Monday, March 30, 2015

A Thought to Chew: Why I Love Super Paper Mario (and You Should Too)

Mario is the undisputed king of Nintendo video games. He's sold the most games in all of gaming history, earned millions of fans, and almost singlehandedly saved the North American video game market after the likes of Pac-Man and E.T. tarnished it like a constipated cat taking a laxative. With success that beloved, there are bound to be spin-offs. Oh, how there are spin-offs.
Perhaps it's just me, but I never quite understood spin-offs. Don't get me wrong, there are hundreds of amazing ones that stand tall on their own, but there are the bad ones. Remember Dead or Alive: Xtreme Beach Volleyball? Sorry for putting the game back into your memory. It's the kind that just makes you wonder, "How the flying heck did they come up with this? What kind of hard drugs are you taking to make a crossbow shooting gallery with the hero of Hyrule?!"
The Paper Mario games are one such series.

Being a chap who's seen the world wholly from the looking-glass of the 21st century, I never got to experience the first two. While I could've played The Thousand-Year Door, I oddly jumped right over it, going from a GameBoy Advance SP to a DS Lite, eventually to a Wii.
It was quite a long time ago. Imagine a period where everybody still argued about if Sonic or Mario was better (they were yet to tackle each other head on in the Olympics, but I think it's safe to say that Mario took the huge lead), Pokemon card games were held by all the snot-nosed kids running around the school playground, and this magical shop called "Blockbuster" existed. From there, my brother rented a little game called Super Paper Mario.
It's safe to say that I fell in love with the game.
The storyline is as crazy as you'd expect from a Mario spin-off; the characters are fresh and comical, never overstaying their welcome over the journey; the music is always stuck in my head; the gameplay is beautifully precise; the graphics make my mouth water like a human Pavlovian dog....... It's so great. Heck, the critics praised it too. Let it also be known that just last month I completed a 100%, yes, 100% playthrough of the entire game, start to finish, collecting all the cards, cooking every recipe, doing all the secrets, and it was the bomb. For a game released in 2007, it hasn't aged a bit.
Let me tell you about aging. Some things age out of nostalgia. Take, for example, the universally-beloved Super Mario 64. Don't kill me, but I don't think it was the best. (dramatic sting and gasps) I understand why it's such an important moment in gaming history. I understand why it's so great. I understand why everybody loves it more than the children they'll have in ten years, but as somebody who has never played the original and only dabbled on the DS version, I had a hard time getting into it. Watching people play it is amazing, the music is wonderful, and the gameplay looks sublime, but I just can't get into it. The graphics hold up only out of nostalgia and gaming importance, but you're a sucker to say that it stands a chance against the beauty of Super Mario Galaxy. (think aesthetically, not nostalgically, mind you.) The controls are off-putting to somebody who's been spoiled by the luxury of Wii gaming. The camera is less functional than a drunk person trying to do long division. It simply never felt right.
I'm afraid that's a similar issue with Super Paper Mario. People sung praise of the Paper Mario series, how it was amazing and the likes, but the overhype ruined the experience. For the love of God, stop comparing it to the other games in the series because it's the black sheep of the series. It is not an RPG. It is not in line with the other games in the series in many ways. You can't expect something you hold dearly to be the exact same as time goes on, like a soda left outside and going flat.
In this case, however, that analogy sucked because the game is amazing.
The cast of characters and their personalities are some of the most memorable one-off characters I've ever seen. The story is one of the biggest tear-jerkers you will ever get in a rated E game, let alone a freaking Mario game. Every little moment, from the dating scene with "high technicaaaaal" nerd Francis to the sweatshop to pay off your debt, is unforgettable.
And how could I possibly forget the music? You know a game is something amazing when the credits music sounds like THIS. I beg of you to listen to the whole thing. It's some of the best credits music I've heard. No joke. Heck, while your at it, here's the WHOLE FREAKING SOUNDTRACK TO THE GAME to listen to if you have the time. Just, uh, just skip this one. It sounds like Satan releasing his bowels. Just no. It still haunts me.
All in all, this is a game to be played. It's one of my favorite Wii games, and the fact that it's largely overlooked and unturned leaves me angry. Stop glancing over it with disgust, people! It's as well-crafted and beautiful as every other game in the series, and while it does take a hugely different approach, stop dreaming of what you wish it was and just play it! It will not be regretted.

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