ASCII by Jason Scott

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Super Paper Mario —

I’ve been playing Super Paper Mario for the Wii since it came out, and I finally “Solved” it, that is, I got to the part where it shows you the credits after telling you how everything ended.

I choose games I’m going to get really involved in carefully these days; lack of time and all that. What I look for is a sense that a game has been crafted in some fashion, and not just shoved out the door on a nasty out-of-thin-air selling schedule. Games that are created over the course of years are rare these days, with the obvious exception of games that are being worked on as a hobby. And there’s these sets of folks within Nintendo creating games to this level, and I buy them, and I am very happy.

I enjoyed Paper Mario, Super Mario Sunshine, Thousand Year Door, Zelda: Wind Waker and Zelda: Twilight Princess for this reason; all of them had the sense of being self-enclosed worlds, slavishly worked on by people who were all geared towards making the game better. This is especially the case in the 3-D games, where you walk around and realize these “level maps” feel like actual places; I recall a couple times playing Twilight Princess, far involved in the plot and gathering of the whatsis and the rebellion of the whosis, and I would stop to admire the view.

So much cheating and hackery has had to be done in the past to make a game feel like it’s bigger than it is, that I still get surprised when I find cases within the game that it’s not a cheat. The idea of “well, if I do this crazy thing and pile on this other crazy thing, I’ll end up in this location it never expected me to go” and then you do it and there’s an object up there, basically saying “so, what took you so long”… I wonder if newer generations of game players feel that. I marveled once at an airport, watching two seven-year-olds screwing with a touch-screen tourist kiosk, and realized they had never known a time you couldn’t walk up to some TVs and touch them and have it do something. The idea is neither weird nor miraculous nor even unusual to them. Maybe the kids who come up simply expect a decent game to have extended out to hundreds of locations and have nearly-fully-articulated world interaction within those locations? if so, keep yelling at the game companies; I’m benefiting.

I think the best indication to me about these high-ticket Zelda/Mario games is how the development cycles sometimes outlast the platform. At some point, this was going to be a pure GameCube game, and then they strapped on the Wii controls. For me, they work perfectly fine and seem to have always been designed for it; I especially like the pointing feature where I take the controller and aim it at the screen, turning it into a cursor that can give me more information on any of the objects in sight. The swap from 2D to 3D and back was also wonderful. All in all, a good game.

Most notably, this is actually something like the fourth game in a “series”, consisting of Super Mario RPG, Paper Mario, Paper Mario: Thousand Year Door, and now Super Paper Mario: Keep Buying Paper Mario. The structure used to be more like a turn-based role-playing game, which wasn’t entirely my favorite but it was a lot of fun. Now they ripped all that “turn-based” part out, making it, essentially, the largest game of Super Mario in the entirety of history. With only the slightest pretension of its RPG roots, now the game’s basically a really involved video game, and hooray for that. Hardcore Gamers will probably hate it, but hardcore anything hates everything.

One other thought. I remember when I was working at Psygnosis, just before the Playstation started to hit, we had one in the office. But not just any one; we had a development playstation, which was blue and had, critically, 8 megabytes of memory, just like the Playstation was going to have. But since Sony sucks, they cheaped out at the last possible moment and made it 2 megabytes. A bunch of games were stuck in the middle, where they had to completely rejigger these great-looking games to fit in 1/4th the memory. One of these was the spectacular Lomax, which had multiple backgrounds scrolling by as you jumped around on different platforms. I’d show it to people and they’d go “wow”. After the Great Cheaping Out, pretty much all those scrolling backgrounds had to go. All that work, gone. Meanwhile, in Paper Mario, I see visual effects that probably eat 2 megabytes just warming up. And the multiple scrolling backgrounds that shot the old game Shadow of the Beast to the top of the charts are all over the place here, adding that flair and style just because they can.

When I found Super Mario in a crappy arcade in Carmel, NY next to a scary pet store and down the strip mall from a horrible record store, I never could have imagined that 20 years later I’d be playing variations with almost all the same game mechanics. And way better graphics. In my house. Waving a white wand.

OK, I knew some sort of white wand was going to be involved.

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  1. mgroves says:

    Super Paper Mario is the first game I purchased for the Wii (besides Wii Sports).

    I always hated Paper Mario, but Super Paper Mario is a really fun game.

  2. Sebastian says:

    I’m convinced that SMB3/SMW are timeless — there’s no way you could make that kind of gameplay any better. Sure, you can amp up the graphics, adding multiple alpha-blended sprite layers, 2.5D shading, all kinds of stuff, but the essential gameplay is timeless. I can pick up SMB3 today and fall into it in minutes. I haven’t played any of the Paper Mario games, and I didn’t really like Super Mario Sunshine — but I picked up the New Super Mario Bros for DS, and it felt like coming home.

  3. AngiePen says:

    You never know what players are going to do, definitely. When I was working in GemStoneII, an online RPG before all these graphic mega-games came out, I had to rescue one of our regulars who got stuck in the little room which was the bank. Players doing bank business “vanished” from the world while doing their thing, so no one could pick their pocket or whatever while they were staring at bank menus and unaware of the real world. The game would take a player to this room only after they initiated the bank mechancs, and would take them back to the bank lobby before releasing them; they never saw this room.

    Valeria got there and had to assist to be released. I yanked her to my office to find out what’d happened and she confessed that she’d been depositing money into her bank account and logging off at various points in the process, trying to figure out whether by chance the money was credited to her account before it was debited from her person, to see if she could “rob” the bank by ducking out before the debit was handled. I guess this was appropriate for a thief character [eyeroll] but I gave her a virtual thwap and told her not to do it again before letting her out of my office. It hadn’t worked anyway. 🙂

    Much more recently, someone discovered that if you drop a paintbrush in Oblivion, it sort of hovers in mid-air at like thigh level. They also discovered that you can jump up and stand on it. [bemused smile] See, I never think of trying this stuff. But this person got four paintbrushes and used them to climb up the outside of the Imperial City Palace Spire, just for the view. Unfortunately, Bethesda didn’t put anything cool at the top to reward his insanity. [heavy, theatrical sigh]

    Post with screencaps, in case you were wondering about the view from up there —


  4. Stacia says:

    You worked at Psygnosis? Wow. “Atomino” was one of my favorite games on the Amiga, and I wish my Amiga still worked (it has a faulty keyboard connection) so I could play it.

  5. Ben says:

    Super Paper Mario rocks. I just played it last week and it surprised me by its quality and inventiveness and the degree of fun I derived from it. Wii Sports, even though it was hyped in a lot of forums and DIGG, came off in my experience as a rush job on the part of the developers behind it.

  6. Gavin says:

    I’ve only had Super Paper Mario for 10 days and I’ve already beaten it and started a walkthrough or playthrough on it – and the 10 days came out of renting it!