Paper Mario is 15 years old today, 11th August, in terms of its Japanese release in 2000. Intelligent Systems, a development company typically associated with Fire Emblem and Advance Wars, took a step back from serious strategising to produce what was, at the time, a bit of a revelation.
Actually originally known as Super Mario RPG 2 in Japan, following in the footsteps of the brilliant SNES title Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, Paper Mario utilised the power of the Nintendo 64 to incorporate 3D world design with the self-titled paper effect. It was an early example (but certainly not the first) of Nintendo's desire to produce handsome virtual arts and crafts - the company's loved doing just that in HD with the Wii U, of course. With a neat look came fun RPG and timed button-input battle mechanics, which all combined for a memorable experience.
It still stands up wonderfully today, but when celebrating the 15th Anniversary of this game we should appreciate its role in adding another dimension to Nintendo's library. Not only has it spawned three direct sequels of its own on GameCube, Wii and 3DS, but a few years after this title we had AlphaDream's Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga on Game Boy Advance, itself bringing us three sequels (with another on the way) across DS and 3DS. Until Paper Mario: Sticker Star there'd been a neat divide, in some respects, with key similarities in the franchises being separated by their natural homes on home console and portable alike.
Despite the different development teams, the shared humour and approach has always been obvious, which makes next year's Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam on 3DS a natural evolution. Based on our hands-on time so far the blending of the Paper and Mario & Luigi worlds works wonderfully, with plenty of scope for creativity, not to mention the extra challenge of controlling three characters rather than two.
To get to the point, I think we have a lot for which we should thank Paper Mario (and Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, of course). As all that know me well are aware - or anyone that's read my bio on the site - I think that Bowser is the best Nintendo character of all. An awesome visual design, yes, but it's based on his goofy personality. In modern Mario platformers we get a taste of it, and in Mario Kart 8 he's got cool animations and sound, but rather like my colleague Tim Latshaw - who wrote our Paper Mario Wii U Virtual Console review - I love his character. That's a character that began to form in Paper Mario and evolved in the sequels.
I generally lean towards the Mario & Luigi series in terms of my favoured RPG fix from that cast, but Paper Jam is right at the top of my wishlist due to the fact it's bringing the two together. Paper Mario's biggest strength - which it passed on to its successors - is in its characterisation and writing. In some respects these personalities have existed for decades in Nintendo manuals or company character guides, but it's the way they're portrayed in the RPGs that takes them to a new level. When I played Bowser's Inside Story, a bromance with a spikey-shelled and down-on-his-luck megalomaniac was born.
Beyond Bowser, as not all share my obsession, it's these games that really bring Mario, Luigi, various Toads, Peach and more to life and make them loveable characters. They're not just mascots in these games, but cartoon characters and caricatures - wonderful, silly, goofy cast members within colourful tales.
All of these qualities are definitive of Nintendo, too. Myself and various others have written in the past that Nintendo's playful, light-hearted approach is fundamental to its appeal. It'll have serious moments in franchises like Metroid and The Legend of Zelda, sure, but even the likes of Zelda or Fire Emblem punctuate world-ending story lines with bizarre characters and quirky realities.
This has been the Nintendo way since its beginnings, but purely in the Mario landscape Paper Mario deserves to be revered for its key role in sharing that side of the Mushroom Kingdom - and beyond - with gamers. The writing teams of the development studios, and then brilliant localisation crews, have brought real treats in these RPG games, titles that divert our attention for hours with blasts of colour and daft humour. Sometimes the characterisation even helps disguise little flaws - Mario & Luigi: Dream Team dragged a little beyond its welcome in core gameplay, for example, but its cast kept me hooked.
With Paper Mario available on N64 carts, the Wii Virtual Console or the Wii U Virtual Console, perhaps it's worth revisiting the classic experience. I defy anyone to play through it without raising a smile.