Review: Flatter than Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen's careers, Mario's back and paper cutting evil's ass.
Mario is Nintendo's personal poster guy when it comes to just about every genre on every system in every game they concoct. He's gone from being the company's unmatchable platform plumber, to a mean shell tossing racer, to being a skilled golfer too. In the Super Nintendo days, it was all this, and then there was the time when Squaresoft stepped in and developed the very first RPG that would see Mario's face on it. Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars was one of the greatest RPGs fans of Mario games would know. But then, we wanted more. And we got it too. Although not from Squaresoft (who at the time sided with Sony and their new PlayStation console), Intelligent Systems' Paper Mario for the Nintendo 64 was a smashing success at the very end of the system's life span. Later on (last year in fact) AlphaDream developed the spiritual sequel to the original Mario RPG (where the N64 version was 2D and paper-oriented). That brings us back now to Intelligent Systems, who returns to their maker seat and brings us the very first sequel to their very unique and very excellent Paper Mario series, Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door.
How many times has it been now since Princess Peach has gotten herself kidnaped? One-hundred? One-thousand? ONE-MILLION TIMES??? No really, I'm curious. I lost count. Whatever the answer is, it's happened quite a lot. And yes, as always, it's happened once again. While on her visit to Rogue Port (a rundown seaside town), the blonde, the beautiful, the paper-thin Peach (she must be on the Calista Flockhart diet) was shopping when all of a sudden a mysterious figure gave to her a special map. It is said that on this map reads the location of an ancient treasure that was buried long ago behind the Thousand-Year door. Mailing the map to Mario, Peach writes and asks him to meet her in Rogue Port where she insists that they find the treasure together. The problem? Peach is nowhere to be found when Mario arrives on the scene. However, another dilemma arises. A fight breaks out, and Mario meets a new friend, Goombella the spike-hatted female Goomba. Learning of Mario's identity and about the map, the two set off on an adventure to find the princess, find the treasure, and meet new enemies and allies on another crazy Mario quest that'll amaze you, dazzle you, and enlighten your funny bones from start to finish.
As far as an RPG series goes, the Mario RPG titles really aren't one of those epic fairytales where villains have a heart of black and the good guys suffer the loss of Aeris and such and such. In its own way, however, Paper Mario is just as formidable as those other, more mature tales. It's with unique gameplay puzzles, a fun battle system, funny dialogue, and interesting characters and twists all rolled together that Paper Mario brilliantly succeeds as a game and as an RPG that makes the game very enjoyable to play on through. It starts with the concept that Mario and every other character in his universe are made out of paper, literally. That's where Intelligent Systems takes Mario and his growing gang of friends out into the world and allows them to explore further by using each power they've got to tackle certain points -- be it enemies or puzzle-related -- and win. You have Mario who starts out with only the capacity to jump and whack objects or enemies with his hammer. With these abilities, Mario can obviously jump on top of things to climb upward, or on top of them to bonk them with his buttocks. Mario's hammer acts the same way as any hammer would -- it slams down on stuff. As the adventure moves forward, Mario's attributes branch off into other paths and essentially upgrades just the same for past, present, and future venues he and his friends will be able to slip through as the game's progress points will allow for them to do so.
But first, to understand these values, you first have to be able to analyze the format for places Mario will visit. Like Mario or anyone else, insides and outsides of towns, buildings, enemy fortresses, and basically anywhere Mario can go are entered in a 3D 2D measurement. Because Mario is 2D himself, he can only move from side to side. That doesn't stop him from moving upward or downward, though. At every axis, at every turn of an adjustment in advancing throughout the game, Mario will gain new abilities (like being able to butt stomp through patterned floor panels or turn his side upward to squeeze through vertical bearings) and friends who together will filter through different points in a town or a level when not in battle. For example, Mario's first friend in the game is Goombella. Her power is to tattle, or basically to inform Mario about everything there is to know. By pressing X in the game, ally powers will kick in. In Goombella's case, if you press X in the port town of Rogue Port, Goombella will feed Mario a brief description of what kind of place Rogue Port is. Perform the same function when standing next to an individual NPC of Rogue Port, and she'll produce stats on them instead (Rogue Port by the way acts as the main hub to tie any and all access passages throughout the burg to its inner, upper, outer, and all arounder workings). Later on in the game Mario will team up with Koops, a koopa troopa whose sliding shell ability allows Mario to kick him in a sideways direction. This move also allows Mario to hold Koops in an out-of-reach position once booted (by pressing down on X and keeping it pressed) to be thrust into an object on return whilst Mario simultaneously is able to wander off elsewhere. This move is useful for knocking Koops into distant objects that can't be reached or buttoned blocks that initiate a timed elevator sequence, for example. Face not the block but in the opposite direction instead, toss Koops, freeze him there, have Mario step onto the bigger block lift, and release to let Koops fly backward into the block and send Mario up. In total, Mario's party can grow to eight in all, including himself. With each new character Mario befriends, some will give Mario greater advantages based on their talents (such as a baby Yoshi who gives Mario a boost in cruising through levels quickly while Yoshiback riding, where other partners cannot). But even as certain allies don't get as much due as "favorites," every character has a role and a function in the game, and it's interesting to see them all played out.
Battles, on the other hand, differ. Your choice of partners can be anyone, or they can be just one. And they will be only one too, because as a matter of fact battling in Paper Mario is done in twos. At least for you. Combat in the game is setup like this: First you walk around in the level out doing whatever in real-time. You see an enemy, or more than one enemy. Approach the enemy, and when it touches Mario, the fighting will commence. But the idea is you don't want it to touch Mario...not unless you want to score an extra hit before hand. If Mario is able to jump on an enemy, whack it with his hammer, or even use his partner's ability before the battle occurs, then a bout will start out with the first enemy in a lineup (that can range from one, to two, up to about six) getting the effect of the damage. Timing is everything, though. Just like in all the previous Mario RPG games, waiting to press a button right before you hit an enemy or an enemy hits you, an advantage of greater damage or protection will be on your side just as long as you're able to follow attack patterns and key in every sequence correctly. For example, Mario's attacks consist of both hammer and jumping properties. When Mario leaps into the air above the enemy's head, pressing A right before the landing will increase the damage given to a single foe double time. Time the attack just right, and an icon of a mushroom, star, shine, flower, or poisoned mushroom will appear on the right side of the screen. If two of the same icons show up in two joint turns in a row, a slot machine mini-game will begin and allow you to refill your stats with the associated icon (i.e., health for mushroom, flower points for flowers, etc.). The same procedure can be done with any ally, and every ally also has their own method of attack. Koops the Koopa for instance uses a spinning strike. Holding down left on the analog stick and waiting for the indicator on a sliding bar to reach a symbol in the middle and then release will give the enemy their come uppings with greater damage. A Yoshi partner, which you'll team up with and even name yourself (mine I called Fonzie...heeeeeeeeeey!), uses a stomp attack where he'll flutter overhead and bounce multiple times on top an enemy just so long as you're tapping the R button to fill up his gauge. The manner in which a combination of buttons you'll press all depends on which partner you have selected, where all of them can ultimately be switched in and out of combat for the betterment of your survival.