Although Super Paper Mario
is a much faster-paced game than the previous two entries, it does have its slow moments. The game opens with a long explanation in which the plot is explained no more than three times. Princess Peach and Bowser are kidnapped and forced to wed by Count Bleck, an angular enemy with plans to trigger the end of the world by unlocking the Dark Prognosticus. The union opens a void that threatens to suck all realities into it unless Mario, a hero prophesized by the Light Prognosticus, is able to locate the seven Pure Hearts and close the void.
If Super Paper Mario has any flaws, it is that it is too wordy. Nearly every character you come across has a lot to say, and while it is tempting to quickly scroll through the text, there is a chance you’ll lose a key plot element or, worse yet, the solution to a puzzle. On the plus side, the text is well-written and features plenty of genuinely funny moments. There are numerous references to pop culture (including an oh-so-true encounter with a message board fanboy) and several in-joke references to other Mario titles. Some of the funnier moments come when the game breaks down the fourth wall and refers to the player as a “person watching in another dimension” or the “person in control.” If anything, Super Paper Mario will go down as one of the industry’s better localization efforts.
Gameplay is made up mostly of the jump and bop platforming that made the Mario series popular in the first place. In fact, several of the levels Mario traverses feature subtle references to levels found in the first Super Mario Bros. – including a hidden level that is a perfect recreation of that game’s second level (complete with the hidden warp room). Although the game loses the turn-based combat elements, it still retains several RPG elements. Mario still levels up by earning points and can also use items to replenish health, reduce damage and attack enemies.
However, don’t expect a pure platform game. You still spend a great deal of time searching areas for hidden paths, rooms and items. Also, in order to unlock new chapters (the game is split into eight worlds, each split into four levels) you’ll need to search Flipside, the hub area, for columns. Some are easy to find, while others are not. Like the story sequences, these areas tend to drag and really slow down the pacing. Sometimes you just want to jump on turtles and run through levels, not talk to people and find obscure locations.
Super Paper Mario’s main play mechanic is the ability to flip between 2D and 3D perspectives. By pressing the (A) button, you can switch perspectives – each with its own advantages and disadvantages. Playing in 2D presents a very simple sideview that, when switched to 3D, becomes more complicated. What looks like an impassible wall in 2D is actually only one box deep and can be walked around, while dead ends can reveal hidden paths or new items. The relationship between the 2D and 3D perspectives is smart and presents many of the game’s “Wow” moments.