Super Mario Galaxy may still be a few months away, but that doesn't mean you can't get your podgy plumber fix right now. Developed by Intelligent Systems, Super Paper Mario is a gem of an adventure that borrows heavily from its N64 and GameCube brothers as a platforming, RPG hybrid, weaving together a clever plot mixed with quirky characters, nostalgic backdrops, and often hilarious dialogue. While a little too text heavy for our liking and the constant need to switch between characters can halt the game's overall pacing, Super Paper Mario nevertheless remains one of the Wii's best titles to date.
Upon boot up, prepare yourself for a solid half hour of dialogue before gaining control of Mario. During this lengthy bit of exposition, you'll learn about the dastardly Count Bleck and his quest for world domination. As Mario, you're tasked with finding eight pure hearts, fulfilling an ancient prophecy, and ultimately foiling the nefarious Bleck's evil schemes. The remainder of the story is told through countless lines of text that show up around nearly every corner bombarding you with sentence after sentence of quirky dialogue. Before long, you'll be instinctively pressing the A button to skip the lengthy, often unnecessary text and move on to the platforming goods. That's not to say Super Paper Mario doesn't have a story worth being told, there's just far too much of it. That said, if you can muster enough strength to read every single paragraph, sentence, word and punctuation mark, you'll be treated to a surprisingly rich story for such a seemingly cute, odd ball adventure.
Text overload aside, Super Paper Mario bears many similarities to its peers, such as levelling up, back tracking and solving well-crafted puzzles that'll have you scratching your head. Indeed, Mario's latest may appear to have a goofy exterior, but on the inside it's quite a challenging game and isn't nearly as well-suited towards younger gamers as its premise leads on. With that in mind, Intelligent Systems has changed things up a bit, most notably opting for a more platform-friendly experience, completely removing many of the RPG elements that were once the series' staple. Gone are the random battles, replaced by real-time on screen action. See an enemy ahead of you? Pounce on him. Better yet, jump on him and waggle the Wii-mote a bit to net a little extra experience that'll go a long way towards levelling up the plump plumber and his companions.
Speaking of which, Although Mario is certainly the star of the game, you'll also acquire additional party members to help you along the way, each with their own individual traits that you'll often need to utilize in order to progress further in the story. Peach for example, like her Mario Bros. 2 counterpart, can hover in the air for a brief amount of time to reach distant platforms. Bowser on the other hand is the game's powerhouse and can dish out serious burns with his flame-spewing breath, also handy for lighting torches. Mario's third and final pal, though originally touted by Nintendo as a secret character but should be obvious right from the get-go (I'll give you a hint: it's Luigi), is better suited for reaching particularly high, otherwise inaccessible ledges.
Similarly, along the way Mario will befriend a number of fairy-like creatures known as Pixis. These magical beings grant Mario and friends special powers that are crucial to solving many of the game's puzzles. Each pixi has a wildly different power to exploit, be it as simple as picking up an object or dropping a bomb, to shrinking Mario to the size of a barely visible speck on the screen. There are 12 in total, three of which are optional and although I'd love to write about each one, it would be a shame to spoil any of the game's many surprises.
Admittedly, swapping characters and pixis in and out of battle can be a tiresome affair. Consider this: nearly every puzzle requires you to switch characters or pixis multiple times to move forward. If you factor in the sheer number of puzzles in each of the four chapters in all eight worlds, that's a lot of character management and menu screens to deal with.
At its heart, Super Paper Mario is a 2D platformer, but with a serious twist. As Mario, by pressing the A button you can 'flip' the world into 3D allowing seemingly impassable objects and enemies in 2D to be completely avoided. Is a wall impeding your advancement? Easy; switch to 3D and stroll right around it. Come to a dead-end? Switch to 3D and you may discover a hidden door or warp pipe to explore. This simple mechanic paves the way for some viciously compelling puzzles that are both challenging and smartly woven.
Presentation-wise, Super Paper Mario has an undeniable appeal about its overtly simplistic, but artistically pleasing design. Subtle details such as the pixelated backgrounds in the aptly-named Bitlands world had me grinning ear to ear. Likewise, each character's colourful, exaggerated expressions are charming in their own right and although Super Paper Mario hardly pushes the Wii to its limits visually - after all, this was originally intended to be a GameCube title - it's nevertheless an adventure that bears much artistic merit.
I wouldn't put Super Paper Mario on the same pedestal as the original that made its debut on the N64 many years prior, but it's still an exceedingly polished game and I expected nothing less from the big N and its plumber mascot. Super Paper Mario is a well-rounded adventure with some truly ingenious puzzles and highly enjoyable gameplay, packaged with a surprisingly rich story to unearth. I only wish I didn't have to sift through page-after-page of text to get to it.