Paper Mario

The Nintendo 64 heralded the dawn of the three-dimensional game era. It’s breakout titles Super Mario 64 and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time set the bar for 3d games and set it very high. But in 2000 (Japan) and 2001 (North America and Europe), Nintendo released Paper Mario, a game which defied the movement into three dimensions by utilizing a unique art design that was reminiscent of paper dolls on a diorama.

Paper Dolls

The art, music, sound effects, and writing in this game are all tight– exactly what you’d expect from Nintendo and Intelligent Systems. They all come together well to make a fantastic single work. But what you notice the most in this title is the artwork. The characters, as previously reviewed in the game’s second sequel, are all paper cut outs. When they turn, it is as if a flat image flips over.

This art style does not fully utilize the hardware’s capabilities. The Nintendo 64 was capable of much more, the Wii is capable of even more than that, but this choice allowed the developers to create a succinct storybook style. So far, all of the Paper Mario games have followed in this style and this has been to the benefit of the franchise. The unique animations not only add visual depth, but allow for unique game play options which would not be possible in a 3d or conventional 2d game. We will write on this further when we review this game’s sequel– Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door.

The Stars

Stars have always been an integral symbol of the Mario franchise. In the original game, bouncing “star man” power ups granted the player temporary invincibility. This is not a fluke. Stars are some of the most common, prevalent images in cultural art and literature. Their uses range from astrology to navigation to religious and political iconography. In Paper Mario, “star spirits” dwell in their own special place where they watch over the world and, as in apocrypha, grant wishes. It is this important role, rather the loss of it, which starts Mario’s quest. He not only seeks to save the Princess and restore peace to the kingdom, but also to return the power of granting wishes to the star spirits, thus saving everyone in the world. Though the plot is uncomplicated, it isn’t obtuse. In games, epic plots are not necessary to make an immersive, enjoyable, thought-provoking experience.

The Mario Story

This game is successful because unlike Super Paper Mario, it draws almost exclusively on the pre-existing Mario characters, locations, and themes. Almost all of the villains are either taken directly from Mario games, or characters created very much in that vein. This consistency is important to the game, and demonstrates the wide diversity in the Mario universe. One of the most recognizable in all video games, the Mario franchise of characters and locales often seems like it came collectively out of a hallucination– which places it right alongside the works of Lewis Carol and others.

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