N64 Review #13 – Paper Mario
Mario and paper, paper and Mario. How someone came up with the idea to combine these two things is beyond me. Alas, here we find ourselves with Paper Mario, a rare N64 RPG that is a refreshing break from your normal Mario fare. As opposed to the 3D platforming introduced in Super Mario 64, the Mario you play as here is well, paper. A 2D sprite in a 3D world sounds weird and it is. Beautifully, wonderfully weird.
One of the things I generally bemoan during a retro review is how I never know why I am doing what I am doing. That is not an issue here. As the game explains, up in Star Haven exists the Star Rod. The Star Rod has the power to grant any wish. It is guarded by the seven Star Spirits. Welp, Bowser found his way into Star Haven and stole the rod.
About this same time, Mario and Luigi are invited to a party at the castle. Mario finds Peach alone in her room and is about to spend some quality time with her when an earthquake hits. However, that is no earthquake, it is Bowser putting Peach’s castle on top of his and attacking. He gets all up in Mario’s grill and uses the Star Rod to make himself invincible. He proceeds to kick the holy crap out of Mario and knocks him out the window, never checking to see if he was actually dead. Of course, if Bowser had a rod that could grant any wish, you’d think that he would just wish everything he wanted into existence instead of having to come up with any further plans. Hey, what do I know?
Long story short, Mario is contacted by the imprisoned Star Spirits and must rescue all seven of them from their various hidden prisons so that they can grant Mario the power to defeat Bowser. This again begs the question that if they possessed the power to defeat Bowser, why didn’t they? Then again, we wouldn’t have much of a game if they did I suppose. It goes back to other things in life that make no sense but would ruin the property if done any other way. For example, why did the Power Rangers always use incrementally more powerful weapons instead of starting with the most the most powerful thing they had and calling it a day? Also, if Wile E. Coyote had all of this money for traps, catapults, and explosives why did he not just go buy himself a meal instead of getting crushed repeatedly by anvils in the name of catching the Roadrunner? I digress.
Your journey is a long one but a very fun one. Along the way, Mario will gain party members. Each party member has a special ability that proves itself helpful to Mario like Bow, the Boo being able to make Mario invisible or Parakarry being able to fly with Mario for short distances. The trick to it is that you can only have one party member plus Mario active at a time. There are also special interactions that you can have with NPC’s depending on which character you have out. Additionally, each character brings something different to the battlefield and there are some enemies that can’t be hurt by some party members.
Speaking of the battlefield, Paper Mario uses turn based combat. If you are familiar with Final Fantasy at all (of course you are) it is a similar battle system, just Mario-ified. MP has been replaced with FP or Flower Points because Mario. After each battle, you collect star points and every time you collect 100, you level up, getting the option increase your HP, FP, or BP. BP is badge power. Throughout the game, you collect various badges that each have some unique ability or effect for Mario. The trick is that having one active consumes a certain amount of BP. You must budget accordingly to get the most bang for your buck.
My only real complaint with the battle system is that it is just so damn tedious. It was cool during boss battles because it felt a lot more strategic than I am used to but the regular enemy encounters felt off. What I am used to from a Mario game is encountering an enemy and squishing it or cooking it with fire or hitting it with a shell or something. Slowly whittling down the HP of a Piranha Plant just doesn’t feel right to me. It could just be Old Man Tom creeping in but the battles just weren’t doing it for me.
Where the game really excels and has earned its way on to my list of favorite N64 games is what it adds to the Mario universe. Our whole Mario lives, we had a black and white Mushroom Kingdom painted for us. Mario, Luigi, and Toads were good and pretty much everything else was out to kill you. One of the very first things Mario encounters after his ejection from the castle is a loving family of Goombas that actually helps Mario. The kids look up to him and one even joins your party. As I mentioned earlier, you wind up with a Boo in your party. You meet up with helpful Koopas. It added a dimension to the universe I hadn’t considered. Maybe they weren’t all bad after all. Maybe we let the actions of the few condemn the many.
Beyond that, the sheer mass of this game is really impressive. Toad Town serves as your central hub but you find yourself going out to all sorts of interesting locations. One of them is a Shy Guy toy chest hidden right in town. One of them is Dry Dry Desert. One of them is Yoshi Island. The point is, you really got a great feel for just how enormous this world really was. You weren’t confined to jumping into paintings. You got to explore and enjoy seeing the sites and uncovering hidden things. You got to just go at your own pace and simply appreciate the game.
Overall, all I can really say is YES. The game is full of yes. I understand that if not for the Mario license and characters and all of that jazz, this would likely just be an average RPG but guess what. It does have all of that sweet, sweet Marioness. Aside from just having it, it does wonderful things with the franchise. A loose cart is currently going for north of $30 so if you weren’t wanting to lay out that kind of cash, it is also available on the Virtual Console. However you want to obtain it, do so. A playthrough of Paper Mario is an experience that everyone should have.