I’ve often thought of Nintendo as the Disney of video games. Many Nintendo franchises, such as Kirby, Mario, and Pokèmon, are geared towards the 8-13 year old market, just like Disney’s animated features. Despite their kiddy focus, however, Disney movies remain popular with many teens and adults. Maybe it’s nostalgia, maybe it’s the hidden in-jokes geared towards older audiences, or maybe it’s because Disney movies are just so well made that people can’t help but love them. Paper Mario should be loved for these same reasons.

Paper Mario is the semi-sequel to the semi-popular “Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars” (SMRPG) for the Super Nintendo. I say ‘semi-sequel’ because the original was co-developed by Nintendo and popular RPG maker SquareSoft (Of Final Fantasy fame). SquareSoft had nothing to do with the making of Paper Mario. This led many to speculate, before the games release, that Paper Mario would botch the successful formula of SMRPG. This is not the case, as Paper Mario is almost everything its predecessor was and more.

Paper Mario’s gameplay is a mix of action and RPG elements, much like it’s prequel. You control a paper-thin, 2D Mario that runs and jumps around a 3D world. When Mario touches one of the many enemies he encounters, a turn based battle starts. There’s a twist though: If Mario jumps on an enemy to start the battle, the enemy will start out slightly damaged. If instead the enemy charged into Mario to initiate the battle, Mario starts out with damage. This system made the game feel a lot like the old, action-oriented Mario games without taking away from the RPG battle system.

Another interesting gameplay twist, back from the original SMRPG, is the timed attack system. When Mario attacks an enemy in the turn-based battle sequence, you can increase the damage he does by performing certain actions with the control pad at specific times. These actions vary from hitting the A button at exactly the right time to flicking the control stick quickly from left to right. It’s a simple addition, but it keeps the player on their toes and prevents battles from becoming the usual “jam on the attack button until it’s over” affair.

In contrast to the innovative gameplay, the story behind Paper Mario is about as deep as a kiddy pool. When people in the Mushroom Kingdom make wishes, they go up to Star Haven, where they are granted by the Star Spirits using the magical Star Rod. (original names, eh?) King Koopa (yes, the same King Koopa that’s been around since Super Mario Bros.) steals the Star Rod and uses its power to capture the Star Spirits and Princess Toadstool. Of course, this will not stand. Mario to the rescue!

This storyline is augmented by lots of little side-quests for Mario to complete. For instance, when Mario goes to Shiver City to find the seventh Star Spirit, he finds the mayor of the town has been murdered! Mario finds himself the prime suspect in an investigation conducted by the security officer, and isn’t allowed to leave the city until he clears his name. Interesting twists like this keep the game from getting too predictable and make the player want to keep playing just to see what’ll happen next (Just so you know, the mayor wasn’t actually murdered. He just tripped and hit his head. This is a Nintendo game after all).

As is evidenced by this story, Paper Mario is not for those with a low “cute” tolerance. The dark blood and gore of games like Unreal Tournament and Quake 3 are replaced with bright colors and cheerful music. This can be a good or bad thing depending on your tastes. I personally didn’t find it too distracting, but some players may feel the need to take a Goldeneye break after about an hour of playing.

As you might expect with a game this cute, the challenge level in Paper Mario is not that high. Even my seven-year-old sister was able to get through the first part of the game without assistance. Veteran RPG players may be frustrated by this simplicity, as well as the linear nature of the story. (It’s often obvious what is going to happen next, because the story can’t move on unless it does.) This makes Paper Mario perfect for beginners, but perhaps a little too basic for experienced players. The latter group may want to check out games like Chrono Cross or Final Fantasy IX instead.

Bottom Line: If you can get past the inherent simplicity and cuteness in Paper Mario, you’ll probably end up enjoying it immensely. Sure, it isn’t a ground breaking, epic, cinematic experience, but it’s a fun, nostalgic ride nonetheless. 8/10