Super Mario RPG was the first time our lovable plumber pal Mario messed with things like Hit Points and Experience, but it wasn't the last. Nintendo dropped a dimension and sent Mario off on more crazy adventures to lands where coins were actually worth something aside from the occasional extra life. Sales said it was a winning strategy, so Mario's coming back for the Wii with a pocket full of new tricks.
"Instead of giving Mario various levels of girth to act as his health, Nintendo has gone ahead and added certified Hit Points which will be docked with every hit or ill-advised jump."
It starts off, like many epic tales, with a marriage. A mysterious figure named Count Bleck has forced Princess Peach to marry Bowser because a book called the “Dark Prognosticus” says that their union will open a dimensional rift. Enter Mario, our humble hero who fits the description of the savior in the “Light Prognosticus,” which means he's the only one who can stop the rift from engulfing Mario's world. All Mario has to do is travel the world and collect the 8 Pure Hearts. Simple.
How Mario goes about collecting those hearts, however, is where the fun begins. Super Paper Mario brings back the “old-school” feel of the original NES games by making the main gameplay two dimensional, including the way you hold the Wiimote sideways, just like you do for Virtual Console titles. All the running-and-jumping game play is intact, with a handful of action-RPG elements to boot. Instead of giving Mario various levels of girth to act as his health, Nintendo has gone ahead and added certified Hit Points which will be docked with every hit or ill-advised jump. HP is restored by the classic mushrooms which are held in the classic question mark blocks, as well as by some of the many items he can buy and hold in his inventory. Other items that hide away in the blocks include Red Flowers which speed up time, Blue Flowers that slow down time, and Starmen that turn Mario into a massive, unstoppable pixelated version of himself that can run through the stage unhindered.
Enemies also have HP, which can be seen, along with other stats and a brief bio, by pointing the Wiimote at the screen and selecting the enemy, but more on that later. Killing enemies awards points which can be used to level up. Killing enemies with style, that is, by shaking the Wiimote while on the rebound after hitting an enemy once, awards more points and damage. This keeps all the action flowing smoothly, and allows for more classic gameplay moments, such as jumping on a Koopa then kicking its shell into a row of enemies. Of course, no one said anything about the enemies having deep personalities. Sometimes they're as two-dimensional as the paper they were conceived on, which becomes apparent once you change your perspective.
That's because one of Mario's new tricks is the ability to tilt the world from 2-D to 3-D at the press of a button. This makes the game feel a little more like the previous Paper Marios, but it has a slew of purposes. If there's a pipe that's blocking your path, go 3-D and walk around it. Impossible jump? Tilt the world and walk on the background. Even when it isn't required to solve a puzzle, players will be rewarded by experimenting with the dimensions. For example, a person flying through an area in 2-D may see a row of coins, but someone who decides to check the area out in 3-D would see the same row of coins several columns deep. There are pipes, treasure chests, question mark blocks, and enemies all waiting for players to look at the same scene from a different point of view.
Of course, Mario's not alone. He's aided by Pixls, small creatures who float behind Mario and offer new abilities. The butterfly-looking Pixl who's seen in many of the pictures and on the box art is called Tippy. It's the one who lets you tip the Wiimote at the screen to search for hidden doors or items, or simply find out more about your enemies. There are a number of Pixls to find in the game, including Thoreau (who lets you pick up and throw things) and Boomer (who lets you use him as a bomb to blow things up or do damage).
In addition to Pixls, other characters join your quest. Both Bowser and Peach are playable, and they each bring their own abilities with them. Peach can use her parasol to float to the ground without slowing down her horizontal movement, and Bowser is a giant dinosaur-thing who can breath fire and can jump on heads for more damage. Switching Pixls and characters is done through the menu, as is using items and checking your status.
Super Paper Mario is easily the most artistic Mario out of the collection. Not counting the unique style of switching between dimensions, this game seems chock full of little touches. Equations using classic Mario symbols float in the sky, trees are made up of multi-colored squares, and there's enough right angles to give Piet Mondrian a run for his money. The end effect is something that's easy on the eyes while looking wholly individual. Each world has been said to have a different art style, so expect plenty of eye candy once the game's released.
The musical score is nothing as over the top as Twilight Princess's score, but be prepared for plenty of solid tunes. Preview videos have only shown off two or three songs, but the Mario franchise is famous for enjoyable melodies and memorable tracks, so there's no call for worry. We will know for sure, though, on April 9, when Super Paper Mario makes its North American release.