double damage off jumps and breathes fire. Finally, Luigi can jump really high and that's about it. He uses the Super Jump ability from Thousand-Year Door. Their abilities will be used to solve various puzzles.
While you gain EXP, displayed as Score, from defeating enemies, the platform elements bring a major throwback to 2D Mario. You'll collect coins, punch blocks for items, and defeat enemies using a variety of techniques. You can even collect a Super Star to become gigantic and invincible. Serving a similar property to the Mario series' Mega Mushroom, you'll break through hordes of enemies and blocks all while becoming 8-bit and supercharged. If you're wondering why Bowser seems to do a shuffle-walk, it's a throwback to how he walked in the original Super Mario Bros.
Super Paper Mario follows the aesthetics of The Thousand-Year Door. The charming paper effects and character designs shine brightly on the Wii. I was fond of the backgrounds having various, unique design choices. Plus the characters are memorable just for their design. Even Mimi, one of the bosses, dresses in a new outfit every time you encounter her.
I adored the music as well. Level themes and boss themes alike played harmoniously to fit the mood. Granted, Paper Mario (N64) composer, and veteran Fire Emblem composer, Yuka Tsujioko, composed the best music in the series overall. Regardless, Super Paper Mario features many catchy and memorable tunes such as Gloam Valley and Castle Bleck.
Ultimately, I loved the gameplay but felt it suffered from numerous flaws. One, only Mario could flip dimensions. This means constant party member switching. The other comes from the Partners, or Pixls, who join you. Unlike the past two titles, you don't get enemy-type characters, but rather Pixls similar to your companion, Tippi.
I should also mention that the bosses put up next to no challenge. They're easy to hit and sometimes multiple times. You can only carry 10 items at a time which means you'll be throwing many of them away. Chances are you will seldom use these. Meanwhile, you can use Tippi to Tattle on an enemy and display its HP and weaknesses. I even found the final boss to be a pushover since I had Bowser finish him off doing 20-40 damage per hit.
If you want a challenge, you can tackle some of the side-quests. Much like The Thousand-Year Door, Super Paper Mario hosts its own Pit of 100 Trials. These include much tougher bosses and are featured in both hubs of the game: Flipside and Flopside.
They have their own personalities and all carry abilities, like Hammer, to solve puzzles. But when the game limits you to the Wii remote, you are restricted to using a few buttons. Even when bringing up the Quick Menu, the process becomes tedious. It's like playing one of the Game Boy Zelda titles. You will constantly have to stop-and-switch throughout levels.
The problem is that Intelligent Systems opted to use the Wii Remote as the sole means of controlling the game. This was in order to use Tippi as a pointer. Ultimately, you could use the directional pad to move around Fleep, one of your Pixls, to uncover hidden areas. Nintendo would have made it easier for players to have just opted for a Wiimote + Nunchuk or Classic Controller option just to add more buttons. These could have been used for Pixl shortcuts, partner shortcuts, and much more.
Another serious problem I dealt with was the level design. While I was fond of Gloam Valley and Fort Francis, levels in the latter half of the game became far more tedious. A repetitive 20-enemy gauntlet, fetch quests, and padding ruined some of the later stages of the game. Even the final stage's final act featured an overly-long maze that I ended up using a guide for.
I felt they gradually grew sloppier with the stage design choices and made you go on goose chases just to eat up time. Even one of the areas in the 7th door has issues of sending you back to finish half of a stage while tackling quiz problems from a door. Why would I want to solve math and memory problems when I'm playing a Mario game? There was no reason to add padding to a 20-hour Mario RPG.
Yet another issue I had was from the combat itself. In 3D mode, platforming and combat are not reliable. You can miss landings easily so you should use 2D mode when scaling walls. In general, I had issues with the hit-detection in this game as well. It felt like I would get a clean jump or hammer hit only to take damage. It lacks the finesse and polish of playing a standard Super Mario title. Unfortunately, due to its hybrid nature, it's a jack-of-all-trades and master of none.
Final Verdict: Recommended
Despite some of its notable flaws, I still think this is a solid title to pick up. The dialogue, the fun gameplay, and charming characters bring it to life. If you have any reason to play Super Paper Mario, then play it for the story. It's surprisingly well-written even for a Mario game. It's not afraid to cross darker boundaries of storytelling which is something you wouldn't get from standard Mario titles. It's a good game overall, but I feel the original Paper Mario on N64 will always be the best one.
Speaking of which, Super Paper Mario was the last of its kind. Chief Director, Ryota Kawade, stopped working on the series after this entry. As a result, Paper Mario: Sticker Star and Paper Mario: Color Splash ran in a different direction entirely. These games alienated fans for many reasons. As a result, I felt like beating this game to once again get a feel of classic Paper Mario before the release of the upcoming Paper Mario: The Origami King for Nintendo Switch.
If you don't mind tedious padding in the later levels, everything else still comes together wonderfully. The writing never gets dull and you'll surely enjoy both the comedy and tragedy this title has to present. In terms of story, Super Paper Mario does it like no other Mario game has before. Minding some of the flaws, don't be afraid to try it if you're curious. If Super Paper Mario interests you, then I can safely say check it out on Wii or Wii U!
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