Scrapbooking: The Game!
Format: Nintendo 64
Original Release Date: August 11th, 2000
Synopsis: Paper Mario firmly bridges the gap between Mario’s 2D roots and his 3D future while trying to blend the polar opposite worlds of role playing and platforming. Such a mishmash works surprisingly well as you make your way through the familiar Mushroom Kingdom on a quest to save Princess Peach yet again from the clutches of Bowser and his gang. Only this time instead of squirreling himself away in a super fortress 8 levels away, Bowser has stolen the legendary star rod and made himself invincible. Anyone familiar with the hundred or so previous Mario games knows that Mario’s pipe cleaning prowess have prepared him for just such an adventure, but he will need to recruit the help of many former enemies to save the princess this time.
Oh, and everything is made out of paper.
Not only did we do one show about this game, we did two!
(And here are some pictures in case you’re not in the mood for using your ears.)
Paper Mario is an odd duck. By nature the game is an RPG, but it’s foundation is very clearly a side scrolling platformer… and everything is made out of paper. Hence the name. Fortunately, the best elements are each genre are blended together to make Paper Mario a mostly enjoyable romp. The overall premise of the game is very similar to many Mario games that came before; x number of worlds stand between you and Bowser. However, due to Bowser’s new found invincibility, you must rescue the 7 Star Spirits across 7 chapters before you will be powerful enough to face him. Where Paper Mario really shines is in how you explore and experience each new world. Each new area is more than just another sequence of levels to jump through. Instead, each chapter is chock full of some of the goofiest, mostly likable characters living lives that suck you in and actually make you care about their plight. Whether you find yourself riding on the back of a whale to the island of Yoshis, rescuing Boo village from a ghost eating monster, saving the land of sunshine and flowers from a menacing overcast, or solving a penguin murder mystery in Shiver City you’d be hard-pressed not to care about the people you come across.
Along the way will need to enlist the help of new friends, most of whom would typically be considered an enemy in any other of Mario’s escapades. These new allies include a goomba, a bob-omb, a lakitu, a koopa troopa, a boo, a fish, and an electric spark. Each comes with a unique ability that will aid you not only in your platforming adventures, but add perhaps the only layer of depth to the combat system. While billed as an RPG, if you’re out for a deep RPG experience with level grinding, weapon crafting, and item management you are going to be sorely disappointed. Paper Mario’s combat is quite bare bones and quickly becomes more of a hassle than something to look forward to. In fact, I found myself running away from my fair share of battles simply because I could only hold 10 items and didn’t want to waste them before I got to the boss.
At its core the combat is traditional menu based JRPG combat with Mario and one companion on the the left with the enemies on the right. Basically Mario can choose to attack or use a skill while your partner can only choose to attack using one of their specific attacks, change character, or do nothing. To make things even less satisfying, your attacks will rarely, if ever, hit for more than a single digit number. Those who enjoy seeing hits crest into the quadruple digits, you may need to dial your excitement down to the double digits. Each battle nets you star points and when you collect 100 you level up. Each level you can choose to increase your HP, FP (flower power), or Badge Limit by 5 points.
The one saving grace of Paper Mario’s combat is the extensive badge system and how necessary it is to beating some of the game’s harder bosses. Each badge gives Mario a different skill or boost such as a charged jump or 5 extra HP. You will naturally come across a few badges through the course of the game, but many of the best ones require some real hunting to get. Finding the right combination of partner and badge becomes crucial for making your progress less painful. Unfortunately, while the badge system is a great source of strategy, it is also incredibly easy to exploit. About halfway through the game I discovered a badge that gives Mario the ability to skip a turn and increase his jump attack. Well, you can repeat that same skill over and over as many times as you like and the perks continue to stack until you use a jump attack. Couple this badge with another that allows Mario to continue to jump atop an enemy until you miss the button press, and you’ll become nearly unstoppable. By the time you stack the skill 7+ times, you can kill almost anything in the game in one hit, include most bosses. (Including what might just be the most ruthlessly difficult boss in any game I’ve come across. I’m looking at you Huff n’ Puff.) It can be a blessing and a curse.
If you can look past the shortcomings of this RPG you will find a wonderfully charming game filled with a lot familiar faces whom you won’t be obligated to jump on the moment you see them.
- Irresistibly charming
- Tried and true Mario formula
- Excellent writing
- Easy to pick up and play
- Loads of characters to recruit
- Badges. Oh the badges!
- About as deep as an evaporated puddle
- You can only hold 10 items at once
- Flower Fields and all its backtracking
- Shy Guy’s Toy Box, regardless of what Dan says!
- Some brutally difficult boss fights
- Easily abused combat system
- Playing as Peach between chapters.
While this may not be Mario’s first foray into the realm of role-playing, it does a decent job of setting the stage for his future success in the non-platforming genre. Those new to the RPG scene will likely enjoy their time in this turn based version of the Mushroom Kingdom, but veteran RPG fans may quickly find themselves bored at the simplistic repetitive nature of the game’s combat. Fortunately, witty writing and a great story are more than enough to carry even the most fatigued players through to the end.
- Poor Luigi
- Apparently even flowers can be horribly racist