Paper Mario

Genre: Role-Playing Game

Original Release: August 11, 2000

Developers: Nintendo, Intelligent Systems

Publisher: Nintendo

Platform: Nintendo 64, Wii, Wii U, Nintendo Switch (Soon™), iQue Player

Played on: Nintendo 64

Is it just me, or do a lot of Mario’s adventures start with an invitation?

I don’t remember a lot of the ads that ran on TV around the time that Paper Mario was coming out. I just remember the name and it was Mario, so I wanted it. I think it was Christmas of that year that I did finally get my hands on a copy and at first I was kind of…underwhelmed? I mean it was Mario, but I was expecting something more in the vein of Super Mario 64 and instead I started off by walking around a lot. That feeling left pretty quickly though, once the game starts in earnest you’re out the gate…and out the window.

I’m not kidding, after this first fight, Bowser tosses you out the window.

The plot of Paper Mario is more or less on par with what you’d expect from Mario at this point: Bowser kidnaps Princess Peach and it’s up to you to rescue her. This time though, Bowser has an ace up his sleeve: he’s managed to steal the Star Rod and imprison the Star Spirits, both of which grant the wishes of the masses. With the Star Rod in hand, Bowser is able to make himself untouchable. Naturally this spells disaster for Mario, I mean just look at that picture above. Poor dude’s made of paper and he gets charred to a crisp in his first fight of the game. So once all of that’s over and done with, Mario sails down to earth and wakes up days later in Goomba Village, being cared for by the resident goombas and the Toad who runs the inn. While he was unconscious, one of the Star Spirits is able to use what little power they have to speak to him and explain that in order to counter the Star Rod’s power, all seven of the Star Spirits will need to combine their efforts. So naturally this means that Mario is on another whirlwind adventure in the vein of Super Mario RPG. He’ll have to roam all across the Mushroom Kingdom in order to track down and free all of the Star Spirits, but he can’t do it alone.

One of the things I really like about Paper Mario is that you gain party members over the course of the game, and each of them is one of the staple enemies from classic Mario: you’ve got a goomba, a koopa, a boo, and so many more! Each party member has a different talent that you’ll need to utilize at various points in order to solve puzzles nearby to either move forward, get some helpful items, or just learn about the room you’re in at the moment. Each party member can be upgraded using items scattered across the world called Super Blocks which will net them some new abilities and improve their damage output. Every party member can be upgraded twice after a point later in the game, and there are enough Super Blocks to upgrade all of them. It’s worth your time to find all of them and it’s not too hard to do as long as you’re thorough!

When I was a kid, I mistook Goompapa’s moustache as his mouth and thought he was angry and horrified at the same time. This is still a fantastic moment.

As I said, you’ll be roaming all across the Mushroom Kingdom in search of the Star Spirits over the course of the game. Every Star Spirit you rescue will grant you a new ability to use in battles and while these are mainly support abilities for healing you or decreasing the threat enemies pose, there is one ability that deals a flat 7 damage to every enemy on screen regardless of where they are on screen. You get that one a little ways into the game and while I used it all the time as a kid, I found a lot more use in the other powers you get. Being able to put enemies to sleep or just stop them in their tracks anywhere from 2 to 4 turns and wail on them in that time is a massive help, especially before you’ve increased your health a whole lot.

That’s another thing I should talk about: the leveling system. Mario starts with 10 HP and 5 FP, but defeating enemies nets him star points. Every 100 star points allows him to level up and increase his HP or FP by 5, or to gain another 3 Badge Points (BP) to equip more badges. Badges are basically equippable abilities to increase Mario’s versatility in battles or in the field. Some will prevent him from taking damage when he jumps on a spiky enemy, some let him spin dash greater distances to zip around the world just that little bit faster, and some just add zany sound effects to your attacks. That last category doesn’t cost anything, but all of the other badges cost a number of BP to equip. You can have a maximum of 30 BP, so it’s up to you how you want to mix and match your badges as well as power up Mario as you go. Further, enemies will reward fewer star points as you level up, eventually dropping nothing. You’ll never really need to grind and as far as I’m aware the level cap is 30. I didn’t reach it by the time I finished the game, but it’s possible to do. Of course, finishing the game was an adventure in and of itself.

I saw a lot of this early on.

See, Paper Mario isn’t exactly the most stable of games. I don’t know if it’s because I have an old cartridge or it was still a little dirty after I cleaned it, but apparently I’m not the only person to run into this problem. While I was trying to figure out what to do to work around this, I found an amusing thread on Scratch that includes “falling in love” and “hitting a block for 416 years.” That last one is actually true by the way. Stryder7x talked about it back in March of 2016. Paper Mario isn’t exactly the most stable of games.

In case all of you immortals out there want something to do.

Unfortunately-timed crashes aside, I had a good bit of fun over the 24-odd hours it took me to play through Paper Mario start to finish. I’ll admit that some of the battles got a little tedious as I got closer to the end of the game (four enemies with 12 health each when you can only do maybe 6 damage to them in a turn is rough), but by that point I was nearly max level and my party was almost fully upgraded, so I could just use the Star Spirit powers to turn them into stars, or scare them off using a Fright Jar or a party member’s abilities. It’s pretty simple at its core, but honestly that’s fair considering it’s the first entry in the series. The dev team was still figuring out what they were doing and what they could do now that Mario was made of paper. And lordy did they knock it out of the park with The Thousand-Year Door on the GameCube. At least if I’m remembering correctly. It’s been a while and I need to revisit that one to make sure I’m not being blinded by nostalgia.

Overall, it’s a good game with a few warts here and there, but nothing that I would ultimately consider a deal breaker. And so I feel content giving Paper Mario my personal seal of approval.

For those of you curious to try it out for yourselves, but reluctant to pay the crazy prices a lot of classic games currently fetch (checking PriceCharting at time of writing shows the cartridge alone sitting around $77.84), it is coming to the Nintendo Switch’s N64 library down the line. I don’t know when as the articles I’ve consulted have simply said “it will arrive later”, but it might be worth the wait. I’ve been seeing a lot of tweets about input lag with Ocarina of Time on Switch, so I’m hesitant to give that a hearty recommendation. Alternatively, there are some legally gray methods to play it if you can’t wait, but if you decide to go that route that’s on you. I’m not opposed to emulation (especially in the case of much older games that might be harder to find, like Little Samson and its $10,000 price tag), but I prefer having a physical copy of the games I play. Maybe it’s the memories or something.

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