Today at lunch, the guys and I stopped by our local GameStop (ah, the memories) so I could pick up my reserved copy of Super Paper Mario for the Nintendo Wii. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting too much from this game. I’ve played Paper Mario on the Gamecube, and while fun, it just didn’t seem to grab me the way that Mario 64 or Mario Sunshine did. Tonight after dinner, I popped the game in and checked it out. What a delightful surprise!
At first glimpse, Super Paper Mario seems to be yet another traditional 2-D side scrollers with the familiar jump and stomp action that fans have come to know and love from the plumber in red. But the Wii folks have a few tricks up their sleeve this time including a fantastic twist that puts a whole new “perspective” on video games (sorry I had to do it). By pressing the “A” button at any point during the game, you instantly transform Mario’s world to 3-D. Flat blocks and coins instantly become rows of objects several layers deep. Paths that you could not see when looking at this paper thin world from the front, come into view with surprising satisfaction. What you thought was just an illustrated children’s book, instead becomes a dynamic pop-up book.
The game also avoids some of the Wiimote controller headaches I’ve experienced lately (Call of Duty 3!!) by having the player hold the Wiimote old-school style on its side. In this way, you don’t get carpal tunnel and all of the buttons are familiar and immediate. From time to time the Wiimote can be used like a flashlight to “point” at the world and find out more info about the baddies and such, but for the most part, controlling Mario is as easy as pie. I still have nightmares about how bad the controls for Super Monkey Ball 3D were and SPM is a joy by comparison.
I’ve only played to the end of the first chapter, but I can already tell the game will hold my attention. It is fun, extremely well written and has both visual and visceral appeal. Nintendo knows how to write games for its own platform and it really shows with SPM. You are constantly discovering new hidden treasures as you journey along. One moment you think the road ahead is impassable, then you flip to 3-D and the choice is obvious. You can become part of wonderfully graphic backgrounds grabbing extra coins, play secondary characters, or just relish in the super-cool sound design.
While Microsoft seems to be struggling with the XBOX, and the sales of the eye-candy intensive PSP have been languishing, I am continually impressed with the Wii. Time after time it has presented me with all new and exciting ways of playing video games. It makes me want more. Paul Thurrott, PC technologist and hack, wrote this past week that the Wii was “a joke”. This isn’t surprising considering that he makes his living by rubbing Microsoft’s rhubarb, but honestly he has no clue. The Wii is not a fad. Only now are game studios realizing its potential as its continued scarcity proves. Parents and players alike love the Wii and with good reason. While Microsoft is stuffing the retail channel to artificially inflate its sales figures, games like Super Paper Mario are giving gamers new reasons to be couch potatoes all over again. Its a genuinely fun title and, in my gaming experience, totally unique. What more could you ask from a video game? Check it out, the Plumber will thank you.