There might be such a thing as researching a purchase too thoroughly. I greatly desire to pick up Paper Mario: Sticker Star, just released for the 3DS last month. Here’s the review link. Much of the reason why I anticipate it is because of generally positive experiences in the Paper Mario series before. But money has become tight recently, so rather than just dive in I decided to research the purchase before hand – a typical action for gamers. And I came across a couple of odd references that make me wonder again about my tastes.
The article is a column of Iwata asks for Paper Mario, visible here. In the article, President Iwata interviews his development team, with the notable absence of Mr. Miyamoto, about their roles in the development of Paper Mario: Sticker Star. Most notable for me was the part where Kensuke Tanabe commented on the value of story in a Mario RPG:
With regard to the story, we did a survey over the Super Paper Mario (April 2007 Wii) game in Club Nintendo, and not even 1% said the story was interesting. A lot of people said that the Flip move for switching between the 3D and 2D dimensions was fun.
-Kensuke Tanabe, from the Iwata Asks column
This quote implies an authority, specifically the surveys available on Club Nintendo, to claim that story is the least valuable part of the Super Paper Mario experience. While that certainly is one way to interpret the data, another might be that Nintendo and Intelligent Systems didn’t find the right story to work with.
I’ve always liked the Paper Mario Series, but in full honesty I loved Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door (2004 Gamecube) much more than the 2007 Super Paper Mario. This I always put down to personal tastes, but I guess a lot of people didn’t like the story of SPM07. Qualifying what everyone has so much trouble with is beyond me, but as for my preferences, I found Thousand Year Door stretched the old Mario classic story: Peach is kidnapped by the X-Nauts and feeds clues to Mario to lead him to the lost treasures needed to find her, a much more enjoyable tale than SPM. In fact, I really don’t know how to summarize that story.
Considering the story from its components, SPM featured a forgettable cast of powers masquerading as characters; they each mutter quirkly one liners, then join the group and never say another word. The focus moves from the full cast to a subset, one that features Mario, Luigi, Peach, and Bowser, together with four original characters intended to add drama to the mix and serve as antagonists. Thousand Year Door for contrast includes new antagonists in the X-Nauts and Shadow Sirens, but these enemies aren’t intended to be matched opposites of the heroes, and the heroes themselves are much more full of character, a koopa with a bandage on his nose, an old sea-bomb (a bomb-omp dressed up like an old sailor), and a pink goomba with a miner’s helmet telling all of the monsters weak points. They seem to fit their surroundings better, as though they had real lives in Rogue’s Port, rather than simply living in boxes until the heroes come to collect them. Thousand Year Door had its weaknesses story wise, but I found it a nice lurch forward for Nintendo, a company with deep roots in shallow story telling.
I’m probably reading too much into these things, for after all, Mr. Miyamoto is famous for his claims that Mario’s stories should be kept spare. There’s a good editorial on that opinion here. But the Iwata Asks feature suggests a future focus on gameplay without the story. While I love Mario games for their gameplay, I found the push for platforming aesthetics with flat characters (literally and figuratively) interrupting me to talk about the weather less than enjoyable. Paper Mario suits the need for a deeper story about the characters of the Super Mario universe, and it works better as a deeper narrative exploration. While I still plan to give it a play through early in the New Year, I hope my deep memory with the franchise is not going to work against me.