Paper Mario (series)
Paper Mario is a role-playing and action-adventure spinoff series of the Mario franchise, developed for Nintendo by affiliate company Intelligent Systems. The series is renowned for its distinctive visual style, which consists of 2D paper cutout characters moving about in 3D papercraft environments. It is considered a thematic and spiritual sequel to Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, the first game to introduce RPG elements into the Mario franchise, and follows many conventions established in that game. The first installment in the Paper Mario series was launched on Nintendo 64 in 2000/2001, and five sequels have since followed: four for home consoles, and one handheld entry, with an additional crossover title also featured on a handheld.
Gameplay and premise
Paper Mario combines traditional role-playing gameplay elements with concepts and features from the Mario franchise. The main protagonist, Mario, overcomes obstacles placed in the game's overworld by jumping and using his hammer. The graphics consist of a mixture of 3D environments and 2D characters who look as if they are made of paper. Battles in the Paper Mario games borrow elements from Super Mario RPG and traditional role-playing titles; and feature a turn-based system, in which players select an attack, defense, or item from a menu; and an "Action Commands" mechanic where the player can receive substantial attack or defense bonuses when they perform a timed button press correctly or follow some other instruction. Mario's health is measured in Heart Points (HP), of which one or more are consumed by attacks from the enemies he combats in battle; once his HP is reduced to zero, the game will end and the player will have to reload from the last save point reached.
Paper Mario / Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door
The first three Paper Mario games present their stories in the context of a novel, divided into eight chapters (nine counting the prologue in the first two).
In the first three games, Mario gathers around him partners with specialized skills required to advance progression in the game, and must often face puzzles and boundaries based around said partners' abilities. The partners are accumulated as the player advances into different locations; only one may accompany Mario in the overworld, although the player can interchange them at any time. Partner characters can also assist Mario in battle. In the first Paper Mario, damage inflicted against them results in temporary paralysis. By Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, partners were given their own HP meters and were able to receive the same kinds of damage inflicted upon Mario; when their HP is reduced to zero, the partner becomes inactive for the rest of that battle and later battles until recovery.
The early Paper Mario games also feature special moves which Mario and his partners can perform with a finite capacity; each move consumes a particular number of Flower Points (FP) when performed, and as with HP, these statistics were originally only assigned to Mario, but were shared among him and his party members by The Thousand-Year Door. Both HP and FP can be increased upon a "level up", which occurs every time the player reaches or exceeds 100 experience points, called "Star Points" in-game; these are earned in various numbers once Mario has finished a battle. The first two Paper Mario games also feature an on-screen gauge to display "Star Power", which is required to perform moves of another type that accumulate in number as the player progresses through the game. The first two Paper Mario games' battles take place on a stage. The Thousand-Year Door also has Mario battle in front of an audience, who can assist him by replenishing Star Power, throwing helpful items at him, or inflicting damage on the opponent if he performs well in combat; for every 10 levels, the stage will increase by fifty audience members for a total of 200 after level 30.
The original Paper Mario games allow the player to locate hidden battle upgrades in the game's overworld, promoting one partner character to a new rank at a time. In The Thousand-Year Door, Mario is "cursed" at different points in-game with abilities that enable special moves in the overworld, all based around the paper theme: Mario can fold into a boat or paper airplane by standing on a special activation panel, roll up into a scroll of paper, or become paper-thin. This game's environments also follow the paper theme; for example, illusory objects that conceal secret items or switches can be blown away by a gust of wind due to the environment's paper-like qualities.
Progression through the Paper Mario games depends upon interaction with the non-player characters (NPCs), who will often offer clues or detail the next event in the storyline. As in other RPGs, the player can find or purchase stat-boosting items from NPCs to help in and outside of combat. The effects of items range from healing Mario to damaging the opponent. Badges can also be obtained that yield bonuses during combat, like added moves and gradual health restoration; each consumes a set number of Badge Points (BP), meaning Mario can only equip a limited number of badges at a time. Badges, like items, can be purchased from NPCs in shops or obtained from defeated enemies. When equipped, badges can permanently enhance a particular skill or aspect; some badges, such as Power Jump or Quake Hammer, can even give Mario new moves.
The first two entries in the series feature special sidequests, which recur upon the completion of most game chapters, where Princess Peach is playable; these transitions feature varying objectives and actions, mostly stealth-based. In The Thousand-Year Door, Bowser got his own sidequests where he traverses through multiple side-scrolling levels based on the original Super Mario Bros.
Super Paper Mario
Super Paper Mario changed the series' format to blend RPG gameplay with platforming gameplay. The majority of the gameplay is in 2D, but Mario is also given the ability to "flip" into 3D. By doing so, the perspective shifts and the 2D level rotates to reveal a hidden z-axis, placing Mario in a 3D environment. Mario can thereby maneuver around obstacles impassable in the 2D perspective, or find items, enemies or varying landscapes only visible along the z-axis. There is a drawback to this, however; if the player stays in the 3D perspective too long, the HP meter is depleted, one point at a time.
The game uses a scoring system where points are accumulated through defeating enemies and using items. Like the pre-existing Star Point system, this system allows players to level up and gain stronger attacks and higher resistance to damage from enemies or hazards. Peach, Bowser, and Luigi become secondary player characters over whom the player gains control as the game progresses, with each having their own sets of abilities independent of Mario's: Peach can float over long distances and block attacks with her parasol, Bowser can use his fire breath, and Luigi can perform a special jump where he folds and then launches into the air. The Super Paper Mario format also does not make use of the standard turn-based format; instead, enemies are fought directly upon encounter.
In addition to the other three heroes, Super Paper Mario features "Pixls" as partners, digital fairy-like characters who grant the player abilities such as throwing or destroying obstacles, becoming tiny, or defending against enemies. One of these, Tippi, can also allow the Wii Remote pointer to be used like a spotlight in highlighting and reading the descriptions of items and enemies, or in spotting hidden objects. However, Tippi is the only one of the Pixls who maintains substantial amounts of dialogue throughout the game and who has an individual backstory.
Paper Mario: Sticker Star / Paper Mario: Color Splash
In Paper Mario: Sticker Star, the gameplay was overhauled again, with this formula differing drastically from those of previous games in the series. Various critical elements of the original gameplay are absent, namely special moves points, badges, the experience point system, and the use of partners. As such, Sticker Star and its follow-up game Paper Mario: Color Splash are not classified as RPGs per se, but are instead action-platformers designed in an RPG style. Both games also mostly exclude characters unique to the series and a similar setting with previous games, the reason being that Shigeru Miyamoto felt a more complex plot was unnecessary in a Mario game. An interview in 2020 revealed that the limitation of new characters (as in age or gender) was indeed a deliberate restriction by Nintendo.
Instead of multiple partners as employed in the first Paper Mario and The Thousand-Year Door, Mario is accompanied by a singular partner by the name of Kersti, a sticker fairy, who bestows a special sticker power upon him. A major facet of this format is the extensive use of collectible Stickers, which are used to gain new abilities and make progress. Mario collects Stickers by finding them from various areas in the environment, purchasing them using coins, or receiving them from NPCs. The player has limited inventory space, and larger Stickers take up more room. Stickers are used both in combat and for interacting with the environment. The player can also make Kersti "Paperize", or flatten the visible overworld to allow Mario to place a Sticker in a certain area, activating some kind of event. Mario can also find real-world objects, known in-game as "Things", which can be turned into a special type of Sticker that will often help Mario solve puzzles in the overworld. Once rendered into Stickers, Things can be pasted onto strategic areas in the environment to cause certain events, or used in battle. Each Thing has its own unique function; for example, a baseball bat can strike every enemy present with one hit apiece; scissors can fly off the screen and cut up the display to deal damage to all enemies; and a mechanical fan will blow enemies around and deal damage to all of them at once, or move and destroy overworld obstacles. What kinds of attacks are available to Mario in battle is determined by the Stickers currently on hand.
This format is continued in Paper Mario: Color Splash, but tweaked slightly so that the gameplay revolves around colors instead of stickers. Mario uses his hammer to "paint" background elements, characters, and parts of the environment that have been drained of their color, in order to make progress through the game, while collecting Hammer Scraps as a type of EXP after battle to increase the paint capacity of his Paint Hammer. During battle, Battle Cards take the place of the Stickers from the previous game, with some needing to be painted in order to become usable. Additionally, Kersti is replaced by a paint bucket named Huey.
Paper Mario: The Origami King
Paper Mario: The Origami King has many of the same features present in Sticker Star and Color Splash, as well as a handful of elements present in the first two games.
Combat has been changed once again; Mario fights in a ring-based arena where the enemies surround him. The player has to move the rings so the enemies face Mario in a line, so they can be all be attacked at once. There is a time limit to moving rings which can be increased by spending coins. In boss battles, Mario is on the outside of the arena and has to move arrows around to form a path to the center, attacking the boss using his standard jump or hammer attack, or use special moves: one of four special Vellumental attacks, or the 1,000-Fold Arms to attack the boss repeatedly by standing on Magic Circles. Disposable items from the previous two installments have been greatly cut down; Mario permanently has jump and hammer abilities as well as temporary upgrades such as the Shiny, Flashy, and Legendary variants.
Olivia is Mario's main guide on his journey, similar to Kersti and Huey from the past two games. However, some other partners aid Mario such as a folded-up Bowser and Bob-omb, a few of which have a limited effect on battles. The "world/level select" feature introduced in Sticker Star has been completely removed - the game features an interconnected overworld similar to that of the original two games. There are many Not-Bottomless Holes similar to Color Splash's colorless spots, filling these in with confetti will either produce coins or reveal Toads to unfold. Similar to Sticker Star, EXP is absent, with coins and confetti earned from beating enemies acting as a replacement.
Similarities between the games
Names in other languages