Paper Mario | Retro Review | Nintendo 64 - Japan-based Nintendo Podcasts, Videos & Reviews!


Friday, July 10, 2020

Paper Mario | Retro Review | Nintendo 64

by Danny Bivens

Taking a look back at Mario's first paper adventure. 
It’s no secret that the Nintendo 64 is not an ideal platform for RPG fans. While Japan did get a few more titles in the genre when compared to the West, the platform was an RPG wasteland. While the sequel to Super Mario RPG sure took its sweet time to release, gamers and press alike were a little bit confused as to what they were looking at when it came to initial screenshots of the game. While it all worked out in the end, that didn’t mean that a lot of fans weren’t on edge about what was happening with their favorite plumber in his latest RPG outing. Fast-forward to now and it’s been nearly 20 years since Paper Mario hit the Nintendo 64. While I’m sure that many of you out there have great memories of the game, you might be wondering if it still holds up today. Lucky for you, that’s what we’re here to let you know.

Paper Mario, known as Mario Story in Japan, was first released in the land of the rising sun on August 11, 2000, then later released in North America on February 5, 2001 with PAL regions following with an October 2001 release. Reviews coming from Japan in the summer of 2000 were pretty positive, with a 27/30 from Dengeki magazine, and a 33/40 from Famitsu. The game also saw positive reviews in Western media, too, with Eurogamer and IGN both scoring it a 9 out of 10. Sales for the game were also pretty good considering when it was released in the N64’s lifecycle. The game went on to sell around 1.4 million units, with nearly 600,000 units coming from Japan alone.
For the story, per usual, Bowser is up to his old tricks again. After nabbing the seven Star Spirits, imprisoning them and taking the magical Star Rod into his possession, Bowser crashes a party at Peach’s castle, nabs the princess and knocks Mario out of the sky to his doom. Of course, that would that making for a pretty anti-climactic game, so after surviving a ridiculous fall, Mario is tasked with saving the Star Spirits, recapturing the Star Rod, saving Princess Peach and helping others along the way. Overall, the story beats here are pretty fun and there are tons of interesting characters and partners that you’ll meet along the way. Of course, like many of you I’m sure, I enjoyed the various interactions with characters from Mario’s perspective but I also liked the cut-aways to Peach and Bowser to see what was going on there. Playing through the English version years ago, I was always blown away by the localization being funny and cute. It should come as no surprise that the Japanese version is full of the same humor and cute storytelling here, too.

Paper Mario doesn’t disappoint when it comes to the battle system. Sure, it’s definitely very simple when compared to other games in the genre, however this makes it accessible to younger gamers or gamers who are just looking for a simpler title in the genre. Battles here are turn based with Mario and a partner character taking on a number of enemies. Although there are two characters in your control, characters share Flower Points (FP, basically magic) and HP. Exploring the worlds combines elements of typical RPG exploration and dialog as well as some platforming and other action based elements. You can bash blocks, jump over pits and even preemptively attack enemies. It feels very unique and fits the overall game perfectly.
After a little bit of time with the game, you have access to scoring additional, more powerful hits against enemies based on timing with the control stick or A button. Defense works the same way - press A at the right time, and you’ll reduce the amount of damage that you’ll take. A badge system is in place here that gives you additional abilities, health buffs, FP buffs and more. The more you play the game, the more of these you will come across. There are a number of badges that you can pick up throughout the game, so you can mix and match at you see fit. Overall, the system here is fun and easy to get into, yet at the same time requires skill to be able to defeat your enemies in a more efficient manner.

As I mentioned earlier, there are several characters that you will meet that will join Mario along his journey. - Goombario, Kooper, Bombette, Parakarry, Lady Bow, Watt, Sushie and Lakilester. Of course, these characters obviously assist in battle but they also have their own backstories as well as abilities that they can perform while traversing the world. These moves are necessary to progress in the game at some points or to find secrets that are otherwise inaccessible. This is a cool way to encourage gamers to explore the game in a more deep fashion.
Similar to how the naming of these characters are humorous or cute in English, the same could be said about the Japanese names. I won’t go through all of them, but some of the funnier ones start with Goombari - he’s is called “Kuiro,” coming from Mario and the Japanese name for Goombas, Kuribo. Parakarry is known as “Paretta.” The Japanese for paratroopa is Patapata, which is an onomatopoeia for flapping. This sound is combined with a katakana version of the word “letter.” Bombette is simplistically similarly named in Japanese as “Pinkie.” I really got a kick out of some of these names.

Visually, Paper Mario had a very unique look for a game released in the early 2000s. The “paper” aesthetic” really set the game apart as one of the better looking games on the platform. The mix of 3D environments and these 2D characters can be a bit jarring at first, but it fits into the overall aesthetic perfectly. Animations of Mario and his partners are expressive and the enemies all look great. Some of the “travel” cutscenes here are cute and funny as well. I really liked the travel scene with the whale and the train - they were fun mixes of 3D polygons and the “paper” look. Worlds are varied and contain a great variety of enemies and landscapes. Forests, deserts, islands, a variety of towns and more - there is really a ton of variety here. Sure, viewing the game on modern displays these days is a bit blurry, but the game still holds up all of these years later.

Just to take a trip down memory lane here for a minute, I bought Paper Mario on the N64 at the Software Etc that was at the nearby shopping mall in my hometown in Illinois. The night I bought the game, the staff were kind of confused and really trying to talk me out of buying it. You’ll have to remember what the gaming landscape was like at that point in early 2001. The PS2 was the hottest new console available (and one that I didn’t have). The Dreamcast was available with a solid library of games (and well on its way to die later in the year), and two other brand new consoles were on the horizon from Microsoft and Nintendo. I was met with, “This game is for kids. Why do you want that? It’s not even good!” I was a pretty avid reader of IGN’s Nintendo channel back then and pretty active on the message boards over there so I KNEW that the game was worth picking up. Despite advice from the “experts” at Software Etc., I purchased the game that evening. When I popped in my “new” copy of the game, I was annoyed to find three save files already on the cart…from the guys that told me that it sucked. After deleting them from my cart, I dove in.

Collector's Corner
For all of you collectors out there, Paper Mario isn’t that hard to come by and can be had for relatively cheap in Japan (if you’re buying the game IN Japan at any rate). Of course, with the game having completely different titles in the West and Japan, the box arts are a bit different. The Japanese box features a number of characters on the front in their “paper” form, including a look at Peach’s castle. It’s actually pretty similar to the Western box art here, with just a few characters and assets being repositioned. It’s a clean looking box, but the one thing I’ve always found a bit weird about it was how white Mario is. It’s not a huge deal and it seems to have been modified slightly for the Western release.

Getting back into Paper Mario was still a great way to take a trip down memory lane even though I was playing the Japanese version of the game. Actually, if you are a Japanese learner, Paper Mario is a great game to try out to practice the language. The dialog isn’t overly difficult and a majority of the game is in readable hiragana/katakana with a few low level kanji mixed in. Even if you’re just going to play the game in English, now is just as good of a time as ever to get into it. Although the graphics are a little bit blurry by today’s standards, the overall art aesthetic is amazing and really holds up all these years later. Gameplay is spot on, combat is simple but fun, and while the story won’t blow you away, it’s a fun journey through and through. If you don’t have Paper Mario for the N64 in your collection, what are you waiting for?!

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