Paper Mario 2 Import Impressions

We try out the import version of Mario's GameCube RPG adventure.

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Paper Mario 2 has been high on our "most anticipated" radar since the game's existence was confirmed in April of this year. Mario's latest foray into the role-playing game genre expands on the slick 2D look introduced in its Nintendo 64 predecessor, and it comes chock-full of brand-new gameplay as well as refinements to its already solid system. The game was just released in Japan, and we've had the chance to get our hands on it to see how the weirdly lovable little game has come together.

Mario's latest RPG adventure is a little flat--and we mean that in a good way. Click "stream" for a larger view.

We'll start out by saying right off the bat that following the story is going to be a little tough if you don't speak Japanese. That said, we're not talking rocket science here, people. Princess Peach has gone off on vacation to a new land and sent Mario a note asking him to join her. Everyone's favorite Italian plumber dutifully heads out, eager to spend some quality time with the princess. Hijinks ensue, of course, and our mustachioed boy finds himself off on a hunt for treasure (and the princess) with a colorful new cast of characters.

As per the Mario standard, he'll have to collect a set number (seven) of magic stones. While it appears as though Peach might actually be relatively safe this time around, don't get your hopes up. When we saw the English version of the game earlier this year, we were clued in to the fact that Peach does indeed get nabbed by a new villain named Hooktail--an enormous dragon with a long tail and a bad attitude. We honestly can't say we're surprised at this point; Peach must have an enormous "Kidnap Me" sign on her back...

Anyway, when you start the game, all appears mellow and well as Mario explores a harbor town, meets colorful locals, including his first party member--a hard hat-wearing female goombah--and gets schooled on gameplay basics from a wizened goombah. When you're finally off on your quest, you'll find that the game handles a lot like the original Paper Mario on the Nintendo 64. You'll explore different locales with your party member in tow and engage in combat every once in a while.

Mario's made some rather, uh, interesting new acquaintances this time around.
Mario's made some rather, uh, interesting new acquaintances this time around.

The exploration is what you'd expect--you move around, talk to non-player characters, and explore buildings--and this actually serves as a nifty showcase for the game's paper-cutout art style, which developer Intelligent Systems gets a lot of mileage out of. You'll see buildings unfold like pop-up books, bridges build themselves in flipbook style, and Mario fold himself into a paper airplane to access new areas--to name just a few examples of what's in store in the game.

Combat appears to be shaping up really well. The early section of the game we played introduced the basics of the different styles of attack and showed off Mario's standard suite of abilities, such as a jump attack, hammer attack, items, and special moves powered by flower points. This section also showed how your party members' unique abilities will come into play. The turn-based system is surprisingly action packed. You'll time your button-presses when you attack with the A button and defend with the B button. While timing your presses on the A button to cause additional damage is old hat for the Mario RPG games, the B button technique is new and lets you counterattack your foes. The timing is initially pretty tricky, but with a little practice you'll find it's easy to pull off fairly regularly.

The main combat system we just described is beefed up considerably by the inclusion of an audience who watches the battle. While they don't play a terribly active role yet, your spectators will start to have a big impact on battles later on, as we saw in the E3 version of the game. So far, we've just seen an enemy who needed to be bonked appear in the crowd, but eventually you'll have to engage your public with flashy battles. If you're captivating enough, you'll be able to gain bonuses; if you suck, plan on getting pelted with everything but the kitchen sink.

All the world's a stage, and now you have to fight on it.
All the world's a stage, and now you have to fight on it.

The graphics we've seen so far have been an eye-catching mix of inventive art style and a good use of technology. We've covered the slick paper effects in the game, but there's more on display that's worth mentioning. One of the perks to the game's 2D-style look is that the technologically modest approach has resulted in fun visuals, like mobs of foes onscreen and a host of visual effects that go a long way toward giving the game an undeniable charm.

At first blush, Paper Mario 2 is looking like a must-have for the GameCube. Regardless of the system's thin RPG library, Paper Mario 2 is looking like a standout title based on its own merits. Look for much more next week as we dig deeper into this promising GameCube game.

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