Super Paper Mario
With Mario Galaxy imminent, is this worth a look?
Mario's recent adventure is his origami side project, Super Paper Mario. Turning the Mushroom Kingdom into a 2-D world again, you can expect classic Mario plat forming wrapped up in a role-playing game mechanics with an extra double helping of puzzles thrown in for good measure.
Unfortunately I missed Paper Mario on GameCube, however Super Paper Mario doesn't require more than a passing knowledge of Mario's previous adventures to appreciate the fact that Princess Peach is kidnapped in the first 5 minutes of the game, hypnotised into marrying Bowser, and it will be down to the world's most famous Moustache to sort it all out.
Starting the game is actually where the role playing elements show up the most - there's about half an hour of talking to characters and plot direction before you reach world 1-1. There's a whole new host of baddies this time round - the mysterious Count Bleck and his kooky cronies, who are intent on destroying all universes!
Needless to say your red dungaree-d hero is tasked with stopping Count Bleck's nefarious plans, however Mario will need his Mushroom Kingdom allies as well as new found friends on his way to live up to the challenge. Your base of action is an inter-dimensional portal world known as Flipside. Here you can buy power-ups, collectable cards, play arcade mini-games and speak to a fortune teller who can guide you should get a little lost. Merlon, the town wizard, thinks you are one of four heroes prophesised to save the universe from the dark one. To do this you will need to find 8 Pure Hearts, magical gems used to unlock dimensional portals to other worlds.
Flipping dimension is a key, and highly original, aspect that haven't featured before in Mario games. Whilst the world you see is two dimensional, Mario has the special ability to flip into 3-D. Your time in 3-D land is limited by a countdown and should you spend too long there the bar will deplete and eventually cost you health points. Flip back, and you bar will recharge. Bushes and walls that appear to be normal can often hide warp pipes and platforms that were invisible on the 2-D world will help you progress through the levels. It's a fantastic feature and that forces new ways of thinking to get past some troubling points. The secrets that can be uncovered by using this and your Pixl's powers will add untold hours of gameplay even when you have completed the main story itself. This is classic Mario through and through.
The Pixls Mario meets and joins forces with are fairy-like creatures who each boast unique powers. Tippi, the first pixl you meet, will discover secrets when you point the Wii-Mote at the screen. She is constantly with you through most of the game, and also provides pointers on any object or enemy you need by highlighting them and pressing A. You can swap between the other pixls and characters from the menu, and each is has their own unique powers. See a crack in a wall? Boomer will open it for you. Carri will life you across floor spikes and help you defeat pointy headed opponents. They Pixls add an extra layer of depth and usually if you're stuck it means you need to find another pixl who's power can get you past the problem.
Mario is not the only hero in this story either - you will pick up help from Princess (who can float and defend with her umbrella), Luigi (who can jump higher) and - evilly - Bowser. Although the slowest of the bunch, King Koopa can breathe fire and does tremendous damage to anyone in his path. All the characters are useful in different situations, and picking the right character and pixl combination can lead to total domination of certain classes of bad guy through the levels. Most of the time, Mario will be number choice due to his flip ability.
The characters and storyline in SPM are superbly brought together with a wicked sense of humour and the return to classic Mario Bros. platformer gameplay is greatly enriched with witty self reference. The invincibility star see a giant , NES Mario sprite drawn onto the screen who destroys everything in his path much like the Giant Mario in New Super Mario Bros for DS. At one point in the game a cowardly koopa, on seeing Mario, grabs and invincible star and transforms himself into a giant NES koopa, forcing you to leg it back through the level until it wears off. Hilarious touches like this and funny dialogue make even the longest reading sections of the game highly amusing.
Graphically, it has to be said, Super Paper Mario doesn't exactly push the boundaries. The art direction is lovely, and each world looks completely different to any previous ones, but animations are minimal. The 2-D concept means it would be wrong to expect anything stunning, but this has more in common with Wariowarez artistic styling's than Twilight Princess.
The sound effects are your usual Mario affair. Expect to hear the usual coin and bounce noises, and some very minimal speech from the heroes themselves. All the talking is done with on screen text bubbles, making the game look like a moving comic book. The signature Mario theme is nicely remixed although most of the background music is exactly that.
Super Paper Mario's strength lies in it's simplistic (yet totally addictive) surface gameplay, the 3-D flip and devious puzzles. It's a must buy for any fan of Mario games, returning to and nailing perfectly the head-stomping action we all know and love. Not only that, but the puzzles are actually entertaining and the game coaxes you along at just the right speed to get you where you need to go. The designers have also managed to cram in loads of extras, such as the arcade in Flipside and side-quests like the Dungeon of 100 Trials. Simply put, this is a masterful game that no self respecting Nintendo fan should be without.