Original Release Date: 2000
I’m not a huge fan of traditional turn based RPGs in general. While they often have interesting stories and characters, the moment to moment gameplay of random encounters and monotonous turn based battles makes it hard for me to keep going in most cases. There are only a few exceptions where I’ve been able to get into games that are built around turn based combat.
Which is why I was quite surprised at just how much I enjoyed Paper Mario. On the surface it looks like most other Mario games, with Princess Peach being kidnapped by Bowser, and Mario having to go and save her. However, the actual structure and gameplay are vastly different from the older Mario platformers, blending new and old ideas to create something that somehow manages to simultaneously be both familiar and utterly unique.
Paper Mario take place in a variation of the Super Mario universe where all of the characters and objects are 2D paper cutouts in 3D spaces. The game’s aesthetic is reminiscent of a children’s storybook, and is wonderfully detailed and charming. The aesthetic, along with the simple but appealing graphics make Paper Mario the first N64 game I’ve played so far that has truly aged almost perfectly when it comes to the visuals.
Unlike most Mario games, Paper Mario is an RPG. However, it blends several different genres, and as such the gameplay has a fair amount of variety. The basic abilities and moveset of Mario are most similar to his abilities from the old Mario platformers, and there is a bit of platforming sprinkled throughout the entire game. The structure of the game is most similar to the Zelda games, as you are presented with a vast overworld to explore, and you must complete each area to gain new abilities and unlock the means to proceed to the next area.
The combat used to fight and defeat enemies is the traditional turn based system used in most old school RPGs, but it has a few twists of its own. Instead of simply telling your characters to attack, you do have some input as to how effective the attack will be. For example, when Mario jumps on an enemy, if you press the A button right before he lands, it will increase the damage the enemy takes. This makes the turn based battles feel dynamic, and makes them more interesting than just mindlessly pressing the attack button until all the enemies are dead.
Another thing that I like about the combat and other RPG elements is that they don’t overload the player with too much information at once. One thing that greatly turns me off a lot of RPGs is that they tend to throw the player into the gameplay without properly explaining how anything works, with a sink or swim attitude that makes it harder to understand and get into the game. Paper Mario avoids this by breaking down the different aspects of the gameplay into small, manageable chunks, gradually introducing new mechanics as they become relevant. Paper Mario is not a particular hard game, but it’s understanding of a properly paced learning and difficulty curve is something I greatly appreciate about it.
When it comes to the story, on the surface it appears to be your standard Bowser kidnaps the Princess, Mario has to save her narrative. However, it makes the story more interesting by playfully making fun of the franchises tropes, often indulging in quirky and effective moments of humor. On top of which, the game features an excellent cast of characters, and the game’s unique take on recognizable faces from the Mario franchise makes exploring the world fun and exciting.
As someone who is not a huge fan of Mario games in general, Paper Mario greatly surprised me. It managed to take a long running and somewhat stale series and revitalize it with unique twists to the gameplay and narrative, offering something both invigorating and memorable. I’ve enjoyed it greatly, and it deserves to be right up there with all of the other N64 classics.
How well it holds up 4/4
Personal Enjoyment 5/5
Overall quality 9/10
For further information about the game: