Two for the price of one this week, first Swith reviews this new Nintendo classic, then PaulEMoz does the same. Because we don't communicate okay? The left hand and the right hand? No fucking idea. Anyhoo - away we go:
Last weekend I spent a restful couple of days in Centre Parcs. Unfortunately, the tranquillity of my synthetic woodland retreat was slightly marred by the fact that it’s terribly difficult to get around the place, and worrying about your car parked in a muddy car park 2 miles away is quite a distraction. Trudging back to the villa on a less than clement evening, I mused how much easier life would be if you could just fold up your car, and carry it with you. That’s when I realised I had been utterly and deeply affected by Paper Mario – the thousand year door.
Playing Paper Mario 2 is comparable to playing the pop-up book version of a pantomime spliced with a turn-based combat game. It’s camp-as-Christmas, funny-as-hell and utterly compelling. As in the original Paper Mario, on the N64, Mario exists in the form of a single-plane cutout, but with the help of various ‘curses’ inflicted on him during his journey he gradually learns to use his paper-thin disposition to full advantage. The inventive uses of this paper-thin Mario include folding him into an aeroplane to glide across chasms, and rotating him so that he can slip through inaccessible cracks. Even using warp pipes results in Mario spinning round the rim as he is sucked down, like a piece of toilet tissue.
Mine always flipped upside down, and then plummeted to the ground.
I've said Paper Mario is funny as hell. I wasn’t joking. I have genuinely never chuckled so much during a game. The dialogue is very drole and intelligent while remaining faithful to the Mario mythos. Each character in the game has their own witty, distinctive way of expressing themselves: be it the megalomaniac Bowser takin’ no shit from his goons, or Peach bemoaning her seemingly perpetual state of kidnap. The game isn’t afraid to have a loving dig at itself, and it all adds to the gloriously effective atmosphere. Some of the younger characters’ dialogue can descend a bit into a faux-hip jive-talk, but maybe that’s how the kids actually do talk these days.
The jive talkin’ Goombella and Mario catch a sheepish Koopa admiring his collection of grubby pictures of Peach.
Now, I’ve never had a tremendous amount of patience, so I normally steer clear of role-playing games - I associate turn-based combat with SID worshippers and Wizards of the Coast card game players, but the imaginative way fights are presented in the game, along with extra timing elements, make for an experience that is unquestionably fun. Even a die-hard twitch gamer like me is kept suitably occupied and happy in combat.
The story rolls out within a very large and varied world, which ultimately for some will lead to the scourge of the RPG: getting lost.
There is nothing lonelier than the lost RPG gamer - repeatedly pacing across well-worn paths looking for that clue that might have been missed. There must be millions of half finished copies of ‘Wind Waker’ that have been started, left for a fortnight, only for the player to have completely forgotten where they were going, and what they were trying to achieve (damn straight - Ko).
I’d be lying if I pretended that I hadn’t got lost in this game. In total I must have spent a good few hours running past the very thing I was looking for on several different occasions. What stands out though is that even when in this pitiful situation, the light-heartedness of the dialogue, the attention to detail and the fantastic music keep the wolf of boredom from the door of impatience. Having an easy to find fortune-teller in the game who, for a small fee, will jog the memories of forgetful gamers is very helpful too.
Pop-up books, eh. Do they do ‘pop up porn?’ Thankfully, no.
So what have we got? An amusing and gently irreverent story line, great characters that you’d have to be a stonehearted wretch not to develop affection for, a fun combat system and a whole lot of gaming hours for your buck. Well worth anyone’s time, and definitely something for gamers of all persuasions and abilities. Magic.
RODENT CASH RATING -
"Colourful and fun, but capable of takin' yer roughly from behind."
3D games are all the rage with the kids, so what’s Nintendo’s latest move? To create a game that not only features 2D graphics, but positively celebrates them and uses them as a core part of the gameplay mechanic. Genius, or marketing suicide? You can decide for yourself, but I’m erring on the side of genius myself.
Do you know what the last Mario game I really played was? No, of course you don’t, you don't live at my house. However, you might be surprised to learn that it was Super Mario Bros. Yes, the first one. Barring emulator revisits of SNES Mario outings, I haven’t played a single Mario game since then. I’ve never raced a Mario Kart, I’ve never had a Mario Party, and I haven’t glimpsed so much as a single ray of Mario Sunshine. Yet for some inexplicable reason, I decided to re-acquaint myself with the fat gay plumber through this new Paper Mario game.
You’ve got to wonder if Mario is alright in the head. I mean, he keeps knocking around with Princess Peach, and she keeps getting herself captured before they’ve had time for so much as a cup of tea, so off he goes again in an effort to save her. Why doesn’t he just find some ordinary, non-regal bint that’ll hang around and iron his plumber’s pants, someone that evil forces don’t have any interest in?
Mario’s slavish, under-the-thumb behaviour aside, I was immediately grabbed by the sheer vibrancy of the whole thing. It’s so colourful and just so damn busy, that it’s hard not to fall in love at first sight. Wandering around Rogueport at the beginning of the game, with bunches of locals milling about, you actually feel as if you're wandering around a proper, inhabited town, rather than the sparse ghost wrecks of cities that are the general rule of games.
Christ, look at that big bugger! How’s a diminutive handyman supposed to beat that?
Although the paper-element of the game seems a bit gimmicky, it also leads to some immensely satisfying puzzle-solving moments. For instance, early on you get stuck at a river. Look around and you find a pipe, which leads to the background, and a switch. Hit the switch, and a bridge unfolds itself from the scenery! A big cheesy satisfied grin is guaranteed.
Something else that should not be overlooked is the game’s sense of humour. OK, so all the speech comes in text bubbles, and some might find it a bind to skip through, but a lot of the dialogue is genuinely amusing, and serves to add another feather to the tail of this weird origami swan.
If you want something doing right, do it yourself.
Paper Mario is marketed as an RPG, but that’s really a rather loose definition. I suppose, strictly speaking, there are plenty of RPG elements here, but really it’s more like a traditional 2D Mario game, except there’s a lot more depth in the gameplay. The only slight drawback I can find is that there is eventually a little too much backtracking, but there’s just so much to do that this is very easily overcome.
One accusation that’s been levelled at Paper Mario: TTYD is that it’s a kiddy game. Rubbish. It’s a just a great game pure-and-simple. That kids will undoubtedly enjoy it is neither a fault nor a failing. This game can be enjoyed by anyone, from a four-year-old right up to the oldest person ever to lay hands on a controller. And it’ll be thoroughly enjoyed by all of them.
, November 2004.
RODENT CASH RATING -
"D’ye get garlic bread with that?"
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