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Paper Mario Is Excellent!

Where have I been? Flipside, Flopside, and the greater realms of Super Paper Mario.

As I person who was in late elementary school when the original Nintendo Entertainment System came out, I love Nintendo games. They’re fun, they don’t require a controller with 14 buttons to use and they take you to a world of imagination and levity.

Doug Henning and Miss Piggy

Doug Henning, Canadian master of magic, fantasy, and illusion

Well, most of the time, sometimes they scare the bejeesus out of you with a hovering Grim Reaper.

Castlevania Grim Reaper Image

The Grim Reaper, the penultimate bad guy in Castlevania: a side-scroller with no save, limited men, and this beasty bad dude before Lord Drac. himself

But I digress.

You can learn about the plot and background characters on any number of fan sites, but I’d like to point out some of interesting features of SPM vis-a-vis the overall Nintendo narrative arc.

All the MarioWorld’s a Stage

Playing SPM, I feel it to be the spiritual successor to Super Mario Brothers 2. This was the first game to present the idea that the player is an audience member and that Mario has some awareness of the stagecraft of his situation. The chief devices that brought the audience ( and Mario ) backstage were magic potions that, when thrown, would create a doorway the “reverse” side of the scenery. Generally one could find power-ups and loot on the reverse side.

With this effect Nintendo announced to the Mario player that he was now “in on” the idea there is an other side to this 2-D world.

Falling through the gaps

In level 1-1 of Super Mario Brothers 3 a new element was brought in, that two dimensional layers could be stacked. That is, one could be behind the field of scenery, but remain in front of the background canvas.

This was done to great effect in 1-1 where, when standing on a hovering white block, if Mario squatted for 5 seconds he would “fall onto the canvas” and could then reach the end of the scenario where a secret room provided him a warp whistle.

I do not believe that the programmers ( or processors ) were ready to take on this gag in the early 90’s; however it was really a hint that our friends in Kyoto were thinking about playing with 2-D limitations in the imaginations of 3-D players. Mario would split into several different projects, but it’s with SPM that the master tale of Mario’s adventures picked up on the door openings offered in Super Mario 2.

SPM as the spiritual heir to SM 2

In the Wii version of paper mario, dimensional gimmick is a core component to game play. In chapter 1 you get a ‘special power’ which flips the perspective to 3D. You remain in the flat ‘paper mario’ world, but the camera moves to forced perspective 3D.

For example, what you saw as a ‘stair step of blocks’ as viewed side-on, could in fact, when viewed 3-D front on, could conceal a hidden area where power-ups / treasure / keys / etc are to be found. Alternatively there could be a ladder that is presented in ‘side-scroller’ mode edge-on that you can’t see ( like the deadly Triangles aka “women” in Flatland ) until you shift to 3-D when you can see the rungs.

Super Web 2.0 Mash-up Mario

One of the concepts behind the Web 2.0 meme has been the notion of the mashup. Example: cross flickr with Google maps and you get flickrMaps

In the gameplay you can get a set of “guardians” to take damage for you and how do they appear? As a cadre of Super Mario Brothers mario characters as we knew them in the early 8-bit version. If you find the invincibility Starman? It renders you as a giant 8-bit mario ( or, even more hilariously, Princess Peach becomes the “Our princess is in another castle” 8-bit princess, but the size of your screen, or Bowser King of the Koopa becomes a gigantic hopping 8-bit artifact of his Super Mario ancestry wreaking havoc through the gamespace ).

There’s a particularly funny gag around what happens when a Koopa minion encounters a Starman, but I’ll save that for you players.

By the spewing of my drink, the humor made me think

The writing is incredibly funny. The characters, speaking to the youth market of today, use a parlance somewhere between IM-ese and English and it’s very, very funny. Bowser, asked to join the party of good replies smartly that he would not care to join wimpy Mario as he is “100% pure, grade-A FINAL BOSS” material.

The main evil, Count Bleck, is aided by a Dilbert-worthy factotum named Nastasia whose loyalty and command at perverting understandable English into the feel-good, “on message” baloney worthy of Karl Rove’s staff ( or the congressional page program ) inspires both awe and puzzlement. With “um” and “see here” and “m'kay” she hypnotizes and encourages “pulling together for the big win.” It’s brilliant bite at office culture.

Princess Peach shows a decidedly feisty side ( including introducing a nerdly suitor who got a bit too fresh to the business end of an explosive ) and marches ( without being heavy handed ) from being a “Oh save me brave hero” princess to a “Listen here bucko, my parasol thwack is just as bad as my bite” princess.

Loving the classics, but bringing it to the present

Something that struck me as a hilarious bend in the story telling is that in one scenario Mario breaks something valuable and is assessed with a million rupee debt ( mind you the coin of the realm is, uh, the coin ) and is made to work for rupees by hitting power blocks ( that is, until he gets wise to the game being played and finds a more creative way to turn the tables ). Now, who would have thought in 1985 that Mario’s predicament would walk in lock-step with the collapse of the sub-prime lending market in the US.

Shout out to Edwin A. Abbot

Lastly the mind-bending thought about what happens when 2-D intersects ( literally! ) 3-D owes a debt of gratitude to Edwin A. Abbot’s Flatland which several centuries ago romanced the adventure one could have when dimensions collide.

In all, it’s a real joy to play. Wii owners, do yourself a favor and get ready to have a smile slapped on your face.

Thanks again Nintendo!

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