The latest release in the Paper Mario series, Paper Mario: Color Splash is out now. The Mario RPG may be the last big game to hit Nintendo’s faltering Wii U system. Let’s take a look at the origins of this charming series, and examine some of the trademark qualities that set it apart from other Nintendo (and RPG) titles.
The legendary Super Mario series is one of the largest and most storied game franchises of in all of video gaming. From its humble arcade beginnings in the late 1980s to today, we've seen Mario embark on countless adventures in different genres. Mario has taken part in anything from sports to kart racing. In 1996, Mario entered a new realm of games entirely -- roleplaying games. After the release of Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, the iconic plumber would later appear in his own reoccurring RPG series, known as Paper Mario.
In 1996, Nintendo and popular RPG developer Square (now known as Square-Enix) had a close working relationship. After the success of Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger, and Secret of Mana, Square partnered with Nintendo to develop an RPG utilizing Mario characters. While Square RPGs were critically acclaimed, they didn't sell that well in the United States. The idea of combining characters popular in the U.S. with the signature Square RPG gameplay formed the foundation of Super Mario RPG.
With guidance from Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto, Square combined role-playing elements with Mario's platforming gameplay systems. Like most traditional JRPGs, the game is divided into battle and adventuring sequences. However, much of Super Mario RPG's gameplay outside monster battles resembled an isometric 3D platformer. This allowed the game to feature traditional Mario elements such as punching brick blocks.
Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars released to critical acclaim. Players praised the complex 3D-rendered graphics and goofy humor. Afterward, the Mario RPG series would go into hiatus until the release of the first Paper Mario on the Nintendo 64 in 2000.
The Paper Mario series features a turn-based combat system. The player takes control of Mario in battle and in the overworld, where they freely explore the environment. In the overworld, Mario can use his jumping and a hammer to overcome various obstacles. Paper Mario games are developed by Intelligent Systems, a subsidiary of Nintendo. The most recognizable element of the games is their distinctive visual style. Characters consist of two-dimensional paper cutouts that move about full 3D papercraft worlds.
A major gameplay feature of the Paper Mario games is partner characters. Over the course of his adventure, Mario teams up with various characters to help him in battle and solve environmental puzzles. These partner characters can include Goombas, Koopas, and other creatures of the Mushroom Kingdom. Each partner has their own strengths and weaknesses and can be freely changed outside of battle.
The combat system also features a special attack system that relies on timed button presses. By following on-screen prompts, players can influence the power of their attack by pressing the correct combination of buttons, holding onto a button and releasing it at the right time, and other small mini-games.
Perhaps the most charming aspect of the Paper Mario series is its focus on lighthearted tone and humor. The games contain their own witty narrative, pop culture references, and consistent self-awareness. Other Mario games include some light humor and inadvertent jokes (such as Luigi constantly playing the victim), but the Paper Mario series is unique for how much the writers and translators cram jokes, puns, and innuendos into the script.
The Paper Mario series also frequently breaks the fourth wall. Characters are aware that they are in a game and tend to perform actions that break the rules of their given reality. For example, to get around a locked door, Paper Mario may simply lie down flat and slip underneath, rather than going through the usual RPG rigmarole of finding a key.
The Evolution of Paper Mario
After the release of the first Paper Mario game, the game received several sequels. The first, Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door, released in 2002 for the Nintendo Gamecube. Mario learned a few new tricks in the game, such as being able to "paper-fy" himself into various forms to overcome obstacles. Whether it was becoming super thin to squeeze between bars, or fold into a paper airplane to cross major distances, Mario had several tricks up his sleeve to play on the game's namesake.
The next Paper Mario game, entitled Super Paper Mario, released in 2007 for the Wii. The game served as a departure from the RPG systems established in previous games. Instead, the game was a traditional platformer that fused RPG mechanics into Mario's jumping and maneuvers. Despite the lack of a turn-based battle system, the game's aesthetics and style still reflect the previous Paper Mario titles.
The fourth iteration of the series, Paper Mario: Sticker Star, released in 2012 for the Nintendo 3DS. This game served as another departure for the series, becoming more an action-adventure title. Stick Star also deviates from the RPG formula and instead focuses on being a puzzle solver. This is also the first Paper Mario title to remove features such as partner characters and experience points.
Paper Mario vs. Mario & Luigi
Recent Paper Mari games such as Sticker Star and Color Splash have introduced new consumable item systems to power special attacks in combat. It has been a controversial choice, to say the least. Having access to the right items and proper inventory management are now important tactical aspects to consider.
All of these changes to the Paper Mario systems over the years have most likely been done in an effort to distinguish them from Nintendo's other Mario RPG series, the handheld Mario & Luigi games. Those games still feature the turn-based combat with timed button presses, character progression, and other elements that have slowly been removed from Paper Mario over the years. Today's Paper Mario games are much more about humor and playing off the paper theme. They are becoming less and less about the RPG mechanics of the previous games.
Paper Mario: Color Splash
The Paper Mario series continues to evolve in the latest version, Paper Mario: Color Splash. The new game borrows several mechanics from Sticker Star. In this adventure, Mario obtains a Paint Hammer. The Paint hammer allows the player to paint environments, characters, and other objects to solve puzzles and progress through the game.
The battle system features various cards in a turn-based framework. Players must select different attacks types via these cards. Furthermore, players paint cards to increase the power and effectiveness of the attacks.
Paper Mario: Color Splash is out now for the Nintendo Wii U. You can read our full impressions of the game below. Be sure to check out our expansive Super Mario wiki to learn more about the games.