Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A Thought to Chew: Expecting the Unexpected

There is a game featuring hard slave labor, the forced separation of siblings, one of whom becomes brainwashed and corrupted, and the complete obliteration of a universe.
That game, my friends, is Super Paper Mario. And yes, I know that I've already waxed poetic of it before as well as several times on the side in other lesser articles, but there's one thing I've mentioned a coupe of times but never devoted an article to actually address, and that is the game's impeccable ability to catch you off-guard with the sheer uniqueness of its story. For having come from a series priding itself on intuitive gameplay, the RPGs sure catch you off-guard. Consider the sheer amount of characterization they could achieve with their source material- a plumber, his brother that doesn't really matter in the grand scheme of things, a princess who does nothing throughout the whole game, and an angry turtle. They managed to turn something that one-dimensional into a multi-layered in-my-opinion-which-is-clearly-right masterpiece. Bowser has his own set of insecurities, Peach develops an attitude, and Luigi- well, we'll get to that.

The most important thing about Super Paper Mario and its ability to surprise the player is its ability to flip-flop genres like nobody's business. We go from the standard, hokey "chosen one" story to slave labor to a dating sim to a space adventure- all of which are united by a singular humor code. We are put into slave labor for destroying a vase that inconveniently costs 1,000,000 of a fake currency that can only be repaid through hamster wheels, a long trek across the Moon is to search for toilet paper, and the dating sim, well, exists.

I suppose I will take a moment to discuss that particular moment on its own, especially with it being one of the most beloved moments of the game. The character Francis is a complete oddity, an obsessive fan and collector of all things "nerr" who kidnaps your sidekick, Tippi, leading you to retrieve her which you can only do using Peach because, let's face it, the ol' neckbeard is lonely. And thus it begins.

Francis scrolls through conversational leads and tries to get a hot babe (Hey, it's his words. Don't look at me like that.), which you then respond to, either in flattery or blatant hostility. It plays a lot like a real dating sim (I would assume at least from my experience of not having any)- your input paves the path for multiple well-calculated responses, and you can swivel between disheartening the poor chameleon or swooning over him. (Obviously, I always do the latter because I'm not cynical, okay?) The latter, blessedly, ends with Peach angrily wondering who's controlling her out-of-character responses and bombs the place up. It's simple and stupid, bit it's such a brilliant and unexpected diversion that it's ingrained in so many people's fond memories of the game, regardless of how they felt about the rest of it.

There comes a point, though, where you'd think it would become unsurprising, which is a problem with a lot of games. For instance, I feel that Sticker Star kind of loses some of the nuance, and even when it does try something objectively unexpected, it has a sameness to it. (For instance, you fall down a tree stump only to end up in a game show. Yes, it's weird, but it doesn't feel like it was pulled out of nowhere and you expect more out of it.) However, with games like Super Paper Mario, you're always on the edge of your seat, and these absurd moments are always side-details to a broader story. They don't make up the entirety of the gameplay: they enhance it.
That's why there's a fine line between a game like this and one that is wholly stupid like, I don't know, Goat Simulator. (I do not miss 2015 at all, and I am in despair to have pulled that shovelware back into focus for even a moment.) Goat Simulator composed its entire self out of being campy and stupid, meaning there's absolutely no substance at all. Neither games take themselves too seriously, but Super Paper Mario is not only more creative, but it understands the importance of keeping the game moving along with all of its twists being essentially pit-stops on the road to the end of the game.

The one time it becomes truly integral to the story is Mr. L, Luigi's hypnotized too-cool-for-school altar ego. And you know what? It works. Instead of being a light romp, it carries some weight and there's some nice tension, at least compared to other Mario games. It's not trying to decieve anyone with a complex and dark backstory, nor does it hide the obvious fact that it is Luigi- though the other character's blindness to his identity is a nice touch.
That's not to forget the devastatingly emotional ride hidden after each chapter which also slyly merges into the integral plotline, but that's for another time.

So, what else is there to say? Well, probably that this post was basically an excuse to just gush about Super Paper Mario a ton. But I will say this much: there's a reason I love it, and if you don't accept this as an "A Thought to Chew", accept it as a love letter.

For the last A Thought to Chew on the nasty underbelly of Pokemon Picross, CLICK HERE.
For the last article on the new Animal Crossing update, CLICK HERE.

For the last Interviews...
...with FinalSmash, CLICK HERE.
...with MyNewSoundtrack, CLICK HERE.

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