A Brief History with the Paper Mario Series

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Kyle Smith

Publish Date:

With the imminent release of Paper Mario: The Origami King, I though it would be a good opportunity to deep dive and explore the history of this series and how it came to be the epic wonder that it is today.

First, we must start with the first entry to the series, and no I am not talking about the 2000 Nintendo 64 “Paper Mario” title. I am talking about the Nintendo’s first dip into the RPG genre with Mario. I’m talking about 1996’s “Super Mario RPG”. Back when the Super Nintendo had launched Japanese RPGs were all the rage. Nintendo had already entered this genre with its infamous Legend of Zelda series, but were curious as to what a game would look like with their mascot Mario as the lead character. At this time Squaresoft (creators of the highly received Final Fantasy Series) were the lead innovators of this genre. Naturally, Nintendo and Squaresoft struck a deal to produce a JRPG Mario game and produced the first entry to what would become a highly loved Nintendo Series. After release of Super Mario RPG, the game received positive reviews and fans loved it. So Nintendo got to work on planning a sequel, which ultimately used all the same formulas, but ended up becoming an entirely different game… Paper Mario (64).

This time, choosing to not use the Square team Nintendo began to put together the pieces for another Mario experience in the JRPG genre. Nintendo started off by looking at the skillsets they had within their own teams, and other first party Nintendo teams, finally choosing the great mind behind the Fire Emblem games, Intelligent Systems support development of this entry. When planning the style of the next Mario RPG entry the development team made a conscious effort to not tie the game back to its predecessor Super Mario RPG and instead use it as a baseline for an entirely new game, a reboot, so to speak. Another, key thing that the development team agreed to strive for was to ensure that this new title was believable entry into the Mario world, it needed to contain the characters, items, world and everything else that made Mario the icon he is. They wanted to the game to feel like a perfect cross between RPG and the other entries. Thus, the team created the hit title Paper Mario for the Nintendo 64 system. Upon release, the game was critically acclaimed, gaining good reviews scores across the board averaging at about the 90% score.

In ~2001 the team jumped straight into the planning of the next entry of the Paper Mario series. Knowing Nintendo’s next console was on the pipeline for release, the Nintendo Gamecube. Using the same development team for the previous entry, Nintendo began to work out what the next title in the Paper Mario series would be. This time they wanted to push the series further than they had ever gone before, and they wanted to utilise the new power that the Gamecube offered, At the drawing board the team came up with a few key gameplay concepts that they wanted to introduce in this title: Playing as other characters, Mario being able to transform and the re-introduction of classic side scrolling elements from the core 2D Mario games. Which went on to bring out some of the defining features that set this next entry out to be a raging success, alas Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door was created and release in 2004. During its release, once again the game had hit critical acclaim and had been positively received by critics, again scoring a slightly higher average score of about 92%. The game also outsold the previous two entries, pushing Nintendo to see that this was going to be a core entry into their legacy of games. This additionally kicked Nintendo off in working with developers AlphaDream to create another RPG series for Mario, dubbed the Mario and Luigi series. We will talk about them briefly in a moment, but I won’t reflect on them too much as this article is about Paper Mario.

In late 2004 Nintendo and Intelligent System jumped straight into planning for their 3rd entry into the Paper Mario series, which would be on the next Nintendo console, the Nintendo Wii. This time the team wanted to improve on those features they had introduced in the previous title and take them a lot further than they had before. This set the game on a different path, which ultimately meant it had departed from the gameplay that had featured previously. This time Nintendo opted to primarily feature side-scrolling gameplay with some RPG elements. Mario was not the only playable character either, instead this time you would be able to play as Princess Peach, Bowser and Luigi, who all have different play styles and abilities. Although the developers did introduce a new gameplay mechanic to compliment the more 2D platformer nature, and that was the ability to “flip” the world, from a 2D scroller to a 3D plain, in which Mario could navigate his way around things that blocked his path. This new title release in 2007 as Super Paper Mario, donning the infamous naming convention used back in its roots on the Super Nintendo console. The game once again was critically acclaimed, although did not receive as high of a score as the previous titles, averaging at about 85%. Although, Super Paper Mario entry was one of the best-selling Wii games, and had outsold its predecessors. Although it was at this time, that Nintendo decided it would put the series on a short hiatus.

During the Hiatus Nintendo had directed its focus onto the Mario and Luigi RPG series, which was doing very well, but around about 2010, they decided that it was time to get their creative craft hats on, and pick back up the Paper Mario series. By this time the 3DS has been released to the public and was doing extremely well. So Nintendo rightfully chose to release their next entry on this. This created some interesting development mechanics for Nintendo as this time they were going to be using the limiting power of the 3DS, but open up a raft of new opportunities with the 3D and touch screen features. Thus, Paper Mario: Sticker Star was created. This time Nintendo has decided to embrace the craft style nature of the Paper based theme, and used sticker, that where littered throughout the world to power up you character. As this entry was returning Nintendo wanted to keep it very simple and light on complex features. Although Sticker Star was a success, it didn’t do as well as its predecessors, in that the game scored an average critique score of 75%. Which was the lowest of the games yet. This score was primarily as fans weren’t huge fans of the new Paper Mario formula. This sparked off the one of the most difficult receptions to a game Nintendo was about to face.

In about 2013 Nintendo began production on the next Paper Mario title, Paper Mario: Color Splash. The game opted to focus its attention on being paint themed and aligning its mechanics to this. The idea evolved into utilising the dual screen technology of the WiiU and give players paint themed cards on their hand held controller, which they could use the touch screen to flick around, instead of the turned based combat that appeared in the first 3 entries. This mechanic led to controversy breaking out on the reveal of this game, with fans being upset that the game had moved too far from its roots and had re-adopted the most disliked features of the previous 3DS entry. This sparked fans to go to change.org and start a petition to change this mechanic. Although this never stopped Nintendo and they proceeded with the game that they had envisioned. Ironically, upon the games launch in 2016, the game was received well by the majority of critics getting an average score of 78%, which was slightly better than the previous title and showed a clear move in the right direction for Nintendo. Previous to the release though, in 2015, Paper Mario did feature in a cross over with the parallel Mario RPG series, Mario and Luigi: Paper Jam, which didn’t do as well. With fans frustrated over this, Paper Mario Color Splash was starting to be seen in a better light by fans.

Which leaves us with the imminent release this Friday with Paper Mario: The Origami King. We are excited to play this, as it seems that Nintendo have listened to the fans, looking to deliver a robust solid game, pays respect to all of its roots. It brings back a lot of the features that we saw slowly wither away over time. We here at 3-Bit think this title will be a huge success compared to the last entries and are excited to be able to play it. We hope you’ve enjoyed this article on the history of the game. If you did, be sure to follow/like any of our social media pages below to get live updates directly to your social media feeds.

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