Phyllis Diller

In an industry full of franchises, Mario may be the iconic videogame character. The mustachioed plumber and his wacky posse not only defined the platforming genre, but have had succesful runs at everything from racing to sports to role playing-games to minigames.

In an industry full of franchises, Mario may be the iconic videogame character. The mustachioed plumber and his wacky posse not only defined the platforming genre, but have had succesful runs at everything from racing to sports to role playing-games to minigames. His latest adventure, “Super Paper Mario,” has one very neat visual trick up its sleeve but is otherwise a mediocre platformer and a middling role-playing game rolled into one awkward package.

Story has never been Mario’s strong point. In a world filled with bouncing plumbers who fight walking mushrooms in order to save a princess from a talking dragon, it’s better to dispense with making sense of things. Last year’s hit “New Super Mario Bros.” had the right idea. After a 10 second prologue, gamers were on their way, with nary a story point to interrupt them.

But because it has aspirations to appeal to role-playing game fans, “Super Paper Mario” is burdened with interminable dialogue scenes that, even by the standard of videogames, are dull and repetitive. The evil Count Bleck’s plot to destroy the town of Flipside unless Mario and his friends can retrieve seven missing “pure hearts” would be forgivably cute if it were explained in a minute, but becomes grating as it goes on and on … and on. Lame attempts at humor, primarily through in-jokes about gaming culture, don’t help.

The best thing “Super Paper Mario” has going for it is its visual style. Like its predecessors, “Paper Mario” and “Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door,” the main action takes place in a brightly colored two-dimensional world where the characters are as thin as paper. “Super Paper Mario’s” twist is that, with the push of a button, the camera moves behind Mario and turns the 2-D world 3-D.

It’s cool at first. But nearly every puzzle in the game is based on the premise of a solution hidden in the 3-D world that can’t be seen in 2-D. It doesn’t take long until 3-D feels like a gimmick the developers came up with to avoid having to design genuinely challenging obstacles.

Gameplay is otherwise decent, but rarely innovative. As in other “Mario” games, the player can switch between multiple characters with different abilities, though the addition of the evil dragon Bowser to the hero’s party is a first-time twist. In most cases, fighting enemies isn’t as fun or difficult as in a good platformer. Similarly, power-ups and collectable items aren’t well integrated like in a solid role-playing title.

The only fun new element is the addition of “pixl’s,” sprite-like characters Mario and his party pick up throughout the game. Each one grants a unique power, like throwing bombs or turning sideways in the 2-D world, that players need in order to make it to the end.

“Super Paper Mario” was originally designed for Nintendo’s last console, the GameCube. It’s no surprise the publisher held the game’s release to boost sales of its hot new Wii, but the game is not a good fit. It makes light use of the Wii’s motion-sensing capabilities and mostly requires gamers to hold the rectangular “Wii-mote” sideways, essentially mimicking a game controller from the ’80s. Players will miss the ergonomic feel of modern controllers for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.

In an inexpensive release for the handheld DS, “Super Paper Mario’s” 3-D gimmick might be enough to carry the day. But it’s not enough to justify a $50 purchase for a new home entertainment console capable of a whole lot more.

Super Paper Mario

Rated E; $49.99

Production

A Nintendo release of a game developed by Intelligent Systems for the Wii.
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