Graham Russell’s favorite: Paper Mario

October 28, 2012

In the My Favorite Game series, get to know us better as staff writers share the game they love most and why.

Paper Mario is pure joy. There are games that provide more interesting tactical decisions, games that invest more time in the story and games that stick around and entertain you a lot longer, but there’s just nothing compared to the bliss that comes from this particular blend of battles and puzzle-adventure mechanics.

Honorable Mention: Heroes of Might & Magic III: I’ve talked about my crazy Heroes co-op experiences, and yes, those memories tied to the game make a huge difference. But I also loved my time by myself with the game. There’s something about the elegant tactical matches encased in this context of progress and purpose that just resonates with me.

A wonderful aesthetic: Paper Mario is the one N64 game that manages to retain the entirety of its original appeal as it ages. This is the result of a smart decision to go with a flat, cel-shaded, super-stylized look. The edges look a little rough these days, but when compared to shelf-life nightmares like Jet Force Gemini and GoldenEye, this one’s a miracle.

Treehouse at its best: Nintendo’s localization team is the best in the business, and while it puts in solid efforts with other titles, it always seems like it has the most fun and tries the most interesting things in the Paper Mario games. It’s hard to develop much character in the main-series games like New Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Galaxy, but in Paper Mario, the team has the lines of dialogue to turn a nondescript Koopa Troopa into Kooper, a plucky little guy who has archaeology dreams.

Honorable Mention: Advance Wars: Dual Strike: Another Intelligent Systems game in this piece? It was close to being all three, honestly, as I love Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn’s weaving storyline. Dual Strike wins out, though, as the pinnacle of the series, with its huge map selection, interesting boost equip system and adherence to a cheery aesthetic abandoned by Days of Ruin.

Manageable progress: Paper Mario‘s an RPG, but one that keeps the numbers small to make them significant. Doing three damage instead of two is a huge motivator to get that button press right, and which of the game’s three stats to increase during one of 26 leveling occasions is a weighty decision. You get more attack options as the game goes on, but these are usually tied to characters, and the game shows you exactly how each can be useful in the right situation. And because of the balance, no moves are ever truly obsolete.

A contained story: When you’re done with Paper Mario, you’re done. With some genres, this would be a detriment, but in RPGs it’s such a rarity to not have a hundred-hour quest with an insurmountably-long postgame or multiple New Game+ playthroughs that it’s a breath of fresh air to find a game that gives it everything it has and calls it a day. As a result, it stays a charming distraction instead of becoming a weight hanging around your neck.

The GameCube sequel, The Thousand-Year Door, is magnificent as well. Super Paper Mario‘s basically a different series entirely. If you get through the two and want more (like I did), AlphaDream’s Mario & Luigi series improved with each installment, and offers many of these great things in a less-polished package.