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In Memory
Sean Pettibone


Super Paper Mario
(Nintendo for Wii)

By Michael Palisano

Super Paper Mario for the Wii brings a new perspective to the platforming and role-playing genres with an innovative title that offers some unique features. The melding of play styles creates an interesting game, but it's the ability to switch between 2D and 3D planes that really sets the game apart. This technique allows you to find hidden objects and areas you wouldn't discover otherwise. The game is fairly easy to play and accessible, with some occasionally odd puzzles and tasks, brought together with a light-hearted, surreal visual approach that makes for an enjoyable and entertaining title that should appeal to Nintendo fans of all ages.

Combining elements of role-playing with traditional Mario Bros.-style platforming, Nintendo's Super Paper Mario continues the popular spin-off series on the Wii while adding a new dimension to the gameplay. It's definitely one of the more innovative titles on the system and its persistent inventiveness and clever design tweaks the familiar formula. As you begin the game, Mario has been transported once again to a flat world where everything is made of paper. However, things aren't all peachy-keen since an evil spirit has kidnapped his beloved princess and his arch-rival Bowser and is threatening to take over the world. Once again, it's up to our heroic plumber to save the day. Those who've played the previous titles won't be surprised to learn that Super Paper Mario takes place in fairly traditional 2D style Mario levels, and players will spend plenty of time jumping, hitting blocks and throwing enemies around the screen. However, Nintendo has thrown in a level of role-playing as well, and you also need to complete tasks, talk to other NPCs and use items throughout as well. When you collect coins and stars in the game, you'll be able to purchase items such as power-bricks, mushroom shakes and more at the various shops. In addition to the regular characters, you'll also encounter a number of bad guys, including Mario perennials like the Koopas and spikes. As you go along in your journey, you'll find yourself alternating between these types of gameplay but the game has a good balance between these two elements, split almost evenly between platforming and role-playing. These two styles of play are integrated seamlessly and you can find yourself doing both during a single stage. So far, our description of Super Paper Mario probably sounds familiar, but there's a huge twist in the gameplay that really makes things interesting.

If you go in expecting something truly next-gen, you're probably going to be initially underwhelmed and disappointed by the game's 2D stages. However, very early on Mario gets the ability to switch between the flat world and the third dimension. At this point, the game becomes much more impressive from a visual and design standpoint. You can switch between these dimensions by pressing the A button, but this is only available for a short time as indicated by the energy bar. If your time in the 3D dimension runs out, you lose energy and have to recharge your time bar by returning Mario to the flat dimension. When the worlds are transformed to this new perspective, you'll be able to move around in full 3D space. The trick here is that some of the enemies and objects remain flat while others make the transition. This can mean that large obstacles that seemed impassible are suddenly just a flat like you can walk around. It can also mean that objects that were in the background, suddenly become paths or blocks that you can climb onto and use to pass through gaps. Switching perspectives also lets you discover items and objects that you couldn't see, such as hidden pipes or doors. This is a really cool feature and makes the gameplay much more interesting - allowing a completely different feel to emerge. Super Paper Mario also aids your exploration with a few companions like the floating Pxl who will help you discover hidden areas. In some areas, there are hidden doors or objects that can only be discovered by this aid. Using your Wii-mote, you can point at the screen in the general direction and find these areas. This is a really cool addition to the gameplay that makes for an even more diverse and interesting experience. Super Paper Mario's levels stay fairly true to the Nintendo conventions and unfold in a fairly linear fashion, though you can move back and forth between them or warp to the main level using a special item. As you'd expect, the game's pacing and structure is excellent, giving players multiple paths to explore without making things overly complicated. Most of the levels are routine in the way they unfold, but you'll also have to defeat several bosses along the way and these encounters are also fairly inventive in their approach and style. There's an interesting mechanic to switching between the 2D and 3D space, and most players should probably explore each area in both dimensions before moving on in order to find everything.

From a control standpoint, it's easy to see why the game is so immediately appealing. You hold the Wii-mode sideways and control Mario using the standard cross-hair and jump using the side buttons. In this aspect, Super Paper Mario immediately recalls the classic NES and SNES Mario titles and definitely has their classic feel and approach. There's been something of a revival of these classic adventures over these past few years, with New Super Mario Bros. on the DS last year only the latest example of the trend. These simple and intuitve controls allow you to get right into the action and make the game highly accessible. Having to press the A button to switch modes keeps things simple as well, and gives Super Paper Mario an immediate familiarity. Things are very smooth throughout, with the classic play mechanics and strategies very much in evidence. There are some clever twists, such as the mini-classic Marios that accompany you early on or the massive old-school sprite Mario you can use to destroy everything in your path as well, which only enhances SPM's classic vibe. This is even further enhanced by the aesthetics, which have that classic, surreal Mario feel in evidence throughout. Some of the early levels bring back some of the original stages, you'll even find the familiar blocks and ? squares that have become the series trademark. However, in a slight twist, much of the game looks blocky and somewhat 8-bit, which gives it a stylish and pixellated look. The other characters besides Mario also have this look, and their minimalist, yet fun design give them an immediate appeal. Most of the game feels derived from the classic era Mario, and even the switch to 3D doesn't really change this approach, which makes for a consistent look and feel that is cool and quite appealing.

While it would be easy to dismiss Super Paper Mario as yet another kiddie game, those who overlook the title are missing out on some truly ingenious and clever gameplay. As usual, Nintendo has created some truly ingenious levels and tasks that make for a unique experience. The mixture of role-playing and platforming works well within this context, with a good balance between the two styles of play. There are loads of secrets to uncover and plenty of exploration, which makes for an entertaining and surprisingly deep title. While it's a little bit on the easy side, Super Paper Mario is a fun to play and creates a unique world. It's visual style is quite cool and emphasizes the series' classic gaming roots while remaining modern thanks to it's hybrid 2D/3D approach. The simple and accessible controls make it easy to get into, but the game's challenging tasks and fun platforming make for an engaging quest that should appeal to Nintendo fans of all ages.


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