Ahhhh…it’s good to be back. As much as I love vacationing, I also love returning home…to our house, our cat, our car, our regular meals, everything that’s wonderful and familiar. There are, of course, some things to which I would rather not return, like work and paying bills, but such is life — you have to take the good with the bad. (Am I preparing for a bad segue? You bet!) In recent weeks, I’ve applied similar feelings to Paper Mario (2001). Some of you might recall a post I did several weeks ago in which I mentioned buying stuff from the Wii Shop, which I happily did. I bought Super Mario 64 and, after a trip to the store for a Wii card, proceeded then to purchase Paper Mario and Mega Man X (X2, actually). And though I had originally intended to play SM64, I started up Paper Mario instead.
As much as I love SM64, I think I have even more happy memories associated with Paper Mario. It’s definitely among my top Mario games, and I especially enjoy the graphics. Sure, he’s not dimensional or particularly emotive (not that he ever was), but Mario in “paper” form is so damn cute. I love the comic/coloring book look to everything, with characters rendered in super saturated colors that are bound by thick, black outlines. I love the odd juxtaposition between flatness and dimensionality. For whatever demented reason, I find it hilarious when bad guys (and Mario) fall flat upon being defeated. I adore the colorful “3D” environments and their brief interactive moments. The writing/story probably isn’t the best of any Mario game, but the text is generally amusing, particularly when Mario’s sidekicks manage to get in a sarcastic remark or two.
As of this post, I’m almost halfway through the game, and memory…it’s a funny thing. Before getting into the details of that, it worth mentioning a little about Paper Mario’s story (yes…basic story spoilers starting now). Mario and Luigi (poor Luigi, even in paper form), denizens of the Mushroom Kingdom, get invited to a party at Princess Peach’s castle. The party is bangin’ yo until it’s crashed by Bowser, who defeats Mario (while Luigi does…nothing?) and carries the castle and Peach high into the night sky with the help of his evil ship. Bowser is in possession of the fantastical and powerfully magical Star Rod, through which he controls the Star Spirits. It’s up to Mario to save the Star Spirits and rescue the princess. Or, as I’m wont to say, something like that. I’m not about the question the strange story in any Mario game as the goal is generally the same no matter what.
So Mario has the same goal, yes, but it’s attained through different means. Paper Mario has a turn-based system of play, rather than platformer or adventure game mechanics. When Mario and a sidekick enter into battle with an opponent, you choose an action (jump, use hammer, use item, etc.) that is then played out. After Mario’s turn, the enemies have their turn. And so it goes back and forth until the bad guy (or you) die (and they fall flat, hahahaha! So freakin‘ adorable!). There’s also a “badge” system through which Mario can gain special moves, extra XP, etc.
Bad summation aside, let’s get back to the thing about memory, namely mine, and it’s state of terribleness. I first played Paper Mario some 10+ years ago, and I’ve continued to reference it as one of my most favorite Mario games ever since. That might lead one to believe that it’s completely and permanently filed away in my memory banks. But since 2001, my brain has gathered up mountains of trivial crap, so, over time, bits of information have dissipated, and among that lost knowledge was most of Paper Mario. Except for the first couple levels. Those came back to me clear as a bell. And I was happy and joyful and happy again. But then I got to the Dry, Dry Ruins. And there the memories stopped. I had no memory of the level — the Pokey Mummies, the Buzzy Beetles, all the stupid frickin’ keys, nothing was familiar. Instead of crawling under the warm, fuzzy Paper Mario blanket for the duration of the game, it was suddenly like I was out in the creepy cold playing a brand new game.
I’m farther into the game now, and it’s plenty of fun; but honestly, I wish I could remember my way around better. Though I think I’m finding new things, I can’t always be sure, and I feel like I’m missing things that I found before. I’m also finding the game a little slow and I’m not liking the turn-based system as much as I remember. It tends to slow down the action, and I’ve found myself running away from more battles than I would like. And there aren’t many Save Points, which means that it’s not a great game for quick rounds of play. But Mario games have always been, to some degree or another, about the challenge, so I haven’t given up on the replay yet. It is interesting, returning to this game after so many years. I guess my younger self took the good and the bad in games with a grain of salt. And, to me, Paper Mario was so blindingly brilliant in 2001 that it could possess no wrong. It is by no means anything less than a great game still; it’s just that my aging sense of tolerance just isn’t what it used to be.