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Critical Reception: Nintendo's Super Paper Mario

This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to Super Paper Mario, Nintendo's hybrid action title with moments of stat management and puzzle solving, a landmark Wii release that some are calling "a must-play for any Wii owner.
This week's edition of the regular Critical Reception column examines online reaction to Super Paper Mario, a landmark Nintendo Wii release that some are calling "a must-play for any Wii owner." Though Super Paper Mario may be a platformer starring Nintendo's most popular franchise character, the game itself is not as straightforward of an action title as one might expect from the series. In an interesting twist, Super Paper Mario seeks to combine the series' platforming roots with RPG elements culled from the Paper Mario universe, with the result being a hybrid action title that contains moments of stat management and puzzle solving. Such a combination is a risky venture, however, as a substandard result could potentially alienate the fanbases of both traditional Mario platformers and of the Paper Mario series. Platformer devotees demand tight controls and constant action, while Paper Mario fans expect a deft sense of humor and innovative gameplay that challenges RPG conventions. Combining the two styles of gameplay may seem like a difficult proposition, but thus far, Super Paper Mario is a hit with critics, earning an average review score ratio of 88% at review aggregate site Gamerankings.com. Justin Leeper at Yahoo! Games rates Super Paper Mario at 4 out of 5 stars. "At first, it's tough to distinguish Super Paper Mario from the NES Super Mario Bros," he remarks. "Hold the remote in traditional controller fashion, and find yourself running to the right, jumping on Goombas and going down pipes." However: "Quickly, you find out that this world that looks so natural, so historic in flat, two dimension hides a shocking 3D perspective: At the push of a button, Mario immerses himself in the Mushroom Kingdom in a way that is simultaneously old and new." "After hours upon hours of gameplay," Leeper continues, "this little shift will still trip you out. It plays with your mind in a way that few games ever have. Imagine if your favorite book all of a sudden started reading itself to you, or if your family dog spontaneously started throwing the ball back to you during a game of fetch." Leeper is impressed with the quality of Super Paper Mario's platforming, but finds that its RPG elements break its momentum somewhat. "Super Paper Mario definitely utilizes RPG elements, keeping it from being a simple platform game," he notes. "However, it's here where you may find a little less enjoyment. The items that were so necessary in other titles are pretty useless here; after all, fights are in real-time as opposed to being turn-based. The hub world is vast, but almost to a fault; you'll get a little tired of looking for the next place to deposit your heart piece to open up the next chapter." Leeper's overall opinion is a positive one, though. "While Super Paper Mario obviously isn't Super Mario Galaxy, and doesn't exactly exploit the Wii remote's gadgetry," he concludes, "it's got all the charm and gameplay expertise we expect from the Bros. Add in some fun mini-games, card collecting, and lots of exploration, and you have a title that's well worth your paper." IGN's Matt Casamassina is also impressed, and awards Super Paper Mario a score of 8.9 out of 10. "Don't be fooled by the primary colors and goofy characters," he advises, "because underneath the cute exterior lies a very clever and challenging affair that, while not perfect in every way possible, still easily ranks amongst the top-tier of Wii games to date." "Super Paper Mario's main attraction is its dichotomy between the 2D and 3D perspectives and, more specifically, the puzzles that lay hidden within each dimension," Casamassina explains. "A seemingly innocent 2D-style platformer level is only half of each stage -- the other half exists in 3D space." In effect: "You will have to go back and forth all the time in order to advance, which makes for some very compelling and clever puzzles." The experience isn't without its flaws, however. "The writing is well-crafted and humorous, but there is so much to read that it actually interrupts the flow of the game," Casamassina writes. "Meanwhile, the 3D perspectives tend to look barren and boring even as the 2D views showcase stylized and colorful backdrops befitting of a classic Mario game." "These gripes keep Super Paper Mario from becoming a truly masterful endeavor," Casamassina concludes, "but they don't stop us from recommending it as a must-buy for any Nintendo fan." Shane Bettenhausen of 1UP.com expresses similar criticism in his review, in which he scores Super Paper Mario at 8 out of 10. "Don't invest in Super Paper Mario expecting unadulterated run-and-jump thrills," he begins. "Despite its linear progression (just like the old-school Super Mario Bros., this game features 32 stages running from 1-1 to 8-4), the RPG framework beneath the surface lends the game a unique vibe." This vibe does not always work to the game's advantage, however. "Who wants backtracking and fetch quests in their side-scroller?" Bettenhausen asks. "Frankly, these bits tend to drag, especially when each time you want to access the next set of action stages, you're forced to sniff out a well-hidden magic column. By game's end, all the running around Flipside gets awfully old." "Thankfully, the game doesn't get too mired in [RPG aspects]," he admits. "Stunningly creative level concepts (you'll find yourself trapped in a crazy game show, enslaved in a sweatshop, and damned to hell during the course of the ever-changing adventure) make it unlike any Mario game you've ever played. Boss encounters bristle with comedic ingenuity, too. From a malfunctioning robotic dragon with hilariously long loading times to a message-board troll who engages Princess Peach in a hilarious dating-game tête-à-tête, these end-of-level foes definitely impress." "So while it's far from the platforming/role-playing godsend that some Nintendo fans expected," Bettenhausen concludes, "Super Paper Mario still qualifies as a must-play for any Wii owner. It's creative, fun, and perhaps most importantly, funny. Quality localizations rarely get the credit they deserve, and the crew at Nintendo of America should be congratulated for penning one of the most laugh-out-loud funny scripts in recent memory." Critics note that Super Paper Mario has its share of flaws, mostly regarding its attempts to appease two different fanbases at once. Its RPG elements and longwinded dialogue can annoy those looking for straightforward action, and fans of the Paper Mario series could be disappointed with its strong focus on platforming. Despite these potential turnoffs, however, many reviewers feel that Super Paper Mario remains a quality title worthy of a purchase.

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