If you take games a little too seriously, then the newest Nintendo-made Wii game, "Super Paper Mario," is making fun of you. So says one of the game's co-writers, who admits he's a computer nerd too.
"I kind of know all the weak points of that particular type of nerd — there is that nerd in me also," said Erik Peterson, writer at Nintendo of America. "I know all the really touchy points."
So in chapter three of the eight-chapter game, the one that pits Mario and friends against the sci-fi/photography/computers/gaming/TV/movies "renaissance nerd" Francis, Peterson's touches include a line about people who demand their role-playing games last 180 hours and would like their dolls to be referred to as "action figures." And that was just going with the spirit introduced by the game's Japanese developers, Intelligent Systems.
"The roughest line in the entire [game], 'I go on message boards and complain about games I've never played before,' actually came from IS," Peterson said. "I thought that was so awesome and so brilliant."
If it's not obvious that the jesting is in good fun, then consider that "Super Paper Mario" makes fun of games and game-writing too. It's partially the product of Peterson and the writer he split duties with on the game, Nate Bihldorff. The two Nintendo of America writers worked off of a translation of the game's original humorous Japanese script. Peterson wrote chapters one, three, six and eight. Bihldorff wrote chapters two, four, five and seven. And everyone swapped notes about everything. They tried to leave nothing un-mocked.
The "Paper Mario" series was introduced by Intelligent Systems on the Nintendo 64 more than six years ago. If there is anything serious in a fat plumber, his world of giant mushrooms and the people who love it all, Intelligent Systems doesn't seem to see it. Instead, it sees ample material at which to poke fun. "It's so obvious that they love the Mario series as much as we do," Bihldorff said of the Intelligent Systems team. "[They] have no problems making fun of themselves and making fun of Mario. They've got no problem breaking the fourth wall."
Along those lines, "Super Paper Mario" goes even further than its predecessors, standing out as the first major Nintendo game containing characters that acknowledge the player's existence. Early in the game, when a character explains the game's controls to Mario, one of the plumber's companions asks what this talk of an "A button" is all about. Don't worry, the first character says, someone nearby does. Later, the player can control what Princess Peach says in argument with nerd Francis. If the player has her accept Francis' marriage proposal, she stops and says, "Who's picking these responses for me? I'm not marrying that dork!"
Breaking the fourth wall fits the main gameplay gimmick of "Super Paper Mario." Initially the game appears to be a side-scroller, a flat-paneled left-to-right adventure like old favorites "Super Mario Bros." and "Super Mario World." But early in the game the player gets the ability (through that mysterious A button) to swivel the view of the landscape 90 degrees and view the formerly flat levels in the direction Mario is looking, in three dimensions. What used to be impassable obstacles in the flat version of the game turn out to be flimsy paper cutouts, prop scenery easily snuck behind.
Other behind-the-scenes humor dropped in the game includes the lines spoken by Nastasia, the main bad guy's assistant. She uses a lot of business-speak. She wants to take meetings "offline" and has "something important, FYI, for your inbox."
The game reveals what happens to characters in video games like "Super Mario Bros." that fall down bottomless pits. There is an "after-game," apparently.
A slew of samurai that only appear in full force after a player beats the main quest of the game and seeks them out are named after obscure Mario references. One is Mystical Whistle. One is Squatting Birdo. (When asked by GameFile if that character was male or female, Peterson got the joke.)
Peterson and Bihldorff didn't take every joke available to them. They didn't knock the Virtual Boy that appears on the shelves of Francis' collection room, even though it is the most mocked system Nintendo ever made. "I feel sour that I didn't think of that," Peterson said.
And at least one joke backfired. In the game's main town of Flipside there is a chef whose oven looks like a Nintendo DS Lite. That's the extent of the joke, a sight gag of a cooking appliance shaped like Nintendo's handheld system. If the player has Mario access the oven, a message appears: "Awaiting data upgrade." Subsequent messages make it clear that this high-tech oven is simply requesting recipe instructions, but some Nintendo fans interpreted this as proof of some sort of connection between "Super Paper Mario" on the Wii and the Nintendo DS. "We were actually bummed out when we saw that reaction online," Bihldorff said. "We should have rewritten that line." Didn't they appreciate the buzz? No, Bihldorff said, because they heard that some customers called Nintendo asking why their DS Lites weren't syncing up. "We'll let other people worry about getting buzz. We just wanted to make it as clear as possible."
Poking the kind of fun that "Super Paper Mario" does has been a relief to Bihldorff. "I can't tell you how many games I've played that take themselves so seriously and yet have to come up with the most convoluted crap to explain this thing you have to do as a video game player and try to give it a real reason that you should be doing it, something that advances the plot. That is a really hard thing to do, especially if you specifically want somebody to go to these parts of a level and collect something and all of a sudden you have to contrive this plot point where the key is broken up into five pieces. This whole series isn't afraid of looking that thing in the face and say, 'Hey, this is a ridiculous thing we're making you do.' "
So fret not, anyone who thinks "Super Paper Mario" is having fun at their expense. The people who made it know the game is pretty ridiculous too.
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