A retrospective on ‘Paper Mario’

Growing up, I owned a Nintendo GameCube and later, a Wii that I still own to this day. Owning these gaming consoles allowed me to play some classic games growing up such as Super Mario Sunshine, Super Smash Bros. Melee, Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour, etc. One franchise that has been a soft spot for me is the Paper Mario series. I have played the first three games of the five-set series, which are also the most critically acclaimed. Paper Mario, Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door and Super Paper Mario are all fantastic games and I will discuss all three leading up to the release of Paper Mario: The Origami King this July.

Paper Mario is a game over 20-years old that came out for the Nintendo 64. It is a RPG franchise in which Mario and others are flat pieces of paper in a 3-D world. It is the first edition of the franchise and it was the perfect way to kickstart the series. The game is set in the Mushroom Kingdom and starts with a story about the seven Star Spirits that grant wishes in Star Haven. However, Bowser and Kammy Koopa invade the Star Sanctuary in Star Haven to steal the Star Rod and kidnap the Star Spirits. They succeed and then after Princess Peach invites Mario over for a party, Bowser storms into Peach’s castle, kidnaps Peach and defeats Mario.

Paper Mario Part 1: Bowser's Star Rod - YouTube
Screen cap of Bowser with the Star Rod in the game’s intro.

After Mario recovers, the Star Spirits plead for him to rescue them. If he rescues them, they can give him the power to cancel out the Star Rod that Bowser wields. Mario goes to Toad Town, which acts as the game’s hub area. Every location of the Star Spirits is linked to this central area. Throughout his journey, Mario gains party members that help him on his quest to once again save Peach from Bowser.

Paper Mario (N64) Boss Battle #1: Koopa Bros - YouTube
Screen cap of Mario fighting the Koopa Bros. disguised as Bowser.

Paper Mario is an RPG and a very good one at that. It is a game featuring turn-based combat that focuses on strategy and user timing. Action commands allow the player to deal more damage with the possibility to take less damage if the player times the actions correctly. For example, if Mario jumps on a Goomba, he will do one jump if the timing is off versus if he times it correctly, Mario can make a second jump; therefore, dealing more damage. If a Goomba jumps on Mario, the timing of the player depends on if the Goomba does one point of damage or none.

It also has an amazing progression system. Throughout the game, areas previously inaccessible open as Mario gains party members and upgraded equipment. It not only causes the progression of the chapters to be smooth, but it also allows Mario to get better gear and explore Toad Town between each chapter. Also, at the start of the game, Mario is very weak, but as the game goes along, he gets stronger and it feels satisfying.

My two favorite aspects of this game are the diverse world design and the soundtrack. This has the art style of a children’s pop-up book, making it a charming and adorable game. The characters’ expressions can be very heartwarming and it makes some possibly dark scenes cartoonish and while that may seem like a problem, it ends up making the game a constant fun ride.

Paper Mario Screenshots for Nintendo 64 - MobyGames
Screen cap of Mario in Shy Guy’s Toy Box.

The worlds in this game look amazing and the art style helps add to that. Mario’s adventure to rescue the seven Star Spirits takes him to many different worlds, such as a volcanic cave, a toy box, a vast desert, an icy mountain, etc. The design team did an excellent job making each world feel unique and memorable.

What Makes a Great Snow Level in a Mario Game? - Mario Party Legacy
Screen cap of Mario at the top of Shiver Mountain.

That leads me to the soundtrack by Yuka Tsujiyoko, which is phenomenal and, in my opinion, the best in the entire franchise. It adds to the fun atmosphere while simultaneously matching the tone perfectly. The music is perfect for each world and makes the adventure even more fun. My favorite piece in the entire game is “Over Shiver Mountain” due to its incredible melody while climbing up an icy mountain. It matches the atmosphere tremendously while being a fun song to listen to.

Paper Mario | Chapter 7 Boss - Crystal King - YouTube
Screen cap of Mario fighting the Crystal King.

At the end of each chapter, there is a boss battle and the music for those fights are incredible. The music excels in adding to the intensity of the fight, especially the bosses later in the game. Those bosses get increasingly difficult and the music adds to the reward of defeating them.

Overall, Paper Mario is a wonderful start to the franchise and a game that is still fun to play to this day. While some of the mechanics are dated, the sequel, Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door, builds on everything this game establishes and improved on them. In the context of the franchise, this was a fantastic way to start the series. I would recommend this game for anyone, but it is difficult to find nowadays. The best ways to play is through the Wii U Virtual Console and Nintendo 64 emulators. Stay tuned for my future reviews of Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door and Super Paper Mario.

Rating: 9/10

Published by Sean Clark

I am an aspiring sports journalist at Northern Arizona University. I am very passionate about sports such as football, soccer and basketball and I'm excited to use this platform to write about the sports I love.

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