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Paper Mario - Review

 

Paper Mario: The Mushroom Diet

By: Mike Lemmer


Review Breakdown  
   Battle System 7  
   Interface 9  
   Music/Sound 7  
   Originality 8  
   Plot 6  
   Localization 10  
   Replay Value 3  
   Visuals 7  
   Difficulty Easy  
   Time to Complete 15-25 hours  
Overall  
number  
Criteria  

   For those of you that own N64s (and I'm assuming that's a minority here), RPGs have been few and far between. Quest 64 sure wasn't what we were looking for, and good luck finding any other RPGs. Now, though, Nintendo has released Paper Mario, an RPG starring everyone's favorite plumber that is almost NOTHING like the Super Mario RPG we all know. It could be the answer to your prayers or another flop, depending on how you look at it.

   But first, though, let me get this out of the way: YES, it was made to be a family game (read "for children"). Bowser makes mistakes that no self-respecting villian would. The graphics look cartoony (but in a good, retro way). The gameplay is EXTREMELY simplified (more on that later). However, in my opinion, this actually works for a game like this. Now let me explain.

   The combat system is the most important part in the game, as it is what differentiates this game from everything else out there. It seems that the designers took the "simplify, simplify" philosophy to heart. Your maximum HP and FP (the Mario equivalent of MP) is 50. Yes, that's right, FIFTY. In a genre where it's normal to have characters with HP totals reaching 5000 and above, this is a refreshing change. Not only that, but Attack and Defense values are also kept low. You'll be lucky if you get an Attack rating of 5 by the end of the game, and your Defense can be anywhere from 0 to 1 (not counting the defense boost you get from "guarding" at the right moment). Damage is calculated using a very simple Attack - Defense formula that anyone with half a brain cell can understand. So with a combat system this simplified, what's there to make it interesting?

   Well, the Mario RPG system has always been known for encouraging button mashing. Trust me, if you can't pound buttons until your thumbs blister and have an awful sense of timing, you'll be slapped around like a red-headed child in this game. Just about EVERYTHING in combat is influenced by buttons. You can double the damage of your attacks either by tapping A right before you hit (for jumps) or by holding the control stick back until a light flashes (for hammer attacks). You can reduce damage from attacks by 1 (or 2, later in the game) by hitting A right before the enemy hits you (and avoid a few nasty ailments resulting from them). With some enemy attacks, you have to keep on pressing A until they let go. Even your partners' attacks can be powered up by doing anything from pressing A at the right time to button mashing A to entering a button sequence correctly to seeing how fast you can flick the control stick to the left. If you don't have the coordination for action games, this might be out of your league.


Silly Little Comment on Screen
 
TMNT Rejects  

   The main strategy in this game comes from figuring which attacks to use on which enemies. Mario has two main attacks, a jump and a hammer, and both work well against certain enemies. For example, Koopas have a high defense until you jump on them and flip them on their backs. They're a piece of cake after that. For enemies with spikes on their head, the safest route is to hammer them (unless you like hurting your feet). What about enemies with shells AND spikes? You're in a bit of trouble there. Thankfully, you have up to eight partners waiting to help you out with all sorts of varied attacks, from stomping on the enemies to flinging shells and spiny eggs at them. It's interesting at the beginning of the game, but once you've played through most of it, it becomes natural. The designers throw a few curveballs at you later in the game, but it does begin to get a bit boring near the end.

   An interesting point to quickly note here is the Badges. In addition to HP & FP, you have BP. BP (Badge Points) determine how many badges you can wear at one time. Badges can do everything from raise your stats to make you get more coins and hearts from battle. They even play an important role in battle, as Mario can't use any of his special moves without the appropriate badge equipped. Some even change some basic rules, like the Spike Shield (which lets you jump on spiked enemies without getting hurt) and Lucky Day (which causes enemies to miss you sometimes). However, each Badge requires a certain number of Badge Points to equip, and you can only have so many on at a time (really annoying to people like me who want them all). Using the right badges for the right situations becomes vital later in the game.

   As for the story, don't expect an epic plot here. Bowser steals a Star Rod that makes him invincible and heads off to kidnap Princess Peach, abduct her castle, and stomp Mario. Mario must then head all over the Mushroom Kingdom, saving the seven Star Spirits that'll help him combat Bowser's Star Rod. There's almost zilch character development here (Why does Mario need character development, anyways?) and none of the juicy personalities that RPGers have come to expect. The most innovative plot idea in this game is the fact that between every chapter you switch to Princess Peach and guide her as she sneaks around her castle, gathering information and items for Mario. At least the translation is near perfect, so you don't spend time thinking that the dialogue would make more sense if you knew how to speak Japanese.

   The graphics are unusual in their "2D characters in a 3D world" quality. Almost all the characters in the game are 2D sprites (or "paper cutouts") and rather than trying to disguise the fact, Paper Mario seems to revel in it. Characters twist when they turn, Mario floats back and forth like a sheet of paper when he falls a long ways, and enemies fall flat on the floor when defeated. Another interesting graphical note is that the combat scenes are constructed like they were stages. Look closely enough and you can see the strings holding up the clouds floating in the background. All in all, I'd say that this 2D "cartoony" look is truer to the Mario theme than even the 3D rendering by Square back in Super Mario RPG.

   The sound is okay, but I was a bit disappointed that the main Mario theme (everyone with me: Doo doo doot do doot DOOT doot!) only makes a minor appearance. The only other Mario themes I could recognize are the Pipe & Yoshi Themes. As an added note, Bowser's main theme is pretty cool. Perhaps they should make it his song from now on. The sound effects are good too, although nothing truly noteworthy.

   As for the replay value, there isn't any. Unless you're a fanatic that wants to collect everything in the game, once you've beaten it, you're done. There's no special items for getting everything, no special endings, no NewGame+, that's it. It's a one-time play. There isn't even any cool mini-games (like the Beetle Catch from Super Mario RPG) that are worth dragging it back out and starting it up.


Cutesy or Realistic Name
 
Contrary to what you learned at school, Tattling is actually a vital skill...  

   In conclusion, it's a decent game for a reknowned video game character and an upstart developer. However, it's nothing that'll threaten the Playstation's death grip on the RPG market. In fact, I would recommend it most as a way to get any younger siblings you have into RPGs. Buy it for them, then sneak in a couple plays yourself while they're off.

THE GOOD STUFF:
-Mario
-A world that is much truer to the old Mario games than Super Mario RPG ever was (a good 95% of the characters in this game are recognizable)
-A simplified combat system that still manages to have quite a bit of strategy
-Neat graphics (especially in this 3D age)
-A more light-hearted adventure perfect for RPG novices and gamers that want to play a simpler RPG for a while.
-You get Goombas, Koopas, Cheep Cheeps, and Lakitus for allies! Admit it, it sounds cool.
-Button mashing

THE BAD STUFF:
-STILL not enough strategy
-You can only hold 10 items at a time (the rest you put in storage). Trust me, this gets irritating later on.
-Not exactly what you'd call a "gripping" plot.
-Almost TOO many secrets (160 STAR PIECES?!? How much time do they think I have?!?)
-It's made for kids, which will put off some mature gamers.

HINTS I WISH I HAD:
-When using Bombette & Watt's normal attacks, I feel the Power Attack instructions need a little clarification: You have to release the A button WHILE the star is lit but BEFORE the bar fills all the way up. Trust me, there's a little opening in there where that happens: that's when you release. It'll be much more powerful.
-Cooking skills are vital. With them, you can turn a bunch of 10HP and 5FP items into 15-25HP/FP items. Quite helpful after 10HP/FP items become useless but before you get to the 50HP/FP items.
-Get Badge Points early. There's Badges to increase HP and FP, so you can still increase your other stats while being more flexible in your badge choices.




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