It’s a relief to kick back every now and then to enjoy the journey through a game, whether that be with a Portal, Scribblenauts, or Wario title, when you’re floating through a sea of AAA, open world, mass murder titles. It is becoming increasingly rare to see genuinely funny games, so when Nintendo or another developer releases something different and unique, such as Tomodachi Life, I believe it’s worth looking into and giving praise.
Today’s focus is on Paper Mario, a title not only renowned for its 2D aesthetic, RPG elements, and multitude of characters, but its humour as well. An appealing element of the series is the witty narrative and the game’s self-awareness that it is, in fact, a game. For the purposes of this feature, however, I’m including Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, mainly due to its similar genre, certain aspects, and because it’s pretty much Paper Mario in all but name.
Mario games are no strangers to either humour or jokes; we normally find Luigi playing the victim of a joke throughout most games and the universe itself is home to many inadvertent humorous elements. Paper Mario cranks it to eleven and the translation and localisation teams seize the opportunity to cram in as many innuendos, puns, and jokes as they possibly can. The most frequent is the breaking of the fourth wall, which separates the game from the player. The characters essentially realize they are in a game or can do things they shouldn’t be able to do in real life.
An example provided by YouTube user Sapphirechao:
Blowing stereotypes out of proportion is Paper Mario‘s style. While Bowser may still be an antagonist in some games, he is no longer reduced to “evil turtle who wants the Princess for reasons unknown.” In fact, Bowser’s diary reveals that he hopes Peach truly likes him. There is also Francis, a video game-loving chameleon, who resembles a stereotypical nerd; not only aesthetically geeky, Francis also browses Digibutter.net, a forum where nerds and geeks discuss the photos that Francis takes of the pixl Carrie. He is also an otaku, enjoying anime, collecting games, owning an absurd amount of cats, and loving “hot babes.”
Francis is unable to converse with Peach directly, possibly due to a social anxiety, and thus, he transports them both to “Swoon.exe,” a dating sim where they may comfortably converse with one another. It’s interesting to note here that Francis is renamed “Conrad” in the German translation, possibly in reference to the German PC store or Konrad Ruse, the creator of the world’s first programmable computer. I can’t stress enough how wonderfully the translation teams perform on games like Paper Mario and Animal Crossing. If you’ve ever laughed at an obscure reference or name, you should thank the translation teams.
Delightful references from pop culture find their way into these games, Kolorado, an archaeologist, is a parody of Indiana Jones, the Koopa Bros a parody of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the end credits parodying Disney’s Main Street Electrical Parade. The Thousand Year Door arguably has some of the best dialogue within the series, with gems such as “Bob-omb: It is now my goal in life to keep this guy from ever dressing as a woman again.”, “Yoshi: Oh man, the old monster-beyond-the-town-gate-thing? Isn’t hat kinda cliched?” and “I am Bowser, businessman of legend! Fear my accounting.”
Jerry the Bob-omb: It is now my goal in life to keep this guy [Luigi] from ever dressing as a woman again.
Yoshi: Oh, man, the old monster-beyond-the-town-gate thing? Isn’t that kinda clichéd?
Bowser: I am Bowser, businessman of legend! Fear my accounting.
Speaking of Bowser, the “my army is bigger than your army” conflict between him and Crump probably sums up the entire tone of the Paper Mario games in a couple of minutes. (Start at 2:21, if you’re impatient.)
I could list hundreds of reasons why every gamer should play at least one Paper Mario game in their lifetime, including the art style, using it as an introduction to turn-based RPGs and decision-making, and its ability to relate to the player. Standing front and tall, however, is the game’s charm and humour. These games always stand out when I play them and will stick in my mind for the rest of my life, simply because they’re different and special. An amusing, jocular game isn’t necessarily a good one, but a game’s witty narrative can definitely elevate the story. Unepic is a prime eample; by no means is it a bad game, but the comical exchanges between the protagonist and those around him hook you. Your character has a personality and is no longer a mere proxy.
Paper Mario deserves more credit than it receives and I would hope that, should a chance arise for a Wii U version, there would be a larger focus on the story than a gameplay gimmick like with Sticker Star, the biggest joke of Paper Mario. Nintendo’s translation and localisation teams know how to hit all the right spots and, coming from developers that had roles in both Luigi’s Mansion games, Tomodachi Life, and the Fire Emblem series, I reckon Nintendo could really make an outstandingly amusing game.
What games do you think nail its comedy, Nintendo or otherwise? I’m personally a stickler for the WarioWare games. They never fail to bring a smile to my face.