Our run through Super Paper Mario has led us into chapter three, where things have taken a turn for the nerdy as Team Mario continues its quest to save the world. Following the events in chapter two the gang regroups in Flipside and chats with Merlon about the new information it has received. We also check in on Luigi, who, like Peach earlier, is just lying about Bleck's fortress unconscious (and yes, Bleck is a slacker as far as villains go since he's got all kinds of loose ends running around his castle). A pair of goombas find Luigi, wake him up, and get him to help them out by appealing to his vanity. Unfortunately, when one of the goombas is zapped by Nastasia and converted to serve Bleck, his buddy "goombas up" and switches sides, leaving Luigi in some dire straits. Back on the home front, Mario and Peach head out in search of another pure heart because the skies above Flipside show that the void being created by Bleck's shenanigans is growing.
When the pair arrives in the Bitlands, a very cool retro area made up of massive colored pixels, tragedy strikes as one of the group (no, it's not Peach) is kidnapped by Francis, a nerdy chameleon. After a friendly bystander offers the duo tips on how to reach Francis' fort, the team heads out on its rescue mission. The run through the Bitlands leads to an encounter with Bowser, who has wound up misplaced there following the fracas at the start of the game (more evidence that Bleck isn't good at the villain thing). Choosing to make lemonade of his situation, the shelled villain has made himself a fortress in the Bitlands and is chilling. A few predictable developments later, Bowser is fort-less and convinced to come along with Mario and Peach to stop Bleck, which leads to a new playable character. Besides looking awesome, Bowser can shoot out a blast of flame when you hold down on the D pad. This ability, coupled with his large size and spiny shell, makes Bowser the Terminator of the group with an attack power double that of both Mario and Peach.
The journey to Francis' fort leads the trio on a colorful journey through a funky underwater level and up a massive pixel tree. As in the previous chapters, you'll face a bunch of new enemies along with familiar faces such as magikoopas and bloopers. You'll also pick up two new pixl homies, Thudley and Carrie. Thudley is a floating anvil that, unsurprisingly, lets Mario and company perform stomps while jumping, which is handy for taking out enemies, pounding posts, and knocking down suspended items. Carrie is a floating platform that lets you move at a faster speed than running and float safely over spiky floors, of which there are many.
Francis' fort is a little thin on enemies and heavy on traps and puzzles. Your goal is to gain access to the geeky chameleon's room and save your buddy. The fort is filled with some sneaky challenges that will keep you on your toes without frustrating you, which is consistent with the obstacles we've faced in the previous chapters. The game's difficulty is fortunately still hovering in the "just right" zone. You'll find yourself switching pixls more often and using items to deal with enemies. The items you'll use require some active use of the Wii Remote, which is cool. You'll pump up and down, match onscreen remote positions, and mash buttons to charge certain items.
The final confrontation with Francis is comic gold because the nerd must put his money where his mouth is when confronted by "hot chick" Peach. The events that ensue are probably our favorite moments in the game so far and put a fresh twist on the traditional boss fight. This is a good time to call out the game's humor, which is in top form as you explore Francis' lair. Besides the funny dialogue you'll get from his various robot servants who fill you in on their duties--which include sorting his TVR recordings, organizing his comics, and ordering the latest obscure anime collection for him--you'll find plenty of amusing bits if you explore his crib. Little touches most people might miss, such as the desktop on his laptop, are amusing and reward eagle-eyed players.
The end of the chapter finds the crew returning to Flipside and chatting with Merlon again. We're definitely digging how things have gone so far and are anxious to see what the fourth chapter in the game holds. Check back tomorrow for our final look at the game. Super Paper Mario is slated to ship early next month for the Wii.