Random Game Wednesdays: Paper Mario

Using a random number generator to decide what game you’re going to write about each Wednesday can lead to some interesting results. In a lot of cases, you end up with games that not a lot of people have even heard of. But there’s just as much of a chance that you end up with a game that’s considered an absolute classic. This week, it gave me the Nintendo 64 RPG, Paper Mario.

I had played Paper Mario previously, but I’ve never finished it. I definitely enjoyed my time with it, but it never stuck with me, unlike Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars. I’m not really sure what it was that caused me to bounce off it after a few hours back in the day. Was it the 2D visuals? I doubt it, since that was kind of the whole gimmick, so I knew what I was getting before playing. Was it the more simple nature of the game when compared to other RPGs? Possibly, but Mario RPG wasn’t exactly complicated either. Whatever the case, it didn’t hold true today. Usually I play about half an hour to 45 minutes of a game before I write one of these posts. Today, I played for an hour and a half and I’m probably going to play more tonight.

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The game opens with Luigi getting the mail. There’s a letter from Princess Peach inviting him and Mario to the castle for a party. A lot of people from different villages from around the Mushroom Kingdom will also be attending. Mario and Luigi hop into a warp pipe that’s right outside their house and end up at Peach’s castle.

Luigi decides to just kind of hang out and mingle for a while, but suggests that Mario should go meet up with Peach. Before doing so, I decide to explore the castle a little bit. The opening room is almost identical to the layout of the castle in Super Mario 64, but the doors lead to different rooms. For example, the door that previously led to the basement now leads to a kitchen. There’s a ton of NPCs to talk to. Most of them are Toads, but there’s also a few penguins and a couple koopas. It’s pretty interesting to see koopas hanging out at the castle, as they’re pretty much always portrayed as villains in the Mario series.

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Eventually, I make my way to the top of some stairs where Princess Peach is. She’s gotten tired from greeting all her guests and needed to step away for a bit. She invites Mario to join her on the balcony, when suddenly the ground starts shaking. Bowser’s castle emerges from underground with Peach’s on top, and flies into the sky. I’m not really sure how he managed to get his castle underground, but whatever. Bowser bursts through the window and proclaims that he has the Star Rod, which makes him invincible. Mario tries to fight him anyway, but is quickly defeated and thrown out of the castle.

I played through the entire prologue of the game, but I’m not going to bog down this post with just a plot recap of what’s happening. It’s a cute story though, with a lot of clever dialogue and charming characters. It’s easy to see why people hold this game in such high regard, and again, makes the fact that I never stuck with it even more confusing.

One of the things that has always set the Mario RPGs apart from other games in the genre is the inclusion of platforming elements. Mario can jump, just like he can in his main series, and can access places he wouldn’t normally be able to. He can also hit floating blocks above his head or use a hammer he’s given early on to hit blocks on the ground. This can also be used to earn a first strike when entering combat. If you see an enemy on the field, either jump on him or hit him with your hammer and you’ll get a free hit when the battle starts.

Battles are pretty simplistic, especially early on. Mario can choose between jumping attacks or hammer attacks. It doesn’t seem to matter for most enemies, however some will require you to use a specific type of attack. A flying enemy can’t be hit by the hammer, and an enemy with a spike on his head can’t be jumped on. I was initially pretty put off by the combat due to the lack of timed button presses to deal more damage or block attacks, a staple of Mario RPGs. However, about an hour into playing, Mario is given the Lucky Star which unlocks that ability.

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One thing that Paper Mario added that would stick with all future Mario RPGs is the concept of badges. Badges add different abilities when equipped, however they each cost a certain amount of badge points, and at the start of the game Mario only has three points. The first badge you’re given adds a special jumping move that deals more damage but costs Flower Points, this game’s equivalent to they typical RPG magic point system. As you get more badges you can equip and unequip them to customize your Mario to your liking.

The first hour and half of Paper Mario is great fun. It has wonderful writing, interesting characters, and a cool graphical theme. The combat is a little simple, but that’s okay. Sometimes it’s nice to just relax and enjoy something that doesn’t force you to think too much. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I might go play some more.

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