I was thwarted in my efforts to settle down and play some GameCube classics (I was hankering to play some Super Mario Sunshine, it was really cold that day) by my memory card disappearing. This was tragic, even more so due to the hours and hours of Timesplitters 2 data that would now be lost. Instead, I decided to crank out my old Wii and play a game that I had hitherto not got around to doing so; Super Paper Mario. I got this game a few years back and never seemed to find the time to play it. It turns out that I had been missing out. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the series it is a part platformer, part RPG where the landscape and characters are rendered in 2D out of paper. The main catch of this game is that you can flip the 2D level around to defeat monsters or move through areas which would otherwise be impossible. Mario and co can turns sideways to slip through the tiniest of gaps, and turning the level into the 3D perspective can reveal previously hidden items and pathways.
This makes the gameplay sound gimmicky, but it isn’t. Once you get used to the concept you find yourself seamlessly switching between dimensions to progress through levels and find hidden treasures. The level of detail and complexity in the level design is staggering, and when you play through the levels you really get a sense that this is a game that has had a huge amount of passion and skill gone into its design. Obviously, being a Mario platformer (sort of) the gameplay itself feels great. Mario feels sharp and responsive, the platforming element is enormous fun and the dialogue between the characters is hilarious. This is another great example of a Nintendo game that does not take itself too seriously and is full of Nintendo in-jokes, poking fun at itself and the genre in general. What of the RPG element? Well, its pretty simple. Points earned in the levels by killing enemies and so on are used to level up your party giving them increased health and attack strength and so on. The great thing about it is that it does not involve any serious stat crunching and your whole party levels up rather than the individual characters avoiding the problem of some characters being overpower or neglected. This keeps the game flowing along at a brisk pace rather than being bogged down by the RPG element. It is a nice addition that keeps the game feeling fresh but does not intrude too much.
However, it is the visuals of the game that truly stand out. This is a great example of a game where pre-rendered, hand drawn visuals can look far more detailed and beautiful than any super realistic game. The characters and backdrops and beautifully designed and detailed, comprised of astonishing textures and colours. The animations are handled very well and add a great level of depth to the game. Its the little things that seem to make all the difference; the way that new levels are drawn in front of you in an etch-a-sketch style before being coloured in and detailed, or the way that between scenes the world gets crumpled up and crunched together before the new scene opens up. I love the way that in some parts of the game you can warp between the levels and the backgrounds of the levels to press hidden switches or collect items. The boss fights look spectacular, with huge creatures made from paper leaping out to waylay Mario and his party in the pursuit of their quest; they never fail to look stunning and a treat for the eyes.
This is definitely a game I would recommend, even to those who are not usually keen on platforming games in general. The way it is presented is so clever and visually stunning that you may find yourself enjoying the game anyway even if platforming isn’t your thing. The N64 and GameCube both had Paper Mario games released on them which were better received by critics, and focused more onthe RPG side of things. I haven’t played them (they are too pricey to pick up at the moment) so I can’t comment on which game is best. I can however, say that this game as a stand-alone title is fantastic and well worth picking up second hand. This is also the kind of game that I could see working really well on the WiiU’s HD format…..