Super Mario is a video game series that needs no introduction. Paper Mario, however, is a spin-off series that is much less known yet yields a just as passionate fanbase. With such a massive fandom it’s hard to believe how Paper Mario has become a shell of what it used to be.
Paper Mario on the Nintendo 64 was made by Nintendo as a spin-off title to allow experimentation of a Mario-themed RPG. The game was met with great reviews and popular reception. The game proved to be clever, inventive and most importantly fun. Its success brought us Paper Mario’s first sequel: Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door (PM:TYD); a game that many to this day claim to be their introduction to the series and the most memorable of the series. PM:TYD not only did well but sold more copies than Paper Mario, a feat many at Nintendo did not expect. When looking at sales, Paper Mario met it’s magnum opus in 2007 when Nintendo released Super Paper Mario for the Nintendo Wii. The game sold 4.23 million copies worldwide, which is nearly four times as much as the original Paper Mario (1.37 million copies). Nintendo clearly found it’s mark at making a successful and loveable RPG series in Paper Mario. Unfortunately, Nintendo modified the Paper Mario formula in 2012 when it released Paper Mario: Sticker Star for Nintendo 3DS. Sticker Star’s new gameplay format and lack of memorable Paper Mario mechanics got itself caught in negative reviews and criticisms from fans. The game itself sold 2.43 million copies yet could not produce good enough reviews to see itself stand side by side with its predecessors. The release of Sticker Star was one Nintendo was not able to bounce back from and since then the Paper Mario series has looked more and more grim. In 2016 Nintendo released its final Paper Mario title: Paper Mario: Color Splash which sold 0.186 million copies worldwide and was unanimously determined a failure. What exactly happened between Super Paper Mario and Paper Mario: Sticker Star? Why did Sticker Star fail and why did PM:TYD succeed?
August 11th, 2000 Paper Mario is released for the Nintendo 64. Paper Mario’s major success came from it’s creative and fun gameplay and it’s memorable characters.
Paper Mario’s creative nature comes from Intelligent Systems’ genius reconstruction of the Mario Universe. The development team hit a breakthrough when lead art designer Mr. Naohiko Aoyama drew up a sketch of 2D Mario characters against a 3D background, almost as if the game was a storybook. Producer Shigeru Miyamoto loved this idea and it shows why to this day. The familiar comfort of seeing 2D Mario characters while against a new fresh 3D backdrop was a masterful idea in introducing the future of a third dimension in video games.
Paper Mario was the first game in the Super Mario series where players got to work hand in hand with characters who traditionally were enemies in the main title series; characters like Goombario, Kooper, Bombette and Lady Bow. This was a creative take for the game and it made for memorable and interesting characters to interact with who felt completely new yet immediately recognizable. Characters not only played a role in combat but saw themselves being necessary to Mario’s journey through bodies of water, dark rooms, etc. Paper Mario also shook the formula with the character Princess Peach. In this game, the princess wasn’t just another hostage but instead someone who played a major role in the story and had the ability to sneak around Bowser’s Castle gathering intel.
Paper Mario’s fun gameplay is rooted in a traditional RPG style. Players participate in turn-based combat where Mario and party utilize items and attacks that feel just at home in the Mario Universe. Characters never felt out of place in fights, matches felt like they relied on your party’s decisions forward thinking. This gameplay found itself heavily inspired by Super Mario RPG’s success in turn-based combat. As the old saying goes “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.”
In 2004, Nintendo released Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door. This game was to many fans the perfect Mario RPG formula. Everything from the OST, characters, story, gameplay, and humor was amazing and perfected.
The most notable aspect that put PM:TYD on the map was it’s new, exciting and at times foolish stages. For example, Mario finds himself at an arena where he registers himself as a fighter under the name The Great Gonzalez where he also later discovers corrupt fights and bets. Oh, you want more? How about a world where Mario fights a ghostly figure who turns villagers into pigs and Mario himself into a shadow, making Mario lose his body in the progress. Insanely creative and fresh is the best way to describe how this game tackled its world design and interactions with said worlds. The silliness and unpredictable behavior of these worlds and characters was a theme that was set and needed to solidify the Paper Mario franchise.
In 2007 Nintendo released Super Paper Mario for the Nintendo Wii. A more challenging Paper Mario with even more silly antics, funny dialogue, engaging characters, and immersive gameplay. Nintendo pushed the envelope further in this title by allowing players to play as Mario, Luigi, Peach and Bowser. Every character shared significant drawbacks and powers that made everyone feel vital to the progression of the story. The plot of Super Paper Mario shares mixed reviews and at times mild reception due to an outdated trope of collecting 7 [insert mystical objects here] and its forgettable main villain. However, the game sold more copies than any other Paper Mario and saw itself still being praised as a staple title of the series.
In 2012, Nintendo released Paper Mario Sticker Star. The game was not well received and is still deemed a complete failure. The biggest gripe heard among fans is that this game was not a Paper Mario game, especially since it did not mimic the style of PM:TYD.
Sticker Star behaves more like a traditional Mario game where the goal is to reach the end of the world with some platforming and fighting to get there. This completely felt like a massive push from the traditional RPG format. Sticker Star also finds itself with significantly fewer characters and worlds, two aspects each Paper Mario heavily relied on to deliver its engaging gameplay and plot. The characters themselves are just reused villains and NPC’s from the New Super Mario Bros series. No new set of characters and villains were made; something that typically has been done across all Paper Mario games (i.e. Nomadimice). The design of Mario’s fellow inhabitants of the Sticker Star universe felt uninspired, recycled and boring. The most jarring aspect taken out of Sticker Star was its lack of witty and funny dialogue. Whimsical and silly moments were something rarely seen in Sticker Star thus, characters felt like empty vessels with no personalities outside their colorful design.
Sticker Star’s gameplay falls very short to its predecessors. The turn-based combat system was removed and replaced with one that relied on stickers. Stickers that felt extremely unbalanced. Certain stickers are extremely stronger than others yet hold little to no more significant consequences for using them; these lack of consequences feel even less relevant when all stickers limit themselves to a one-time usage in battle. Along with the removal of turn-based combat also came the removal of the exp. level up system. Mario never grows in experience and relies on finding strong stickers to progress in the game. These stickers are abundantly present in the game as well; they are not easy to miss and because of this feel less and less rewarding with every collection.
Sticker Star felt like a game that grabbed the memorable characters, dialogue, gameplay and fun that was Paper Mario 64, PM:TYD and Super Paper Mario and turned it all on its head. It was a design choice not understood by many fans and still not agreed upon by the general community.
In 2016, Nintendo released it’s final Paper Mario game to date, Paper Mario: Color Splash for the Wii U. It continued to break the formula that was so well loved by old fans and confirmed the death of a beloved series. The title only sold 186 thousand copies worldwide and was the final nail in the coffin for the beloved paper hero.
Fans long for the day a new Paper Mario title release. One where we finally get to see our old friends and meet new faces in a silly world packed with interactive, creative and engaging worlds. A game where the traditional RPG style is brought back with the proper amount of twists to make it feel like the game’s own system. We, the Panic Bros., long for that game too. To find out what more we expect out of Paper Mario and our thoughts on the series moving forward check out the latest episode of the Panic Bros. Podcast. Give us a listen and let us know your thoughts on the Paper Mario Series. Happy belated Mar10 day!
-Simon & Josue (Panic Bros.)
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