E3 Preview: Super Paper Mario

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

We here at N-Sider are privileged to have a strong community filled with talented writers and artists (as evidenced in our forums). Sometimes, those community members provide us with wonderful exclusives not seen elsewhere. Super Paper Mario was not playable at E≥ 2006, but it was playable at NOA, where one Ferquin N.C. Root happens to work.

Below are his thoughts on the game, as well as a wealth of information on the game's mechanics.

Super Paper Mario Impressions (...or no paper cuts at E≥)

I have to say, out of a lot of the games of E≥ 2006, after Super Mario Galaxy, this game has to be one of my personal picks for highly-anticipated title. And the irony is that what with all the focus going to the Wii and new Nintendo DS titles, this game wasnít even at the show! It just completely came out of nowhere with absolutely no warning, making it the surprise under-the-radar game that nobody in L.A. even got to play. Fortunately for me, as an associate at Nintendo, we held our own annual mini-E≥ on the NOA campus and I was able to play a hands-on demo.

Super Paper Mario will probably be one of the last great hurrahs for the GameCube. If youíve played any Paper Mario game, then you know what youíll be in for Ė lots of fun, creative, paper-based gaming. The difference this time around is that itís no longer a turn-based RPG. Itís a platformer in the vein of previous great Mario sidescrollers. But, in traditional Paper Mario style, you have that awesome paper-thin 2-D look. In addition, you also have HP for health, and a menu for storing items. No word on whether youíll be able to collect badges for special abilities like stomping spiked enemies or regaining health. But since it isnít really an RPG, it might not be necessary.

Like previous Paper Marios, you have a partner following you around. This time, you have what are called ďFairensĒ. I unfortunately have no idea about the plot; something about finding Pure Hearts and jumping from world to world through magic doors. However, these Fairens are your partners in this game as you adventure about through each level. One Fairen that looks like a butterfly works somewhat like Goombella in The Thousand-Year Door, giving you info about the level. It didnít appear to give any enemy info though. When I tried to use the Fairen, it basically said that it couldnít reveal anything until the final game. The other Fairen that follows you helps with special Fairy Abilities and the Fairenís appearance changes with each one. For example, when you use Fairy Toss, the Fairen changes into a very abstract-looking hand made of circles and squares. This ability allows you to pick up enemies and throw them. Another, Fairy Hammer, allows you to use a big yellow mallet, and this is symbolized by the Fairen turning into a hammer.

One new thing for Paper Mario is the ability to change your main character, as opposed to just having Mario all the time and only changing your partner. This time around, it wonít be just Mario doing all the work. Youíll be able to switch between Mario, Princess Peach, and Bowser. Each character has their own special power thatís triggered with the R-button. The ever effervescent Princess Peach floats along on her parasol. She is also lighter and can jump the highest. Bowser can breathe fire, but is also large and sluggish. The most significant one is Marioís power to turn the entire area into 3-D by turning the sidescrolling 2-D level ninety degrees so you can see in front of Mario. This reveals almost a whole new world as you move forward. Impassable pipes and other obstacles can be sidestepped around, sort of like in SMB3 where you went behind the white block to find the Warp Whistle. Ladders unseen from its paper thinness are now revealed. Uncrossable gaps are no challenge once itís revealed that the background hill was really a bridge all along the edge of the pitfall. All these new perspectives are just ripe for challenging puzzles and fun twists as long as you remember to think three-dimensionally.

Paper Mario games, at their core, have paid great homages to previous Mario games. This one is no different. One level I played had a section that literally was a recreation of World 1-2 from the original Super Mario Bros. game, right down to the secret warp zone near the end of the level. But alas, it did not take you to other worlds, but rather other parts of the current level. It was quite a treat to play through it though, revisiting the area with Bowser and Peach and seeing everything in a different point of view with Marioís 3-D power. One level I played looked like a giant 16-bit pixelized paradise, waxing nostalgic with the various traditional Mario backgrounds in giant block form. Thereís also really cool square flowers and trees that really give off both a retro and yet modern abstract vibe. They even poke a bit of fun at this modern New Super Mario Bros. game that just came out in the form of a giant invincible Mario rampaging across the screen. The difference is that itís a giant 8-bit Mario, which are drawn in blocks by invisible pencils. Even Bowser and Princess Peach and even a Koopa Troopa get into the retro 8-bit action as they turn into giant versions of their original SMB selves. This transformation is touched off by Starmen. Fire Flowers have also been tweaked a bit in that they donít make you shoot fireballs. Instead, I found that red flowers make your character super hyper fast, whereas blue ones make you super slow. The latter seems to help more for Princess Peach as she floats on her parasol. Mushrooms now simply provide HP. There are also the old coins and 10-coin blocks to find as well.

In summary, Super Paper Mario, while slightly under the radar during E≥, is really a title that should have been pushed to the forefront alongside the Wii and all its new upcoming releases. The game looks like its been in development for quite a bit, although I really couldnít dig up much to support that. I definitely think itíll be out before the end of the year, possibly around the fall (but donít hold me to that). This game is simply a must-have for all Mario fans and it would be a crime to overlook it, especially with all the excitement with the Wii and all the other great Nintendo titles coming down the pipe. The olí GameCube still has some excitement in it left, so look out for this game to (hopefully) come out soon. Mario sidescrollers are certainly coming back in a big way. In a time when cutting-edge technology is bringing new ways to play the game, itís nice to see that the old ways are still just as fun.

Ė Ferquin N.C. Root