While I haven't been starving for RPGs, I agree with all of Brad's major points. Paper Mario is a very good RPG that plays towards Nintendo's primary strength—creating charming game experiences with its evergreen characters. Intelligent Systems succeeds in designing and implementing a witty game that is nearly impossible to dislike. The game is filled with charming characters, bumbling enemies, and the sort of odd-ball situations that only Mario would get himself into.
The reason that my score is point lower than Brad's is because I felt that the game raced off to a great start, but lost its creative edge a little over halfway through and really slumps to the finish line. It's sad because Paper Mario is filled with a number of excellent ideas (many borrowed from Nintendo's own Earthbound) and amazingly high production values, but fails to maintain player interest throughout the experience.
The reason for this is because games must continually add new twists to the gameplay throughout the experience to keep the player mentally awake. New weapons, new enemies and new hazards are required to keep the player on his toes and wanting to see the game to its completion. The two major ways that Paper Mario strives to keep the player involved is by introducing new enemies that require new tactics to defeat and by providing the player with new badges to develop their own strategies in combat.
Through the first dozen hours of the game, the enemies require some thinking on how to set your badges to defeat them. If you see a large number of small enemies in a row, you might want to try Mario's multiple jump attack—that jumps on the first enemy and then bounces on down the line. Or if you see bats hanging from the ceiling, you might want to use the quake hammer to whallop them off their perch with a deafening blow. These simple concepts are presented in fun little puzzles to solve in combat and are overall very engaging to play through. But about halfway through Paper Mario, it is as if the game gives up on trying to introduce any new game elements and simply makes the enemies larger.
The problem with the badges is similar. Initially the badges hold a lot of promise, hypothetically allowing the player to customize Mario to fit his playing style. Players can choose to have a wide range of special attacks, or be a defensive powerhouse, or try to put all the enemies asleep to avoid taking any damage. Unfortunately, the promise of this system is left unrealized, because halfway through the game the player begins to receive duplicates of the most powerful badges along with marginally more powerful versions of the attacks they already have. The result is instead of the player being able to continually develop and explore Mario's powers in interesting and creative ways, players just maintain their playing style throughout the game with little new being introduced. Initially in the game I loved playing with each new badge and working out new strategies and ways I could play, but near the end they were so similar that I hardly changed my badge setup throughout the final half of the game. Nintendo games typically do a very good job of keeping the player involved throughout, so Paper Mario is a major letdown in this area.
Paper Mario isn't the best RPG ever made. It's not even Nintendo's best RPG. (The seminal Earthbound deserves that nod.) But it succeeds in delivering an overall high-quality experience. While it may not be worth playing the game to its conclusion, I'd definitely recommend it to anyone who wants to smile and laugh on a memorable adventure.
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