With the recent controversy around Paper Mario Color Splash, some Nintendo fans have tried to argue that the newer Paper Mario games are more popular with kids.
That somehow, kids prefer the simple storylines and uninteresting characters in the post Sticker Star games for some reason or another.
Like this video, which tries to compare it to the (also infamously disliked) Teen Titans Go cartoon:
But this logic makes no sense. Kids don’t prefer Sticker Star style games to the older Paper Mario ones. No, they very much dislike the change in direction as much as any other Nintendo fan does.
And the reasons why are pretty obvious.
Firstly, no one ‘prefers’ games with no new characters or ideas in them. Seriously, that’s patently ridiculous. There’s no group out there who’s all like “oh my god, Mario’s not saving the princess, aaah!” That’s not something that exists. No one dislikes the idea of new characters in fiction.
I mean, how could fiction as a whole even exist if this was the case?
Did kids decide that Super Mario Bros 2 was an awful game because it took place in Subcon with a bunch of new enemies?
Not really. Super Mario Bro 2 still sold 7.5 million copies.
And every other game in the class series sold at least that many, even with all the new characters and ideas each one brought to the table. Super Mario Bros 3 introduced the Koopalings, the kings, a large number of enemies and tons of new power ups. Super Mario World introduced Yoshi. Super Mario Land 1 and 2 were barely anything like the main series games and introduced everyone to Daisy and Wario.
Super Mario Land 1, a game with maybe two current enemies from the classic games, sold 20 million copies on Game Boy.
If kids then weren’t bothered by that, then no one is going to be put off by the characters and ideas in Thousand Year Door or Super Paper Mario. New characters are what keeps a sequel interesting, regardless of the medium.
Heck, go back to the 80s again. Remember Super Mario Bros 2?
Yeah, that was made because Nintendo of America thought the Lost Levels did nothing interesting for the Mario series. Because it was too similar to the past games, barely added new characters or enemies and was basically the same thing but more.
You should also ask yourself how old most Paper Mario fans are now as well.
Because you know all that fan art based around characters like the partners and the X-Nauts and Count Bleck and Dimentio and whoever else?
That’s not all made by 20 year old college students.
I know. I was maybe about 14 or so when Paper Mario the Thousand Year Door came out. I absolutely adored the characters in that game. I drew fan art of them, wrote a bit of fan fic, featured them in board games based on the Mario series. All that sort of thing.
And there were many more people in that situation. Oh scratch that. There are many more kids in that situation right now. Go to Mario Fan Games Galaxy and note how many of the games feature characters from the RPGs.
Above: Paper Mario World, an infamous example
Do you think all the people who made those games are older than 18? No, me neither.
So it’s pretty clear Paper Mario doesn’t appeal more to kids when it has less interesting characters. But how about gameplay?
Well, no. The newer games don’t appeal more there either.
For one thing, the amount of ‘text’ is pretty much the same as it always was. You may not have an epic story involving Count Bleck and the destruction of all worlds, but the games still feature reams of text about every little thing.
Except now it’s freaking boring text coming from characters with zero personality and no visual appeal. I’m sure all those kids love to hear about the ‘adventures’ of a generic blue Toad, right?
Nah, thought not.
And the gameplay of these games is arguably worse for younger audiences than it used to be.
Why? Confusing as hell puzzle design and no room for error.
Do you think someone who can’t read a bunch of text bubbles and gets confused by a complex storyline is going to figure out what ‘thing’ sticker to use to get rid of a certain boss? Are they going to realise they need to use the Baseball Bat against the Tower Power Pokey boss? Or that in Color Splash, not putting out Morton’s fiery hammer with the Fire Extinguisher will let him kill you in two hits?
Oh hell no. Something like Super Mario Land 2 where jumping on a boss three times kills them is a hundred times more accessible than that.
At least in old Paper Mario, they could do the old ‘level grinding’ trick. Aka, beat up a few hundred monsters and then steamroll a tough boss through sheer brute force. You all probably know that one kid at school who got to the Elite Four with naught but a level 80 Charizard. Same thing works for these RPGs too (albeit to a lesser extent).
And the sticker/paint puzzles don’t seem too logical either. Surely if your goal was to appeal to a younger audience, you wouldn’t design the thing like an old Sierra adventure game, right? Unless kids prefer ‘try every conceivable option’ gameplay to well designed some puzzles, somehow.
Even the sales thing (Sticker Star appearing to outsell Thousand Year Door) could be down to many other factors. Like say, the popularity of their respective systems. The point in which the games were released in their console lifecycles. The hype built up from past Paper Mario games. Some advertising that Nintendo did at some point.
So no, kids don’t ‘prefer’ newer Paper Mario games. There’s no giant audience of 12 year olds that love the idea of Sticker Star or Color Splash, like what some apologists say. Fact is, their decisions alienate people from all demographics equally, and cannot be defended because ‘hey, kids like it’.