With a lot going on in the news right now, I certainly wouldn’t blame anyone for missing the news about Super Mario, but recently, there was afairly reputable leak which indicated that Nintendo has big plans for their pride-and-joy franchise. 2020 is the 35th Anniversary of Super Mario Bros. for the NES, so Nintendo is apparently planning a handful of big releases, a lot of which would have been announced at this year’s E3, which has been cancelled. Among those announcements, there’s rumor of a new Paper Mario game, which would be the sixth in a series that has had some notable ups and downs.
The Paper Mario franchise started as a reinvention of Super Mario RPG, with a similar turn-based RPG combat system but a new, whimsical visual presentation. It kept its general formula for the first two games – Paper Mario on Nintendo 64 and Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door on GameCube – before making some ambitious changes.
Sadly, I’ve never gotten a chance to play the original Paper Mario game for N64, but I first played Paper Mario and the Thousand-Year Door, and it’s almost certainly one the greatest games I’ve ever played. The characters and settings are engaging and whimsical, the dungeons choc full of clever puzzles. And not to mention, it’s quite funny. It’s no surprise that TTYD is remembered as one of the best games on the GameCube.
After that, the series took a bit of a departure with Super Paper Mario, which did its best to redefine itself, with gameplay revolving around new mechanics and with a slightly different visual aesthetic for new characters – Mario, Peach, Bowser, and Luigi all looked the same, but the new characters looked like something we hadn’t seen before. It makes for a visual style that’s a little hard to get used to.
I’ve heard people say that the story is better in Super Paper Mario, which I agree with and disagree with. The overarching story of Super Paper Mario, I must say, is better – focusing on a Romeo-and-Juliet style love story which brings a surprising pathos to the main villain. But the chapter-by-chapter installments are, on the whole, distinctly less interesting. Both games require Mario to obtain seven items in seven different worlds. Maybe it’s nostalgia, but I can’t remember the names of characters in SPM who appear in one chapter quite like I can remember TTYD characters.
And it’s hard to blame that on one thing, but I can point to one specific thing. TTYD introduces companions which help Mario in combat and to solve puzzles; Goombella, Koops, Yoshi, and more. They’re characters, with backstories and distinct traits. They respond in their own way to whatever is happening in the story, which makes them feel dynamic. Not so for Super Paper Mario, in which the companion characters are instead downgraded to “Pixls,” who are just glorified tools. The Pixls introduce themselves, but they don’t speak after that and thus, aren’t particularly memorable. All of the Pixl names are puns though, so they have that going for them. It’s really a microcosm of (But, to give credit where credit is due, Count Bleck and Dimentio are better antagonists than their TTYD counterparts, Grodus and Lord Crump.)
Super Paper Mario made a fairly ambitious decision in forgoing the original turn-based combat in favor of a new playstyle. The turn-based combat is much more engaging as far as I’m concerned, While few consider the game to be bad, it certainly is The Dark Knight Rises to the two games that came before it. Comparing it to Thousand-Year Door, I’m bound to be critical. Overall, it’s a pretty fun and interesting game. I haven’t had a chance to play either of the two games that followed Paper Mario: Sticker Star and Paper Mario: Color Splash, but they’re distinctly less-loved by fans. Hopefully the new Paper Mario for Switch will be a bit of a return-to-form. I’m super excited to see where it goes.
Just one other thing I wanted to mention before concluding, is that recently I’ve been enjoying a fan-made remix album of tracks from Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, an album called Stories from Riverside by YouTube user metro libra. It’s absolutely delightful.
At the time of writing this, metro libra’s album has less than 100 listens on YouTube though some of the individual tracks have more than that, and if you ask me, that’s absolutely criminal. I doubt that mentioning Stories from Riverside in this blog post will greatly improve the number of views the channel gets, but if you have a chance listen to their music, it’s great. You can find their channel here and Stories from Riverside can be listened to here.