When the developers at Intelligent Systems were making "Super Paper Mario," they were probably just trying to make a fun game — not impart a lesson of philosophical proportions.
And yet here we have the first Mario title to arrive on the Wii — a game that not only delivers some of the most compelling play found on the console to date but one that imparts a bit of worldly wisdom as well. That is: Few things in life are exactly as they seem on the surface. Sometimes it takes a change of perspective — an adjustment to your point of view — to see clearly…or at least, to see more completely.
In this, the third "Paper Mario" title, players take the iconic mustachioed plumber on an inter-dimensional adventure to find eight pure hearts, rescue Princess Peach and save the universe from the villainous Count Bleck. But in order to do all this, players will find themselves switching back and forth between a paper-flat, two-dimensional perspective reminiscent of classic Mario games and a more rotund three-dimensional perspective of the world.
Toggling between these two points of view is an illuminating experience to be sure, one that allows players to see and explore Mario's surroundings in two very different ways. And it takes some serious inter-dimensional investigation to solve the puzzles and overcome the obstacles this sweet and smart title throws your way.
For example, when Mario encounters a wall, a pit or waterfall he can't jump past in the side-scrolling 2-D landscape, you simply press the A button to switch to 3-D. Just like that, the new view on Mario's environs reveals a hidden pathway around the barrier. Perhaps Mario can't reach an important key inside an impenetrable fortress of blocks. Again, switch to 3-D and you see that the impenetrable fortress of blocks can be stepped around and the key plucked up with ease.
This shifting of perspectives uncovers hidden enemies to fight, treasures to find and pipes and ladders that lead to new areas. But dimension-hopping is only one aspect of this surprisingly multifaceted game.
Though "Super Paper Mario" would most accurately be called a platforming game or maybe an action-adventure title, it also has retained some of the role-playing elements that were so much a focus of the two previous "Paper Mario" titles. Mario, for instance, earns points as he pounces on enemies, pounds blocks and finds treasures. With enough points, he levels up, growing more powerful against his enemies and resistant to their attacks.
Additionally, as the game progresses you gain the ability to switch between different playable characters, swapping between Mario, Princess Peach, Bowser and Luigi. Each character offers a different skill set that must be put to smart use to solve puzzles and triumph over foes. Mario, for example, is the only character who can flip dimensions while Bowser blows fire and Peach can use her parasol to float.
You'll also pick up a variety of sidekicks — called Pixls — and each can assist you in different ways. Use Thoreau Pixl to grab and throw things. Use Boomer to blow things up. Use Slim to slip through narrow places.
And as if all that weren't enough, "Super Paper Mario" tosses yet another puzzle-solving tool into the mix — the Wii's motion-sensitive Remote controller.
For the most part, the Remote is turned on its side and used much like a traditional controller. (The game was, after all, originally developed for the GameCube). But when the time is right, you'll need to point the controller at the screen as if it were a flashlight, its beam revealing hidden doors and platforms and uncovering vital information about enemies. (The twinkling feedback through the controller's built-in speaker is a sweet touch). Perhaps less interestingly, you'll also need to shake the remote to throw off spells, remove curses and earn style points.
Clearly, there's a lot at your command here. And that's what makes this such a compelling game — the way you're tasked with using all your dimension-shifting, character-swapping, sidekick-managing, controller-slinging abilities to play your way through some truly enjoyable action and some highly unique puzzles.
The only real complaint we have with "Super Paper Mario" is the overwhelming amount of story that's delivered through a deluge of dialog bubbles. We appreciate a good yarn, but the sheer amount of time spent wading through this lengthy and droning tale wastes valuable minutes (hours perhaps?) that could be spent actually playing this excellent game.
Of course, perhaps all those Mario junkies out there who've been waiting patiently for their hero to make his debut appearance on the Wii will argue that diving into this thick story gives them just the fix they've been jonesing for. After all, it's all just a matter of perspective.