On this weekend 19 years ago, a beloved Nintendo RPG franchise was born in Japan.
The original Paper Mario (or ‘Mario Story‘) debuted for the Nintendo 64 on 11 August 2000. Many consider it to be the spiritual successor of the popular Super Mario RPG (for SNES), and the inspirations definitely show. The game had a unique mix of turn-based combat and timed button presses (for attacks/defense) – and it quickly gained a cult following among Nintendo fans.
Adding to the game’s charm was its cast of colorful and unique characters, which was vastly different from the more sterile settings of mainstream Mario platforming titles at the time. For example, Players would eventually team up with Lady Bow – an aristocratic and haughty Boo living in Boo’s Mansion.
The N64-exclusive would go on to spawn an even more popular sequel in 2004 – titled Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door. The sequel would go on to be the holy grail of the fandom, with recent fans even requesting a HD revival with the hashtag #RemasterThousandYearDoor.
The series has seen better days, sadly. While generally well-received, the next game Super Paper Mario (Wii) heavily deviated from the RPG format and opted for platforming gameplay instead. After that, the infamous Paper Mario: Sticker Star (3DS) completely infuriated fans with its bizarre focus on interconnected levels (instead of a sprawling world) and annoying sticker-based attacks. Fans were likewise unimpressed with the next game Paper Mario: Color Splash – which failed to recapture the unique world-building of the original and Thousand-Year Door.
Today, the series sits in a strange limbo.
Its developers at Intelligent Systems are pretty much occupied with the now-successful Fire Emblem series. Meanwhile, the ‘Mario and Luigi’ RPG series has seemingly replaced the Paper Mario series altogether – offering the same exact battle mechanics. As it stands, Nintendo might be struggling to find a good niche for the franchise, even though fans just want it to go back to the way it was.
Will we ever see the original Paper Mario gameplay and world return to its former glory? It’s hard to say what Nintendo is planning nowadays. All we can hope is that the company has something in store for the series’ 20th anniversary next year.