A particular segment of “Super Paper Mario” requires the player to jump up and down 100 times in a row. It’s just what it sounds like — there is absolutely no challenge save resisting the urge to garrote oneself with the wiistrap. Upon completion, the player is allowed to enter a VIP room. The player is then required to run on a hamster wheel holding down right on the directional pad for a solid 10 minutes to advance. This sequence is an apt metaphor for the entire game, if not a particularly complex one. “Super Paper Mario” is lame, lame and boring.
The sequel to “Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door,” “Super Paper Mario” returns to the platforming roots of the Mario franchise, eschewing turn-based RPG-style combat for classic head stomping. It operates like a 2-D side-scroller, except for some vestigial RPG elements and the fact that our mustached hero has the power to flip his world into the third dimension.
That last bit is actually pretty cool and adds a nice spice to the convention of the side-scroller. For example, impassable walls in 2-D can be easily be sidestepped in 3-D. Unfortunately, after it ceases to be novel this simple method of installing puzzles at every turn becomes tiresome and overused. It’s like that friend that hides in the closet every single time you play hide and seek and is shocked every single time you figure out how to open the door. It’d probably be more fun to just leave him in there.
The aforementioned RPG elements involve systems of abilities, attributes and items, which successfully bog down what is meant to be simple gameplay in a fog of menus, cursors and soul-crushing sound effects. “Paper” was originally designed for the GameCube controller, and the dearth of buttons on the wiimote is damning. Abilities are controlled by cutesy little sprites called “Pixls,” which follow Mario around, clutter the screen and confuse the action. Changing abilities requires that the player pause and scroll through a menu, which becomes laborious especially when abilities need to be combined. Character switching requires the menu as well, and there were more than a few moments when Bowser would have served me better than Mario, but I just didn’t feel like scrolling through and selecting him.
These abilities, in addition to events in the world, all feature well-designed, smooth animations, but I simply became irritated at having to watch them again and again. The transition to 3-D is one of the most striking examples of this — fun at first, but after that sound effect makes its way into your brain it will never leave.
The pacing of the game is further eviscerated by endless, text-based “cutscenes.” I call them cutscenes solely because they are brief lapses in player control designed to slowly reveal a thin plot. They are, however, devoid of any motion, excitement, action or really, anything at all. They amount to text bubbles appearing above the characters while the player jams the 2 button trying to skip it, only to realize that they have to continue playing the game afterwards. Critics have said that this long-winded style means the game probably isn’t suited for younger gamers, but I fail to see why older gamers should have to put up with it. The routine and flaccid attempts at wit only make it all the more painful, like an amateur stand-up comedian who’s working way too hard for his eventual tomatoes. I guess this game’s target market is people who like reading, but who don’t want to be challenged or entertained by their material. It’s not that I hate the idea, I just hate that it blows.
Still, there are good points here, and they certainly bear mentioning. The visuals, for one, are actually quite stunning throughout much of the game. A combination of solid colors and simple geometric shapes provide for crisp, bold images that perfectly complement the storybook concept of the “Paper Mario” franchise. The hammer brothers, the goombas and the principal characters are all lovingly recreated with personality and grace. Backgrounds — whether desert, outer space or bogs — are simple, elegant and captivating. In true Nintendo form, the art direction is creative and refreshing, challenging the industry paradigm that beefy hardware is the only path to graphical excellence.
Eye candy, however, whether high tech or low-tech, cannot disguise bad gameplay. The enemies are bland and repetitive, and the bosses even worse. The charming simplicity of goombas and koopas is easily overshadowed by legions of new enemies that are difficult only in the sense that they occasionally hurt you for what seems like little or no reason. Nothing is challenging here, only frustrating. The bosses have the same formula, occasionally doling out large amounts of damage but providing no sense of satisfaction for defeating one, just the inevitability of another. Imagine Sisyphus’ boulder painted bright green and spouting inane dialogue.
I had such high hopes for “Super Paper Mario.” The prospect of Nintendo adapting the classic side-scrolling Mario formula with crisp visuals, expanded gameplay and a three-dimensional twist seemed like a brilliant idea. It was to be the shining example of the creativity and ingenuity the puckish Wii is supposed to embody. Alas, it sucks.