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N64: Paper Mario... Why did I wait so long to play this one? Tim 
Posted by: Tim at 10:56 PM EST on 5/24/2005
File Under: Other -> Game -> Review

Well, it's been a while since I've written a game review, but after finishing Paper Mario for the N64, I decided it was time to change that. So, here goes nothing...

For those who don't know, or don't remember, Paper Mario for the Nintendo 64 is a pseudo-sequel to Super Mario RPG for the Super NES. Since Super Mario RPG was a fantastic game enjoyed by many (and one of the few RPGs I have genuinely enjoyed), "Super Mario RPG 2" was awaited by many. The game spent quite a while in development and eventually morphed into Paper Mario for a 2001 release. At this point, the N64 was very late in its life-cycle, so it didn't really make the splash it should have. In fact, I didn't even buy it after looking forward to it for years. After finally playing it, I now know that I should have.

Paper Mario is a wonderful, charming game that sucked me in like no game has in years. It definitely brought back fond memories of playing Super Mario RPG for hours on end. In all, I ended up logging about 30 hours into the game. While that might not be much for an RPG, it's way more than my attention span usually allows.

The story is fairly simplistic, revolving around Bowser, as usual. Bowser has stolen the Star Rod and imprisoned the seven Star Spirits. As a result, the Star Spirits are no longer capable of granting the wishes of the residents of Mushroom Kingdom. Additionally, with the Star Rod, Bowser is virtually invincible, so he kidnaps Princess Peach by stealing her entire castle. It's up to Mario to save the Star Spirits so that they can again grant the wishes of the world, as well as give him the power to defeat Bowser and rescue Peach.

Like I said, I don't usually like RPGs, but here's why I like this one: No random battles, no leveling marathons, interactive attacks, no overly complex spell system, the plot doesn't take itself too seriously, the characters aren't a bunch of whiny teenagers out to save the universe, and the dialogue is genuinely entertaining with several laugh-out-loud moments. As you can see, it's not your typical Square or Enix RPG.

In fact, I'd go so far as to say that fans of typical RPGs may not enjoy this game too much. The differences extend beyond the presentation and into the play mechanics -- you might even get away with calling this game an "RPG-lite." Several characters join your party as the game progresses and provide their own unique talents. For example, Goombario can give you information about areas and enemies, Bombette can blast holes in walls, and Lakilester can float you over lava and spikes. However, you only get to take one other character into battle with you at any given moment. Additionally, your partner doesn't have their own HP or FP (this game's MP) meters. Enemies almost exclusively attack Mario, and if they do attack your partner, they will simply miss a given number of turns instead of losing HP. And since FP is shared between the two party members, you'll go through it fairly quickly. As a result, you'll probably find yourself relying more on standard attacks than advanced ones. Also, you won't see the huge amount of leveling up that you do in other RPGs. Mario maxes out at 50 HP and a strong attack will do 6 or 7 points of damage. In fact, the game encourages you to move on by not even giving you experience for defeating weak enemies. You'll have to continue on to the next area, so extended leveling is discouraged. If you can reach a boss, you can rest assured you're strong enough to beat him.

Another big difference between the Mario RPGs and other RPGs is interactive battles. Rather than just selecting an attack from a menu and watching an animation as your character performs it, you actually take an active role in its execution. This game has various "Action Commands" such as tapping A right before hitting the enemy, holding down A and releasing it at a proper time, or hitting the control stick left as quickly as possible. Successfully performing an Action Command increases the amount of damage you do in each attack. Also, properly timing a button tap on defense will decrease the damage you take. Action Commands are essential to winning tougher battles, and make them much more fun in general.

I'm also a fan of the game's Badge system, which you could liken to the equipment systems of other games. Badges can be collected and bought throughout the game, and expand on Mario's capabilities. You can get badges that allow you to perform different Jump and Hammer attacks, ones that increase your HP or FP, ones that increase your defense, and various other capabilities. I was a fan of the "I Spy" badge, which alerts you to the presence of a Star Piece nearby (which can be collected and exchanged for additional badges) and the First Strike badge, which allows you to attack and defeat a weaker enemy on the overworld screen, rather than wasting your time in an actual battle. This reminded me of how Earthbound handled matters, which is a good thing. Badges can also be used strategically. For example, on LavaLava Island, you'd probably want to equip the Fire Shield, which allows you to jump on fire enemies, and Ice Power badge, which increases damage against such enemies.

There are also plenty of side quests for when you want to take a break from the main story. You can deliver letters to Mushroom Kingdom residents, perform errands for Koopa Koot, and discover new recipes for Tayce T to cook. Such quests usually result in Star Pieces, Badges, and useful items.

From a more technical perspective, the graphics and sound are great, as well. Paper Mario looks excellent in N64 terms, and the storybook theme is well executed. The music and sound effects are also fitting and sound as good as you can expect from a cartridge-based game.

Pros:
  • Not your typical RPG
  • Wonderful battle system with Action Commands
  • Charming atmosphere and funny dialogue
Cons:
  • Maybe a little simplistic
Final Verdict: This is a fantastic game that I would happily recommend to any N64 owner. It's kind of rare, but pick it up if you can find it.
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