I wasn’t too excited about Super Paper Mario when I first heard about it. I certainly enjoyed the 2-D Mario games when I first played them, but the state of the art has changed, and nostalgia only takes me so far. So I’ll occasionally play a 2-D platformer and enjoy it, but I figured New Super Mario Bros. filled my quota of that for the next couple of years. And the 2-D/3-D switching sounded more like a gimmick than anything else. (Unlike, say, Crush, which makes me wish I had a PSP. Well, not really, but it definitely makes me wish they’d release it for the DS.)

Then I started hearing claims that it really was a follow up to the Paper Mario series, and I started getting curious. That was a fine series, and I wasn’t wedded to the details of its RPG mechanic; a game like that that replaced the turn-based battles with platformer-style jumping sounded great to me. By the time the game came out, it was on my “buy immediately” list.

And it really is pretty neat. Fans of the original will be happy to see eight world of four levels each. And, most of the time, you platform your way through the level, moving left to right more often than not. But there’s also a central world to wander through, low-key item and leveling-up mechanics, a (quite threadbare) plot. And some back and forth exploration within the levels, puzzle solving, party members, houses and shops.

Which all works nicely. None of it is wonderful – the 2-D/3-D transitions are a fun enough way to design the game, but hardly a relevatory new mechanic. (And it mutes the 2-D platformer aspects: there are essentially no hard-core 2-D platformer difficulties, because you can switch to 3-D to get around almost all of them.) And the party members of various sorts are rarely used (and it’s usually obvious when you need to use one of them), and leveling up just serves as a way to let you survive more complicated levels. Most reviewers complain about the amount of reading, especially at the start of the game; personally, I didn’t even notice that as a potential problem.

So a rather pleasant mix of 2-D platformer with Paper Mario-esque RPG aspects. Rereading the above, I don’t sound too excited, so let me be clear: outside of Wii Sports, which lives in its own dimension, this is the best game for the system. Which says as much about the youth of the system as the quality of this game, and I’m hoping that this fall brings a couple of games that are considerably better, but the game is a lot of fun, is very solidly constructed, and has enough new ideas and new ways to put together old ideas to be well worth playing.

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