In early 2001, the Nintendo 64 was running out of gas. The Playstation was in full swing, and Nintendo was looking vulnerable for the first time. Their new console, the Gamecube, was only months away. The 64 was about to be left behind. But before that happened, it had one last hurrah. And that hurrah was a gorgeous RPG called Paper Mario.
Not officially a "sequel" to the beloved Super Mario RPG on the SNES, Paper Mario was our favourite plumbers second foray into the world of role-playing game. Borrowing some elements from it's 16-bit cousin - timed hits/defending in combat and top shelf writing, to name a couple - Paper Mario managed to hold onto the Nintendo charm and approachability, while still remaining a deep, competitive RPG.
The combat system isn't simply a matter of tapping "A" and coasting through battles. Attacking in this game requires some form of action if you want to cause maximum damage. Little things like tapping a button at the right time or pulling the joystick to the left and then swinging it to the right help break up the monotony of combat that a lot of RPGS struggle with. Each battle feel fresh and fun.
Your attacks do various types of damage to your opponents, too. In a standard Mario game, you have to jump on a Koopa Troopa before you can pick it up and use it. They managed to transition that style of gameplay into RPG combat with Paper Mario. It's an RPG that still feels a lot like a platformer/action game. There's also NO RANDOM ENCOUNTERS!!!!! How all RPGS haven't adapted that approach by now is a frustrating mystery that may never be solved. Ugh.
This game is charming, gorgeous, and it's a blast to play. The writing is clever and funny. The paper art style looks great, even by today's standards. I feel that games from the 64-bit era haven't aged well cosmetically, but this game looks as good today as it did eighteen years ago. And the most important thing, in my opinion, is that it's just as fun now as it was when it launched. If Nintendo ever does release a Nintendo 64 Classic, I'd buy one just to play this game again. It's that good.
My buddy Mark McCue agrees. He's my guest on the podcast this week, and damned if we didn't have a hell of a time revisiting Paper Mario. I hope you enjoy this one as much as we did.