LB Rating: 7
Unlike the first two Paper Mario games, Super Paper Mario is NOT a turn-based RPG. It is, instead, a platform game with real-time RPG elements. This means that your character levels up as you progress, gains powers (Pixls, in this case), acquires new party members, has items to use against enemies, and (here's the key) fights these enemies on screen. In a turn-based RPG you are transported to another screen to fight. On that screen you are given a shot at your opponent, then your opponent is given a shot at you (hence, turn-based).
Despite that rather technical explanation, you can think of the game as classic Mario (you even hold the Wii remote sideways, ala the NES controller) with a few twists. The biggest twist, of course, is the ability to switch from 2D to 3D at any time. This gameplay element, as a concept, is quite revolutionary. However, in practice, the novelty of it wears off quickly.
Let me give you an example. You are in classic Mario mode, running to the right, jumping on Koopas and the such, and you soon get to a wall that you can't jump over. Well, flip the view from 2D to 3D and you can run right by that wall.
Of course, there are more applications to the switching than just that, for example, finding hidden paths or avoiding certain enemies, but still, it isn't implemented as well as it could have been...something just feels like it's missing. In a way, the use of the 3D often feels like you're doing it just for the sake of doing it.
The other twist is the aforementioned inclusion of RPG elements, or lack thereof. By that I mean that the previous Paper Mario games were full blown turn-based RPGs. Super Paper Mario is a platform game with a smattering of RPG elements.
The RPG aspects that make their way into the game include the ability to switch between party members (Mario, Peach, Bowser, and Luigi) who each have their own special ability, the use of Pixls, which are essentially powers such as the ability to pick up and throw objects or gaining use of a hammer to pound enemies, and the fact that you level up as you gain experience.
How does that translate to gameplay? Let's look at fighting. In order to attack enemies you will primarily use the tried-and-true jump on their heads technique. However, there are certain enemies that are much easier to defeat if you use the special powers of one of your party members or a Pixl skill. For example, you may want to use Bowser's fire breathing ability to take out a spiked Koopa or you could use Cudge, the hammer Pixl.
Although the gameplay does, at times, become a little redundant and boring, where this game really shines is the story, colorful characters, and imaginative dialogue. You'll run into all of your favorites, Peach. Bowser, Luigi, Koopas, Goombas, etc., but there are also a slew of new characters like Count Bleck, Dimentio, Mimi (oh, I could tell you stories about her), and personal favorite, O'Chunks.
These characters are full of witty and fun dialogue that often pokes fun at the gaming industry (gaming message boards and fanboys) and never takes itself too seriously. I found myslef laughing throughout a good deal of the game.
Essentially, this game can be summarized as a combination of classic Mario platform gaming with RPG elements thrown in. You'd hope that together, these elements would accenuate each other to create a game comprising the best of both worlds. Unfortunately, it makes for a game that is neither a great platform game, nor a great RPG. Instead, it is a fun and enjoyable combination, well worth playing, but nothing groundbreaking or revolutionary. I guess we'll just have to wait for Super Mario Galaxy for that.