A Series in Crisis: Paper Mario

Series crisis Paper mario

Paper Mario Color Splash was announced during the March 2016 Nintendo Direct, and since then, the game has received a plethora of criticism and concerns. Fans have complained about the lack of iconic partners, the battle system, and the amount of generic characters. Even ignoring these criticisms, it doesn’t look good for the next entry in the Paper Mario series given its current direction. In truth, the series is in dire crisis, and here is why.

No Longer an RPG

During an interview with GameXplain, assistant producer Risa Tabata stated the reason for the directional change of the series was that they didn’t want two Mario RPG series (the other one being the Mario and Luigi games). Understandably, it doesn’t make too much sense to have that many RPG series within the same franchise. However, ultimately what Intelligent Systems, the game’s creators, have done is ensure that Paper Mario doesn’t have an identity.

What is Paper Mario Color Splash? Is it an adventure game? Is it an action game? Is it a puzzle game? Is it still an RPG? Heck, is it just a game about finding Toads? No one really seems to know. When you look at past Paper Mario games, they have a clear identity. Paper Mario and Paper Mario The Thousand-Year Door are both RPGs. Super Paper Mario is a platformer and RPG hybrid. But when you look at Paper Mario Sticker Star and Paper Mario Color Splash, it’s not really clear. It looks and plays like an RPG, but Nintendo doesn’t want to call it that.


Instead, the theme seems to be paper gimmicks. In the same interview, Risa Tabata state that, in regards to the future of Paper Mario, “Obviously we have to think of some kind of new paper-based theme” But who wants to buy a game about paper-based themes? Furthermore, Intelligent Systems is missing the point of why fans loved Paper Mario. IGN’s review of Paper Mario [Nintendo 64], which game the game a 9.0, stated “…Paper Mario is a fantastically deep, intuitively designed, and wonderfully rewarding experience complete with enhanced takes on old-school turn-based fighting mechanics and a statistic system that would satisfy any RPG fanatic.” Similarly, Gamespot praised the game writing, “with stunning graphics, excellent sound, and extremely solid gameplay, Paper Mario is a quality game on all fronts.” Neither review indicated that the game was outstanding because of the paper motif.

Wasn’t Paper Mario Sticker Star Successful


“But what about Paper Mario Sticker Star?” you might say. “Wasn’t it successful?” Well, sort of. Paper Mario Sticker Star did as well as any Paper Mario game, but it was not the blow-out success that so many think. Paper Mario Sticker Star sold 1.97 million (As of March 31, 2013) but Super Paper Mario sold 2.28 million (As of March 31, 2008). The differences in sales may be due to a difference in release date (Super Paper Mario release in April of 2007 and Paper Mario Sticker Star in November 2012); nevertheless, it’s clear that Paper Mario Sticker Star wasn’t the model of success that fans believe it is.

Mario and Luigi


Of course, the elephant in the room is the Mario and Luigi series. While fans may not like Nintendo picking which RPG series lives and which one metaphorically dies, their decision to support Mario and Luigi makes sense. Here are the sales of the latest Mario and Luigi titles

Title Sales (in millions)
Bowser’s Inside Story 4.13
Dream Team 2.08
Paper Jam** 0.70

**Sales are estimates

Bowser’s Inside Story sold significantly better than either Super Paper Mario or Paper Mario Sticker Star. The game may have benefit from the fantastic install base of the DS; however, even Dream Team. which was released on the 3DS, outsold Paper Mario Sticker Star. In that regard, the Mario and Luigi series is selling better than Paper Mario. The only exception seems to be Paper Jam. While it is interesting the title has sold so much less than the previous games, it is ironic that it is the only game to feature Paper Mario.

The Dilemma


So the series is in between a rock and a hard place. Nintendo seems concerned with having two Mario RPG series. With Mario and Luigi pulling higher numbers (with the exception of Paper Jam) it puts the future of the Paper Mario series into questions. Nevertheless, Intelligent System’s current solution seems questionable. What made the games great was the wonderful and unique gameplay, not the fact that everything was made of paper. In many ways, Intelligent Systems doesn’t understand why fans adore Paper Mario.

So what should become of Paper Mario. Well, there are multiple ways the series could go. For one, the series could focus on being a console RPG. Mario and Luigi is home on the handheld and its gameplay reflects that. It more chaotic, simple and more action oriented. Paper Mario is more strategic, thoughtful while still adding action sequences, elements that lend themselves better to console. Alternatively, Paper Mario could experiment with a platformer/RPG hybrid. Super Paper Mario remains the best selling game in the series, so Intelligent Systems could find a way to better merge those genres to make a compelling title.


At this point, it doesn’t look like Paper Mario Color Splash will do well. With fans being so negative and the fact that games have, generally, performed poorly on the Wii U, it’s clear to me, that this game will be a complete dud. But where does the series go from here? I would hope that Nintendo and Intelligent System will realize the issue with the game is that it is not what fans wanted. Of course, there is the very distinct possibility that Nintendo will see it as consumers not wanting Paper Mario and pull the plug on the series. It would be sad to see Paper Mario go, and perhaps there is the hope that the series will continue in a different, more interesting form. Regardless, if Nintendo doesn’t recognize these issues than we’ll have a zombie of a series or no series at all.


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  1. Out of sheer curiosity, in the GameXplain interview you mentioned, they said that if there’s enough fan demand, they would consider remastering either of the first two Paper Mario games (unless I misinterpreted?)…How would that affect the future’s series, if it’s even possible to happen?

  2. I’ve always believed that Mario & Luigi is the superior of the three Mario RPG playstyles, because the changes they made were often unexpected. The concept of Mario AND Luigi in Superstar Saga was amazing, so Mario & Luigi AND Baby Mario & Luigi blew my mind. Then it became Mario & Luigi AND Bowser of all people, before it became Mario & Luigi & Luigi & Luigi etc. But then Paper Mario appeared, and it felt out of place. Why? I actually see Super Paper Mario as one of the best games in the Paper Mario subseries, because it felt more like Mario than Paper Mario. Paper Mario has the sort of story where you could replace it with literally anyone else, and it’d work. Imagine The Thousand Year Door, but with Link, or even Kirby. It’s hard to imagine that with the Mario & Luigi series because there’s no two characters that work together with that dynamic. (Before you say Sonic & Tails or something, play Chronicles. *shudders*)

  3. You don’t know if it would be successful or not. Especially when the game already has a lot of people defending it. Nintendo to the core has always tried to improve their weak points instead of unoriginally clinging to their strengths. Just because it wasn’t an RPG doesn’t mean it’s going to automatically fail. If it’s like Sticker Star with no improvements on SS. Then that’s a different story.

  4. I was disappointed when they completely removed the iconic partner system. Paper Mario series was all about that to me. Having those common enemies become your friend and ally to help each other to save someone and the world…that’s like a dream come true. Having an (supposed to be) enemy character joining forces with the protagonist is something that makes players happy and joyful, which they could finally experience how their abilities can work to help others than simply attacking. I’ve wanted to see some other common enemies like Hammer Bros., Magikoopas, Dry Bones, etc. to join Mario, and even that Chomp who was planned to be in Sticker Stars in the beginning too. I just don’t understand why they thought it was a good idea to reject that system and let Mario simply fight all alone? Yeah, Mario did fought alone in every series, but in the first three Paper Mario games, that’s the different story.

    Plus the usage of every NPCs as only Toads without a personality and gender…I don’t get this idea. Why they thought they should make all NPCs a simple and generic Toads, which everybody’s all male and no personality but different colors. Why they even left those other races like Goombas and Koopa Troopas as enemies? I’ve heard many others said that Miyamoto wanted to make the Mario series safe, but I don’t even know why he thought keeping every characters as normal with no new characters was the safest choice? It doesn’t make any sense.

    Possibly, many companies now these days have given an opportunity to ignore every fan’s voice. No matter how many people given those past games a highly good reviews and ratings, the company will always believe that it was made terribly bad and unsatisfied. No matter how popular certain games and characters were to many fans, if the staffs didn’t even like it in the first place, they’ll just simply remake it into their likes as it’ll make fans disappoint instead. But even though, I do wish for this game to return to its form.

  5. I was frustrated when Sticker Star came out because I’ve never been so disappointed in a game before, especially from a series that I love so much. When Color Splash was revealed, I was just sad and defeated. The Paper Mario series is dead to me as long as it sticks to the Sticker Star formula, and that’s just tragic.

  6. Having played all the PM games in he series, I try an find some fairness at least for both Color Splash and Sticker Star. I also would be in favor of Intelligent Systems keeping the RPG formula and story, etc from the first 3 games. But I also wonder if they have can make an entirely new story that matches that of Thousand Year Door or Super PM. It would be tough to have new antagonists compelling as Count Bleck or the X-Nauts. Without thinking to much on the past, I will think of CS as a Sticker Star game that will at least tweak some features like having the objects used during battle without the paperizing process. Perhaps if the series started with the mechanics for Color Splash back in 2001(2000?) and later changed to the PM that fans know and love today, we wouldn’t have have all these dislikes.

  7. If I may speak my opinion, the Mario & Luigi series has had its issues on the gameplay side as well. If I may recount my personal experience, I remember playing Superstar Saga and using Luigi’s Thunderhand attack where he bounces off of Mario and deals a weak attack to all enemies. I noticed that this move had little use in boss battles, so I rarely ever used it then. But one time, I messed up the input, and instead of Luigi bouncing high and attacking multiple enemies, he got launched for a direct attack against one enemy for more damage. I found this mechanic to be absolutely fascinating, since it gave me a reason to experiment with the timings on other attacks to see if I could modify their effects as well. I haven’t played enough of Partners in Time to know if that game also does that, but in Bowser’s Inside Story (fantastic game) and Dream Team (started off great, but it’s been falling off a bit to where I am right now), all the special moves have a clear success and fail aspect to them, either you hit it or your don’t. And that doesn’t feel as creative, Plus, once you get used to the controls of a special move, you *never* have a reason to not use that special move over a regular attack, since it’ll pretty much always do more damage. Even if you ran out of BP, it’d probably still be more effective to just use an item and keep spamming Bros. Attacks than to switch to standard jumps and hammer swings. I will admit that the change I’m talking about here isn’t even a tenth as drastic as the change in the Paper Mario series, but it is something I wanted to bring up for a while now.

    Speaking on Color Splash, you make a lot of good points here. In the demonstration they had at E3, they mentioned a lot on how everything in the world was made of different kinds of paper. I thought it was a nice touch, but at the same time, that’s never been what I focused on in a Paper Mario game (though it does make you wonder why ‘paper’ was in the title for all these games if only the characters were made of it). I really wanted Color Slash to succeed, but it looks like they’re defeating themselves before release at this point. I hope the developers learn their lesson; even if Paper Mario doesn’t return as a standard RPG, I’d love to see the series continue with the values that it showed in the first three games. I’m making special note to include Super Paper Mario in this. Yes, it was a platformer instead of an RPG like the previous two games, but it still felt like a Paper Mario game in the end. Sticker Star felt like a watered-down experience, and so far, Color Splash just looks like a slightly better Sticker Star.

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