Super Paper Mario

Keeping Mario games fresh isn’t easy. Super Paper Mario is approximately the 117th game to carry the name “Mario” in it’s title. If you add in games in which Mario stars or appears that don’t bear his name, the number of titles jumps past two hundred. Since every game, even those in a series, bears the weight of being a stand-alone installation, they are more like films than like television episodes. Would the 007 or Star Wars film franchises still be fresh after the 117th sequel? Would James Bond or R2D2 retain their charm after more than 200 separate appearances? Perhaps they would, and perhaps they would not. Mario is an unusual character with staggering longevity. And as Super Paper Mario shows, he still has plenty of fuel.

Flipped Out

Though this game makes generous use of the Wii’s motion and pointer controls, it was created for the Game Cube, and therefore is predominately controlled with conventional button pressing. Even with this conventional layout, the game has remarkable depth and innovation. Like previous Paper Mario games, all of the artwork is based on flat images. Mario and his enemies are like paper dolls. This places stylistic emphasis on the nature of platform games. In Super Mario Bros., you move Mario around on a screen in two dimensions– the x-axis and y-axis. But why couldn’t Mario just walk around the enemies he encounters?

This game takes on this argument quite famously. Mario can “flip” himself and then interact with his environment in three dimensions– adding in the functionality of the z-axis. He can circumnavigate enemies and obstacles and even find hidden passages and items. Many enemies and elements in the game exist only in the two dimensions of the z and y axes. This fascinating variation allows two objects to occupy the same space– just in different dimensions. This is a level of game play not previously seen.

The Afterlife

Few games grapple with the concept of the afterlife as casually as Super Paper Mario. If the afterlife is mentioned at all, it is a major theme. Death, however, occurs in many games. Player controlled characters and their computer controlled cousins fall down bottomless pits, are crushed to death, eaten alive, skewered with swords, or incinerated with lasers. But what happens to them next? This game ponders that they go to what the localization engineers call the “Aftergame.”

The scenes in the Aftergame take place in two worlds– the Underwhere and the Overthere. They are stylized versions of Heaven and Hell. Characters in the Underwhere exist as disembodied pixels, floating around talking about how they died. It usually happened as some kind of common video game occurrence. There is a stand-in for the River Styx here, and the people who guard the place are imps who are given the non-offending name “D-Men.”

The opposite of the Underwhere, the Overthere, is a Heaven-like construct which is built of clouds. It has large columned buildings and the inhabitants are the Nimbi, vaguely anthropomorphic winged figures with gender-specific hairstyles. They are reminiscent of the Subcon characters from Super Mario Bros. 2. They do not bear much, if any, resemblance to the Nimbus characters from Super Mario RPG, which were marshmallowy cloud beings.

These depictions of the afterlife lend greatly from established Judeo-Christian cultural ideas. The details are tweaked with game-specific elements and this adds depth to the interpretation.

The Fourth Wall

The “Fourth Wall” is a construct in art and literature which defines the invisible barrier between the art and the audience. In a drama such as a play, the wall exists at the edge of the stage. Though actors may speak in the direction of the audience, this is often a soliloquy and therefore not an audience interaction. The Fourth Wall is broken occasionally in drama and film, but the interactive nature of games allows the boundary itself to become nebulous and fluid.

This game breaches the Fourth Wall by actually referencing the player on a number of occasions. In one scene, if the player directs Princess Peach to make atypical comments, she protests and takes command of her own dialogue. Furthermore, many characters who give advice and counsel to Mario on his adventure, will give instructions on how to perform an action by pressing buttons on the controller. They then say that he should not worry about those things, but rest assured that the player, referred to as some higher being, knows what it means.


Unlike most narrative games, this game allows the player to continue once the story has been completed. In this case, the player can continue on side-quests and collection quests and other tasks. He or she can also receive adulation from characters in the game, and see how their lives have progressed since the final battle was concluded. It is an unusual and welcome addition to the game.

Super Paper Mario is well-written and yields a sharp sense of humor that permeates the text and the situations. Though many of the characters are convoluted foils, their cleverly worded speech adds to their satirical and thematic values. This is an excellent example at the nimble, versatile storytelling promise inherent to video games.

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