Just when you thought the beloved plumber Mario might be nearing the twilight of his more-than quarter-century career, Nintendo comes out with a game for the Wii that pumps new life into two retro video game genres.
"Super Paper Mario" (Rated E, $49.99) combines the charm and action of an '80s side-scroller with the depth and creativity of a solid role-playing game.
This hybrid of sorts of "Super Mario Bros." and "Paper Mario" features an elaborate and well-written back story that's explained in detail during a rather long opening sequence.
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Mario and his friends must gather eight "pure hearts" to restore the universe to its normal state.
Mario begins his quest in the town of Flipside, which seems a bit sparse at first glance but grows dramatically in size and usefulness as the game progresses.
This is base camp, where you can explore the different shops, chat with residents and buy items between quests.
Dialogue comes in the form of scrolling text — which is usually clever and downright funny at times — but, unlike turn-based adventures, all of the game's action and battles are real-time.
"Super Paper Mario" embraces its retro roots from the start.
Control comes from the standard Wii remote rotated 90 degrees to the left, which emulates a rectangular NES-style game pad with a four-directional stick and three buttons.
The game follows the well-worn formula of four levels per chapter, with each chapter culminating with a boss battle that features one of Count Bleck's cronies.
But by the end of the opening level — which begins as a two-dimensional tribute to Level 1-1 of the original "Super Mario Bros." — the game starts to show its depth.
Mario embarks on his journey with the help of Tippi, one of an assortment of fairy-like "pixls" that give the characters special abilities.
If it seems you've exhausted your options, point the Wii remote at the screen and Tippi will reveal secret doors, blocks or staircases to help you move on.
Mario soon learns how to flip worlds into three dimensions, and this is where the game really sets itself apart.
Levels take on entirely different looks, as some objects and bad guys remain as paper-thin 2-D sprites while others take on a 3-D form.
It's an odd concept at first, but it becomes second nature within a couple of levels.
This power is limited, allowing Mario to flip to avoid a large rolling bad guy or get around a tall pipe, then return to 2-D before the meter runs out.
As the game progresses, Mario is joined by friends who each boast their own special ability. Luigi can jump higher than his brother, Princess Peach uses an umbrella to float to higher destinations and Bowser can inflict heavier damage on opponents.
The ability to flip between dimensions is limited to Mario, but other "pixls" allow all the game's characters to grab enemies and throw them, become paper thin or place bombs.
The role-playing side of "Super Paper Mario" moves the plot forward, but having to continually press buttons to scroll through text when you're itching to do battle can grow tedious at times.
But that's about the only gripe.
"Super Paper Mario" seamlessly blends two genres and splashes in enough humor and obscure references to provide hours of fun.
Three and a half stars out of four.