Nintendo Doesn’t Understand Paper Mario

With Paper Mario Color Splash getting a new trailer at E3 2016, quite a few fans were hopeful that Nintendo had learned from their mistakes. That after the rather lukewarm reception of the game’s first trailer, that Nintendo had revamped the game to resemble what people actually wanted from a Paper Mario title. Or at least, that like Mario 3D World, it would be revealed that the game was far more interesting than an updated version of its predecessor.

But with Color Splash mostly continuing with the Sticker Star formula, it seems clear that Nintendo doesn’t understand what the appeal of the Paper Mario series is. That the people currently working at Nintendo and Intelligent Systems have a strange, warped idea of what makes the series special that doesn’t really align to the thoughts of any fans.

So here are some ways in which Nintendo doesn’t understand Paper Mario and how they’re contributing to the series’ ever consistent decline…

The first one (and perhaps the most important) is that paper is not the main ‘theme’ of the Paper Mario series. Yes, that likely sounds strange to some people. After all, everyone looks like they’re made of paper and its called ‘Paper Mario’, shouldn’t that imply the series is based on that idea?

Well, not necessarily.

You see, a lot of works use specific visual styles merely for effect. The stories themselves? Could have been one in anything from live action to hand drawn animation to marionation or eight bit graphics for however much effect they have on the story. For example, look at the comic book Maus. It’s a holocaust memoir told in the style of a comic book about talking animals. It’s played entirely seriously, there’s nothing really ‘comic book like’ about the way its portrayed and for the most part, the art style used was mostly a unique way to visually theme the work.

Similarly, while it’s obviously nowhere near as serious in content or how its portrayed, I’d say the original Paper Mario games kind of did the same thing for the paper theme. It’s there, it’s used for an interesting visual portrayal of the characters and world and there’s the odd animation effect that only works with said style.

Above: It’s just a story book style.

But it’s not really the focus in universe. Indeed, in the case of the original game (and later Super Paper Mario), you have to wonder whether the story really takes place in a paper universe at all. I mean, no one makes lots of random paper references and jokes in every other line, things like death are treated rather seriously by the cast and the tone of the whole thing is completely at odds with how the series is later portrayed in Sticker Star and Paper Jam.

In other words, it’s like the cast and world really isn’t made of paper, but it’s merely portrayed as such to present a unique (and visually non taxing) style for the player. And the writing backs up that point. The references to other Mario games (like the platformers, Mario & Luigi RPGs and Luigi’s Mansion) implies that these are the ‘real’ Mario, Luigi, Peach and Bowser going on real adventures and stopping real threats to the Mushroom World. Heck, the series is called ‘Mario Story’ in Japan after all!

And that’s the key part of Paper Mario that Nintendo doesn’t get.

People don’t play Paper Mario to play as Mario in Paper Land with paper jokes everywhere. They don’t play ‘Paper’ Mario the gag series based on the New Super Mario Bros titles.
They play ‘Paper Mario’, a deep, interesting series of RPGs based in the Mario universe… that just happen to sport a paper aesthetic. They play Mario Story, the deep, story driven series of Mario RPGs where themes seen as too ‘serious’ for the main platformers are explored and new ground is broken.

But that’s not the only thing Nintendo doesn’t get about Paper Mario. They also don’t get that Mario & Luigi is not a substitute for it.

It’s a great series, sure. The battle system is really well designed with the fancy Bros moves and counter attacks and ability to attack into and out of the background. There are lots of great characters like Fawful, Cackletta, Prince Peasley, Antasma, the Massif Bros, etc. The graphics and music are all top notch.

But it and Paper Mario are two very different takes on the Mario RPG concept.

In the case of Paper Mario, I’d say it’s more of a ‘strategic’ RPG with action elements. Yes, you have to do some platforming outside of battle, or solve puzzles with partner abilities.

But that’s never a focus. There’s pretty much never a situation in a Paper Mario title where being bad at traditional Mario platforming will get you killed/get a game over. And in the battles, the same goes there too. It’s all about blocking attacks (or using partner abilities to dodge them with Bow/Vivian) rather than doing a bunch of careful counter attacks with second perfect timing.

Above: For example

On the other hand, Mario & Luigi is basically an RPG/action game hybrid. You have to very carefully dodge enemy attacks via elaborate escape sequences or perfectly timed counters. The world itself is a bit more like a platformer, with careful jumping and moving being a lot more important than in Paper Mario. Mini games litter the game and come up every hour or so, with decent reflexes being needed to complete them.

Above: And in some battles, timing is literally more important than stats or tactics

Both are fine ways to design a Mario RPG, and both have their audience. But one can’t replace the other. The Paper Mario fanbase prefers a more slow paced, somewhat cerebral experience that works a bit more like a traditional eastern RPG. Where your tactics are more important to complete the game than your reflexes.

Mario & Luigi fans on the other hand prefer a more action orientated experience, with being spot on with your counter attack timing and action commands is outright REQUIRED to complete the game. Where being good at traditional Mario style platforming is often nearly as important as being good at puzzle solving.

There are quite a few more minor differences too. Mario & Luigi has a full set of stats to be aware of, like HP, BP, Attack, Defence, Speed and Stache. Paper Mario on the other hand simplifies this to HP, FP and BP. Mario & Luigi’s badges (with the exception of those in Superstar Saga) work nothing like those in Paper Mario.

Paper Jam Stats

And storyline wise, the two series aren’t all that similar. Mario & Luigi can be dark, at least when it wants to, but generally tends to have more of a light hearted feel to the whole proceedings than Paper Mario ever did. I mean, Partners in Time excepted, the villains in the Mario & Luigi series tend to be funny and make joke comments all the way through to their final defeat, and endgame villains have amusing personalities as well.

Fawful

For example, Fawful is never serious, even when he’s about to absorb the Dark Star’s powers and conquer the world. Antasma is a bit more like serious, but even then, he never gets too dark to the point you find him outright scary. And heck, bosses and characters in the late game tend to still maintain a sense of humour.. Like Hermie III in Superstar Saga, the Star Gate in Partners in Time, Midbus in Bowser’s Inside Story, both Pi’illodium and the Zeekeeper in Dream Team, the Koopalings in Paper Jam…

Above: Even the killer guard robot makes quips about the battle!

Paper Mario is not like that. It’s funny, but the game is very willing to take a serious view of the proceedings whenever it deems it necessary The likes of the Shadow Queen and Count Bleck are for the most part, not funny. They’re not really trying to be either.

And that’s the key. Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi are both comedic series. They both make funny amusing jokes about their own storylines, characters and gameplay mechanics. There’s always one game in each that’s a total clown (and becomes massively popular among the fanbase because of it).

But the way they handle dramatic parts of the story are very different. Paper Mario will switch of the humour to tug on people’s heart strings or increase the tension. Mario & Luigi will always try and be funny. Pretty much everything that happens does so for ‘rule of funny’.

Above: Something this serious wouldn’t really happen in Mario & Luigi

Basically, if the Mario RPGs were British sci-fi shows, Paper Mario would be Doctor Who and Mario & Luigi would probably be Red Dwarf. The former can comedic, but can easily switch to being serious whenever the plot calls for it. The latter is a comedy that doesn’t take anything seriously at all.

And no, two franchises having a similar concept is not too many. You don’t need to ‘differentiate’ different series by genre.
I mean, look at Nintendo’s platformers. You’ve got Super Mario Bros, Donkey Kong Country, Wario Land, Yoshi’s Island, Kirby, and a bunch of one shots like Chibi Robo Zip Lash. Is that too many platformers?

No, because they all appeal to different audiences, and they all have their own unique take on the genre. For Donkey Kong, that’s a more natural setting with more gimmickier levels. For Wario Land, that’s the treasure collecting and exploration and puzzle solving enabled by the transformations. For Yoshi, that’s all the stuff that’s possible due to eating enemies and turning them into eggs that can be used as projectiles. In Kirby, it’s about eating enemies and getting their abilities for yourself.

And that’s the level of differences found between Mario & Luigi and Paper Mario too. They’re both Mario RPGs, but they’re also both very different takes on the idea of a Mario RPG. There is absolutely zero reason to replace one with the other, or wildly change them to be more ‘unique’.

Not to mention the console differences here. Mario & Luigi is only released on handhelds, Paper Mario is only released on home consoles (except Sticker Star). So if you assume that the former can ‘replace’ the latter, you’re kind of ignoring the Mario RPG fans that prefer playing games on the home consoles.

That also brings us to the point that a lot of Paper Mario fans are disappointed in; the lack of original characters and story ideas.

Or more precisely, the rather difficult question of why said characters aren’t being introduced in Color Splash.

Because even if Paper Mario can’t stay an RPG, there is zero reason not to introduce lots of interesting new characters and locations and story concepts. Look at all the other attempts at spinoffs which do that:

  • Mario Pinball Land
  • Donkey Kong King of Swing/Jungle Climber
  • Mario Party (prior to 9)
  • Luigi’s Mansion
  • Mario Strikers (well, the robot team anyway)
  • WarioWare

DK Jungle Climber

Above: When this is more unique than your ‘RPGs’…

Absolutely none of these are RPGs. You’ve got a pinball game, mini game collections, a pseudo survival horror title and even peg swinging adventure games. Yet they all bring far more to their respective franchises than recent Paper Mario games bring to the Mario series.

Why?

Maybe because the developers actually give a toss about trying to come up with interesting ideas and pleasing the fans.

Perhaps because I don’t know, people expect new content in a spinoff or adaptation. People expect something different to the main series.

Even if Paper Mario does have to stop being an RPG for some silly reason, there’s no reason at all for not including many new characters in it. There’s no reason for the Sticker Star formula of ‘introduce one new partner character, then use generic New Super Mario Bros drones’.

For example, these guys could have been the main characters in Color Splash, and people would be a whole lot less negative about it now:

Paper Mario Color Splash Concepts – Spade’s Art Bloge

Heck, it’s not like you haven’t done that before. Super Paper Mario was barely an RPG, yet it had a far more interesting cast list than Color Splash looks to have.
You know what? That was literally the best selling game in the series.

How does Nintendo honestly not understand that Paper Mario fans want new characters in each game?

Which brings us to another aspect of Paper Mario that Nintendo and Intelligent Systems don’t seem to get. That part of the franchises’ appeal is its uniqueness compared to the main series Mario games.

For example, look at the art style. The Boos, the Dry Bones, the Goombas, the Pokeys… even Mario and co look very different to in every other Mario title. That’s part of the series charm, a unique art style that compliments the paper aesthetic perfectly.

original paper style

Above: Look how charming it all is!

Nintendo doesn’t seem to understand this. They seem to be on a desperate match to ‘unify’ every Mario game out there under the New Super Mario Bros brand, with the same general character designs, the same basic stories, the same everything really.

And that’s a horrible idea. It’s like the mistake Disney made with Mickey Mouse in the turn of the millennium, they tried so hard to play it ‘safe’ with all his appearances in media that began to think he was a dull and uninteresting character in dull and uninteresting seeming works. That’s why they let Warren Spector make Epic Mickey and change up tons of things about the art style, story and general tone.

Nintendo is making the same mistake Disney used to make. They’re thinking that every franchise should have one, cast iron look and feel to it. That every game and adaptation in the series should feel identical to the last in all but ‘genre’.

That’s not right. People liked Paper Mario, Mario & Luigi, Mario Party, and whatever else you can name because they were unique from the main Mario series and each other. They all appealed to different people and had different overall feels. But look at this. Look at this stuff from Sticker Star:

sticker star style

Above: A very uninventive art style…

It’s lost all the charm from the Paper Mario style by making everyone look exactly like in the New Super Mario Bros titles. And by doing that, they’ve taken away much of the charm that made people care for Paper Mario. Its basically become about as generic as Puzzles & Dragons: Super Mario Bros Edition.

So that’s what Nintendo doesn’t understand about Paper Mario. That it was a unique series with its own personality and charm, and a very different beast from the Mario & Luigi games.

How to Improve Paper Mario Color Splash

How they can turn Paper Mario Color Splash from a game that is likely to bomb hard this Autumn to a game that just about everyone would love to play?
Well to be honest, that’s a good question. But I think the best solution would be to do the following:

1. Replace the characters to be more unique. Yes, it’s mostly an aesthetic thing rather than a fundamental gameplay change, but it’s one of the easiest ways to make the Paper Mario fanbase actually interested in this game.

Hell, you don’t even need to design these new characters, the fanbase has probably done it for you. Just search ‘Paper Mario Color Splash’ on Tumblr or DeviantArt and you’re probably going to find something more unique than a bunch of generic Toads.

2. Add a couple more RPG elements in. Yes, you likely don’t have time to make this a full blown RPG with all the mechanics that idea entails. But you probably do have time to make basic things work more like the old games, like having Cards refillable via traditional items and a meter system rather than a limited supply of items you actually need to buy/find every time they run out. Give Mario a fallback attack too, so when he no Cards, he can at least do SOMETHING.

3. Lower the boss health, and the damage done by ‘Things’. It’s clear from the footage involving Morton that a lot of the battle system seems to be based on using the right cards and attacks rather than traditional battling, so doing this would somewhat turn the game’s combat system from an elaborate puzzle into a slightly more strategic RPG setup.

Admittedly, these changes would probably delay the game a bit. Maybe not too long (3-6 months maybe?), but still, that’s something to keep in mind none the less.

But really, what’s there to lose at this point? The game’s already divided opinion harshly enough the fans are practically in the midst of an internet civil war. The Wii U is just about dead and buried, and 2016 looks like a dire year for the console’s sales. And if you release Color Splash how it is now…

Well, just remember how badly Mario & Luigi Paper Jam bombed last year.

That sold less than HALF the amount Dream Team sold.

Or maybe look at what happened to Star Fox Zero. The changes there divided a lot of people and were often not seen as positive. Guess what? The game looks to be a miserable failure on the sales front. And that’s just what you get with a game that screws up the gameplay yet keeps the characters and story concepts intact.

StarFoxZeroArt1

A few issues being fixed, a new trailer or two posted and a few fan pleasing changes could at least salvage a tiny amount of the potential sales this game could have gotten.
Let’s just make sure Nintendo understands these important parts of the Paper Mario series for the future, okay?