Super Paper Mario Preview: Chapter 1: The Adventure Unfolds

We run with pixls on the Wii in the upcoming platformer role-playing game starring the world's most versatile plumber.

Our appetites were whetted a few weeks ago when Nintendo showed off a playable version of Super Paper Mario at its booth at the Game Developers Conference. The upcoming platformer role-playing game hybrid is the latest entry in the unique branch of the Mario family tree that began on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System with the classic Super Mario RPG. In the ensuing years, Nintendo has gotten an impressive amount of mileage out of the notion of a Mario RPG and has created awesome games, such as Mario & Luigi on the Game Boy Advance and DS and Paper Mario on the Nintendo 64 and GameCube, that have evolved the concept in new and interesting ways. Super Paper Mario, a GameCube game that has now slid over to the Wii, takes the formula in a funky new direction that blends key elements from the famed Italian plumber's platforming roots with some RPG touches. Since our GDC experience we've gotten hold of a near-final version of the game and have been able to sink our teeth into the promising title. Now, given the thin nature of information on the game up until now, we'll be offering a look at the first four chapters of the game, starting with today's look at chapter one and continuing into next week.

The game begins with a lengthy cinematic that introduces some key events and characters. You'll be introduced to the Dark Prognosticus, an ancient book of prophecies that contains information on future events. While this may seem like a total free ride to success, the ominous introductory text notes that anyone who has possessed the book has never found happiness. Super Paper Mario is apparently the tale of its last owner. The game then drops you into Peach's point of view as she regains consciousness at her wedding...to Bowser. To make things weirder, the ceremony is being conducted by the mysterious Count Bleck, who has his crony, the Daria-like Nastasia, along.

The scene gets really crazy as Luigi, displaying more gumption than we've ever seen him show before, steps up to save Peach as she's being forced to agree to the marriage. If you've ever thought that a union between everyone's favorite princess and Bowser might lead to some kind of natural disaster, Super Paper Mario proves you right. Once the unlikely pair exchanges vows, weird mystical energies form a heart-shaped disturbance. In a stunning turn of events, Luigi appears to save the day (who knew he had it in him?) and disrupts the heart, which results in a flash of white. When the world normalizes, Bleck and Nastasia are chatting together, referring to the prophecies in the Dark Prognosticus, and then they disappear and the game fades to its title screen.

The game's unique visual style expertly blends 2D and 3D elements.

Starting a new game opens up more mysteries for you to ponder, as the opening scene finds Mario and Luigi hanging out and drinking coffee at Mario's pad. It's apparently a low-key day for the mostly heroic duo, and Luigi (of all people) is wishing for some action. They get exactly that after a frenzied Toad asks them for help. It seems Peach has been kidnapped. Given Peach's kidnapping history, the kidnapper's identity should be a no-brainer; however, when the duo assaults Bowser's castle, they find that the surly villain is only just about to launch a kidnapping attempt. So what happened? If you guessed Count Bleck, you're right. It seems the villain is going to use the mysterious Dark Prognosticus to destroy all worlds, and Peach and Bowser are the key. In the ensuing fracas, pandemonium breaks loose as Bleck kidnaps everyone except the unconscious Mario and heads out.

The dense story thins out to something manageable when Mario is roused by Tippi, a butterfly-type "pixl" who has been sent to find him. The fairylike creature takes the dazed plumber to meet Merlon in the town of Flipside. The elder believes that Mario is the hero described in the Light Prognosticus (you just knew there had to be one, right?). This is a good thing, because said hero is going to save creation from being destroyed by collecting mystical relics called "pure hearts." With that, the elder tosses Mario his first pure heart, a warp pipe that will return him to Flipside once he's left the town, and he sends the hero off to save the day, with Tippi in tow, which kicks off the game's first official chapter.

As we mentioned before, Super Paper Mario is a hybrid of RPG and platforming elements. The RPG influences can be seen in the framework for the adventure and in some of the gameplay mechanics. You'll have to collect the pure hearts, return to Flipside, and place them in a tower, which opens up more worlds to explore, which lets you collect more hearts. Along the way you'll go through towns with shops where you can purchase items. Towns will also include residents to interact with, some of which will be important to your progress.

It's a pretty safe bet this scenario is not what it seems...

From a mechanical standpoint, you'll get the RPG influence off of Mario's progression. You'll go up in levels by earning a high-enough score, the counter of which doubles as your experience meter, and you'll be able to "equip" new pixls, which yield new abilities. So far we've got Tippi and Thoreau along. Tippi offers tips as you play and also serves as an encyclopedia of the world around you, courtesy of the Wii Remote. If you turn your remote and point at enemies and objects onscreen, you'll get a flashlight effect that will highlight what you're pointing at. If your target flashes red, you can get information from Tippi on it. In some cases Tippi can also reveal hidden doors and platforms. Thoreau has a more active set of abilities and lets you pick up and throw enemies and objects. From the look of it you'll eventually collect enough pixls that you'll have to swap in those whose abilities you need. More subtle RPG touches include 256 collectible "catch cards" that have information on specific enemies and 96 recipe cards that let you have certain types of food made. Besides offering information on whatever critter is on it, the catch cards increase the amount of damage you do against the creatures once you find them. Finally, you'll have an inventory that lets you bring along assorted performance-enhancing items and important knickknacks you'll need on your trip, such as keys or spicy soup.

On the platforming side of things, Super Paper Mario gets back to Mario's hopping roots with its simple 2D levels for you to race through. Most enemies we've encountered so far have been dispatched with a simple boot to the head, though we crossed paths with a spiky-hat-wearing goomba who refused to be head-stomped or grabbed by Thoreau. That simple base is expanded on in smart ways with Mario's "flipping" ability, which lets him turn the world from 2D to 3D to offer some fresh ways of dealing with enemies and obstacles. Besides that, the game includes a fun mix of items to collect through the time-honored tradition of breaking blocks. So far we've seen a pal pill, which surrounds Mario with 8-bit versions of himself to take out enemies. A mega-star turns him into a giant, à la New Super Mario Bros., and lets him smash through enemies and obstacles alike. Certain flowers cause coins to rain down from the sky for your collecting pleasure. A zombie shroom is a ghostly mushroom that runs around taking out both friend and foe. Finally, a new type of mushroom will bump up Mario's speed in the game and triple the value of coins he collects for a limited time. Considering that this is just the first chapter, we reckon there's still plenty to be discovered.

Mario's role-playing adventures seem to keep getting better with every iteration.

The enemies we've encountered so far follow the same approach that the items we've seen do, in that you'll find a neat mix of old and new. Besides perennial favorites like goombas and koopas, you'll have to contend with squigs and squiglets, which are blocky multilegged foes. Sproing-oings are Slinky-like critters who jump about and split into multiple smaller versions of themselves when hit. Boomboxers are clunky creatures who go around and shoot you with sound waves. Jawbus are benign-looking creatures who change into chompy dinosaurs with an appetite for you. Tromps are rolling thwomps. Bald clefts are rocklike creatures who rush you. Cherbils and ice cherbils are cloudlike creatures who blow puffs of gas at Mario (presumably from their mouths, but Tippi's not entirely sure), which can either put him to sleep or freeze him. Megabites are flying skulls that are best avoided. We even came across goombas with the ability to flip dimensions like Mario, making them impossible to avoid the way you can avoid other enemies.

Besides the run-of-the-mill enemies, we've already encountered two bosses--one of Bleck's minions who served as a midboss in the chapter and a large serpentine boss who dwarfed Mario. As in the previous Paper Mario games, the battles require a little strategy but are relatively simple once you get the hang of what to do, and they're very fun.

In between the enemies and bosses, the puzzles we've seen so far are clever and have been making smart use of the flipping mechanic. There are a lot of traditional puzzles, such as locating a specific item or finding a way to hit a switch. Super Paper Mario is offering a nicely paced experience so far. Exploration is rewarded in the form of extra coins, which you can use to buy items.

While there's a lot to the game, the control and mechanics are good and simple. The bulk of your time is spent holding the Wii Remote sideways like an NES controller. You'll move Mario with the D pad, jump with the 2 button, and trigger your equipped pixl's ability with the 1 button. Pressing 1 and 2 together will bring up a quick menu that lets you swap between characters, pixls, and use items. You can call up a more in-depth menu by hitting the plus-sign (+) button. The menu lets you swap characters and choose items to use, and it also lets you keep track of important things, check out the chapters you've cleared, and look at your catch cards and the recipes you've collected. More importantly, it lets you have a peek at Mario's level, heart points (his health), attack power, score (experience), the score you need to level up, how many coins you've collected, and your time played. Whenever you rely on Tippi, you'll find yourself holding the remote in a normal manner when highlighting things for the knowledgeable pixl to cough up info on. Though we're still early in the game, we've already seen some interesting active uses for the controller, such as shaking it while you're in the middle of a jump attack to appeal to the audience and shaking it to wake yourself up or unfreeze yourself from cherbil gases.

Is Super Paper Mario the Wii's next must-have game? We'll find out in April.

The visuals are stellar and showcase a striking mix of style and tech. The game's look is imaginative and fun, with pleasant surprises popping up left and right. You'll see homages to previous Mario games and subtle surprises if you scrutinize the environment or room décor. The game's art style is a cool mix of retro and modern elements that fit together smoothly. Better still, the color palette takes some neat detours. Besides the very Mario-esque lively primary colors, the game has a lot of fun with darker tones and stylized highlighting. On the tech side, the game runs smoothly and looks great on both normal and high-definition TVs.

The audio seems like it's in line with the previous Paper Mario games. You'll hear sound samples for emphasis, à la Zelda, but no full voice monologues. The stylistic choice fits the adventure so far. As for the music, the game has a low-key soundtrack that complements the action, but there aren't any standout tracks yet.

Based on the first chapter we've played, Super Paper Mario is looking like an outstanding entry in the series. The game makes a great first impression with its visuals and gameplay. Almost more importantly, it has a cracking sense of humor that harks back to some of the finest moments from its predecessors. Better still, it seems like the lengthy quest will offer a meaty experience to players who have worked their way through their current library of Wii games. Super Paper Mario is slated to ship early next month for the Wii. Check back next week for our impressions of chapters two through four.

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156 comments
kaybee_2
kaybee_2

I can't wait for this game!!! I'm definitely getting it the day it comes out. One thing, though, that I'm dissappointed about, is that I don't know about the turn-taking battles! I loved those, and now they're gone! Oh well, I'm still sure it will be an awesome game.

Mkeegs79
Mkeegs79

Finally a decent looking game but another sequel. My Wii has been collecting too much dust. How about come out with more ORIGINAL GAMES! I want to see NEW games like 360 and PS3 such as Lair, Heavenly Sword, Mass Effect, The Darkness, Stranglehold, Resistence:Fall of Man, Gears of War, and more. Nintendo the sequel maker.

Hyrulius
Hyrulius

Wow. This sounds like a great start to an interesting story. A confident Luigi... lol. Nice touch. I might just get this game just to see that.

nghtcrwlr821
nghtcrwlr821

I really need to go pre-order this because I'm sure my local GameStop will be sold out of them. But ya know there is always Wal-Mart as much as it hurts me to say that. (Wal-Mart has a really sucky game selection)

chadstew
chadstew

"Shtinky 3 words: XBOX 360 KILLER." hehe... the wii offers entirely different types of games than the 360, i play action games and fps game online on my 360 and wario ware and fun mini games on my wii, it is a totally different experience. The wii offers things the 360 doesn't come close to and the 360 offers things the wii doesn't come close to. They shouldn't even be considered competitors.

bminns
bminns

this super mario game will be good, i know it!!!

allnyda
allnyda

Platformers are a great way to sell a system and create a real fanbase. Are you taking notes Sony??? I have always been a Nintendo fan and never had to really think "Do I want to get their new system?" Can't wait to get my hands on this Mario. Wouldn't it be lovely if Nintendo's old rival Sega teamed up together. I mean really between the two companies are almost all of the best platformers.

ruipower
ruipower

Awesome, i love Super Mario.

jjshocker88
jjshocker88

more paper mario awesome!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!:)))))

mOnKiLaiON
mOnKiLaiON

o.O! paper mariiO is a vey very good game u.u i will buy it!! :D

Phazevariance
Phazevariance

PM:TTYD was really good, but I never finished it, but if this game is better than perhaps I will finish this one.

fleig_man
fleig_man

I am so glad I have a Wii cause titles like this make the system even more extraordinary

Raaaani
Raaaani

I need this right now, Nintendo! Please, let us in Europe play it next month as America gets! Love the style and as the graphics not are so hard to do for the developers they can make it really lengthy! Eric Peterson of NoA said it could take about 40 hours to complete. And that doesn't include you does everything! OMG!!! o_O

ajw4pc
ajw4pc

I can't wait to get this game.

NND1
NND1

One Word: Wii60!! :)

Zilch06
Zilch06

Ah, Paper Mario. You are my Final Fantasy.

chrisdojo
chrisdojo

i still need to play paper mario 1!!!

DoctorFu
DoctorFu

With this game being a great innovation to game play the Wii will continue to kill the competition and Mario will continue to grow.

Lady_Sekhmet
Lady_Sekhmet

Whoa, I cannot WAIT to play this game! I am playing PaperMario: TTYD, and have a few more chapters to go...If this is even "better" than TTYD...boy oh boy.... Gotta love Mario! I did not read the entire preview as it has spoilers...but it sounds like a lot of fun!

Myriam_D
Myriam_D

I was laughing BEFORE I read the article. "Now you're playing with paper!" Eeheehee. Then I heard about a weddin', and MAN... o.o XD "wtf? roflmao. Oh, and for nail in 360 coffin-no, nail in PS3 coffin. Wii's still slashing at the living when it comes to the X, if it's even bothering to. I'm happy to just let the PS3 rot and become a Wii60. We need competition to keep up quality. (C'mon, Final Fantasy, follow the living. Don't make me pay the b******ds 600 just to play you.) Of course, I need to own a next-gen system AT ALL before I talk like that... *whine* Best to ya (and Ninty,) Myriam D.

Staccat0
Staccat0

Awsome, this may be the first truly great Wii game since Zelda. I didn't read the whole thing because I was dodging spoilers best as I could, but everything about this game looks clever. I just hope they get rid of the obnoxious backtracking from the last one.

BadRubberPiggy
BadRubberPiggy

for all the people looking for wii's... ebay? if you look hard enough ive found a few only 50 bucks over the regular price

teknicz
teknicz

Wii needs more games, I'm getting bored with it! I know it's still early, but keep the games coming, Ninty!

coolarman
coolarman

WHATS UP WITH WEDDING OF BOWSER AND PEACH DANG THATS JUST PLAIN CUKOO

ironman288
ironman288

this game is yet another in a long line of games mocking the fact that i can't find a wii anywhere... ;(

kriptonzz
kriptonzz

Fark, I want this game but I own a 360 and not a Wii. Waah, and I loved The thousand year door

LanceK17
LanceK17

My next game to get FTWii !!

MasterAsh42
MasterAsh42

April 9th?. . .Didn't know it was coming so soon. Well, I suppose I can put off picking up Warioware another month.

phSychO_AtDawn
phSychO_AtDawn

I know, wtf I can't find any Wii's?! I loved paper mario on 64 and gamecube for sure this one is gonna be great.

Crisis_Eye
Crisis_Eye

I can't wait, I like how you can move him while he is in the background and switch from 2d to 3d.

luigimario_64
luigimario_64

Sounds awesome. I kind of wish I didn't read it all though, with the spoilers and everything....

mariokartguy
mariokartguy

The first two paper mario games were awesome, i hope the badges return though...

hoanghiep2111
hoanghiep2111

Sound great ! I will get this game and Super Mario Galaxy as soon as it come out !

thestergin
thestergin

Oh boy oh boy!! The summer times are goin to be sweet for me!

Rev06
Rev06

This game just starts to sound better and better to me. I'm in to platformer games, and this will satisy my need of new gameplay while I wait for Super Mario RPG on the VC. And I think, because the DS has about as a little more power than the N64, they should remake the original paper mario on the DS.

Ita3rd
Ita3rd

Sounds good. Can't wait to get it.

whitekoala
whitekoala

Is this coming out on the DS aswell ?