One of the better games (and few RPGs) on the Nintendo GameCube was the third Mario RPG released on a console system, Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door. Intelligent Systems' light-hearted RPG took a silly visual premise (Mario and company as thin paper cutouts) and combined it with a surprisingly action-packed turn-based battle system, making a game that is at once witty and fun to play. The same could be said about their first Wii offering, Super Paper Mario, released in April 2007 in Japan and North America, and September 2007 in Europe and Australia.

Unlike previous Paper Mario games, which were traditional RPGs with some movement-based puzzle-solving, Super Paper Mario is an action RPG drawing as much on the classic Super Mario Brothers platformers as it does on Final Fantasy and its ilk. Most action RPGs use a top-down or isometric perspective borrowed from the original Legend of Zelda, but Super Paper Mario uses a side-scrolling perspective intended as a deliberate throwback/homage to the NES era of Mario platformers. Enemies are faced in the usual Mario platform way, with jumping, fireballs, and hammers, and you can bonk blocks for coins and power-ups. At the same time, though, Mario and his enemies have hit points, and Mario has an experience level improved by scoring points.

No description of Super Paper Mario would be complete without a mention of its central mechanic: dimension switching. With a touch of a button Mario 'flips' from the 2D side-scrolling world to an end-on 3D view of the level, revealing detail invisible (and irrelevant) in 2D. Impassible pits have thin bridges, impenetrable fields of spikes have a clear path at the back, and many invisible creatures and items appear in corners. This ability is crucial for navigating the game and is employed in a variety of puzzles impeding Mario's progress through the levels. 

Mario is joined on his journey by a variety of helpful beings called 'Pixls', and three other main characters from the Mario mythos: Luigi, Princess Peach, and Bowser. Pixls each perform a task similar to Mario's 'partners' from earlier Paper Mario games, and are almost all named with horrible puns: one, Slim, flips Mario around (but not the perspective) to make him invisible and thus invincible in 2D, or to let him pass through thin gaps in 3D, while another, Thoreau, grabs items for Mario to, well, throw at things. Only one Pixl and one party member can be active at one time, making the game somewhat more difficult, though they can be swapped out at almost any time. The Pixls's help is necessary to advance through the many puzzles to be found in Super Paper Mario's 32 levels. 

Super Paper Mario was originally shown at E3 2006 as a GameCube game to be released that fall, seen by many as the 'last hurrah' for the outgoing system. It was soon a victim of Nintendo's quick abandonment of their last-generation system, quietly moving to the Wii in the summer of 2006 and being postponed into 2007 as a result. This new release date put it squarely in the middle of the Wii's release drought, helping tide over the new Wii owners between the launch selection and the fall's lineup of Nintendo stalwarts, but the game was originally designed for the GameCube and it shows. While Twilight Princess was extensively re-worked for Wii control, most of the special Wii actions for Super Paper Mario feel tacked-on. With the exception of pointing at the screen for information on objects and enemies, all the Wii motions simply replace button mashing with Wiimote shaking and direction-holding with Wiimote tilting. It is played with the sideways Wiimote, drastically limiting the number of available buttons; actions such as talking, opening chests, and spraying fireballs are done with D-Pad directions rather than their own buttons, and character and Pixl switching is done with menus rather than the many shortcuts possible with the GameCube's button collection. 

The plot involves foiling the plans of the sinister Count Bleck through... item collection! There are seven Pure Hearts at the end of the first seven Chapters and Mario must collect them all to save the day. This fairly pedestrian plot develops a variety of twists and turns before the end, some unexpected, some very silly, and some unexpected and very silly. The plot is much darker than previous Paper Mario games, with the utter destruction of all worlds heralded by the eerie, everpresent, and ever-growing Void in the sky. At best, the game's challenges are inventive and inspired, but the game does degenerate into tedious fetch quests from time to time, especially in the hub world of Flipside. In addition, the game is considerably shorter than the earlier Paper Mario games, as the lightweight platformer format makes the eight chapters fly by.

Super Paper Mario is a very nostalgic game, beginning with the near-recreation of the iconic first two levels of the original Super Mario Brothers and extending through much of the game's design and dialogue. The Nintendo and video game in-jokes from the earlier Paper Mario games are intact, but the retro side-scrolling style brings it to a new level. Authentic 8-bit sprites of the main characters are used in a few places, including a New Super Mario Bros.-inspired Mega Star power-up that grows your character into a towering 8-bit sprite form allowing them to crash through any enemies or barriers that happen to get in their way. 

On the whole, Super Paper Mario is a good game hampered by a few significant flaws. It is a clever and well-realized gameplay idea mixed with witty writing, but with lackluster Wii control and occasional tedious fetch quests. Nevertheless, it remains one of the better single-player games in the Wii catalogue, though the game drought that its release attempted to stave off is beginning to end with the release of Metroid Prime 3: Corruption

This writeup is copyright 2007 by me and is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs-NonCommercial licence. Details can be found at .

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