Paper Mario proves it: We want to be Bowser.
Maybe I’m just sensitive to such thinking because of my recent “love for the bad guys” article, but let us consider the whole of the Paper Mario franchise. Recent Paper Mario games, like Paper Mario: Color Splash and Paper Mario: Sticker Star, feature Mario working together with Toads and the gimmick du jour… but not Bowser. Bowser is, like in every other Mario game that does not involve sportsmanship, an antagonist, and nothing more than an obstacle to be overcome. And, hey, guess which Paper Mario games are the least liked.
But let’s go back a little further. Super Paper Mario is probably best described as “experimental”, as its fusion of platforming and RPG mechanics simply did not work in a lot of places. But it’s also a damn memorable game, with some set pieces (like a destroyed world, 8-bit Hell, and some nerd’s basement) that seem to be wholly unique within the franchise. And, yes, Bowser is straight up a playable character alongside Mario, Peach, and that green guy. The giant lizard even gets some kind of story arc and a rival to battle against! You can’t tell me that Super Paper Mario doesn’t get extra adoration for its playable Bowser.
And then we go back a little further, to the impeccable Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door. This is a game that requires no excuses; it is simply a beautiful, delightfully constructed RPG absolutely oozing with creativity and wonder. It’s a story for another article, but I would say, without question, that if the Gamecube somehow was only capable of supporting one game, PM:TTYD would still make the system essential. But that’s all fluff compared to the simple truth that the best damn part of that game is playing through the opening stage of Mario Bros. as a constantly growing Bowser. PM:TTYD was demoed for the world with two stages: a battle against Hookbill representing the “real game”, and fun times with Bowser, the event everyone reported. How did that not become an entire game!?
This brings us back to the originator of the Paper series, Paper Mario. Those of you that have played the game are probably already disagreeing with my thesis, as, come on, Goggle Bob, Bowser is the main and undisputed villain of Paper Mario. There is no Shadow Force or Mr. L or even a mysterious, last minute “I was secretly responsible for everything” monster at the end of the book. Bowser is the bad guy, he’s identified as such before even Mario is introduced, and he’s the final boss. He doesn’t even transform into some kind of Final Fantasy version of Bowser for that finale, either. He’s “Bowser, but, ya know, bigger”. I guess he borrowed a weapon from the Kirby series? That’s about it.
But consider Mario’s role in the story. Mario is, as ever, the hero. Mario ventures across the Mushroom Kingdom’s latest incarnation, and collects about 113 less stars than in his last adventure. Mario stomps on shyguys, kicks over turtle shells, and wields a mean hammer when goombas finally decide to get some headgear. Coins, fire flowers, and mushrooms are collected, and, in the end, Mario finds all the stars and saves Princess Peach from Bowser’s uncertain machinations (I guess he’s just a single dad looking for a strong female presence in his household?). For the entire world, this looks like a pretty typical Mario adventure, complete with some fireworks and parade floats in time for the credits.
Mario makes a lot of friends during his quest. I’m partial to Goombario the goomba and Kooper the koopa troopa, but there’s a place in my heart for everybody’s favorite manic mailman, Parakarry the parakoopa, too. Lady Bow the boo is a bit too high society for my tastes, but Bombette is to be commended for contemplating the rights of sentient explosives. Watt is just a wee baby sparky, and would probably get along well with Mama Sushi… if cheep cheeps could deal with electricity a little better. And Lakilester the Lakitu… well, I guess he tries. And that’s Mario’s JRPG party.
And you may have noticed that not a single one of those allies are “good guys”.
Mario has a pretty healthy support staff. There have been Peach, Toad(s), and Green Man ever since Super Mario Bros. 2. Since then, we also gained Yoshi(s), Daisy, and a handful of occasionally helpful monkeys. That cast has mushroomed (ha) in recent years, with the Piantas, Nokis, Rosalina, Toadette (she counts!), Wario Bros, and I guess we could even include the baby bunch. Point is that, assuming you need to fill a JRPG or karting roster, you’ve got a lot of Mario friends to choose from before you have to dip into the villain pool. Well, Wario might be kind of a gray area, but he’s… certainly helpful to the party’s wallet.
But Paper Mario is all about the villains. Okay, yes, technically every Mario ally is on the side of the angels, and it’s not like Mario had to coerce his party (too much) into joining the battle to restore wishes; but the fact remains that every one of these creatures is from a wicked gene pool. I’m trying not to be judgmental here, but forget thumbs, almost half of this roster doesn’t even have arms. I don’t see any famous pieces of art coming out of the bob-omb galleries, and I’m pretty sure that goombas are more teeth than man. Again, I commend the likes of Kooper for joining in a benevolent quest, but that doesn’t make up for nearly every one of his contemporaries being accessories to kidnapping over the years. Mario’s friends are Bowser’s usual army.
So, are you really Mario?
You jump. You swing a hammer. You can shoot fire. And so can Bowser. Bowser premiered in Super Mario Bros. with the exact same skillset as Mario (and an endless supply of hammers rescued from an ape’s construction site). Aside from a slight size difference, the key difference between Bowser and Mario was simply that Mario was alone, and Bowser had eight levels of minions to toss at the hapless plumber.
And now, here we are: Mario has his own army. It’s limited, but they’ve got 1-up mushrooms, so Goombario is going to last longer than his usually squishy brethren. Do you really need a house full of boos when you’ve got one Lady Bow? Of course not. So now we’ve got one or two extemporary minions versus a mass of anonymous randos. We know who is going to win this one, but hasn’t Bowser already won? In order to defeat his greatest enemy, Mario has become the very thing he battles. Mario is Bowser.
And we all ate it up with a spoon. Paper Mario is the story of Bowser fighting another, slightly less-equipped Bowser. And all we want is more.
Bowser is the hero Paper Mario fans desire.
FGC #203 Paper Mario
- System: N64, and Virtual Console. Highly recommend the Virtual Console release, as that allows one to ignore the weird visual stink of the N64.
- Number of players: One
- Favorite Companion: It’s Watt. There’s something delightfully… spooky regarding her incarceration as a lantern sprite, and, once she’s on the team, she shocks monsters with the best of ‘em. And she’s friends with Fuzzipede, too!
- Reused Plot: So there was a time in history when there were exactly two Mario RPGs, and both games told the story of a villain damaging the universal mechanism for stars granting wishes. Was this a calculated move to “retell” Super Mario RPG, or did no one have any original ideas? We’ll never know.
- Goggle Bob Fact: I want to say this was the last game I bought at the tail-end of my “poor college student” phase. Shortly after I bought this game used (well after the heyday of the N64), I picked up my first “adult” job (even if I was still a student), and suddenly had enough spare income to afford things like used videogames. But I can still remember when I bought this game assuming its scarcity would only increase in the future, and I pretty much threw away my last $30 to play a children’s storybook game. I regret nothing.
- Reused Game: Apparently the previous owner of my copy of Paper Mario was named Rachel. I cannot bring myself to delete her last save file, because there is something wrong with my brain.
- Did you know? Every last Paper Mario support character was apparently supposed to reappear in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, but I guess they got cut for time, as only their updated sprites remain in the code of the final version. This is a tremendous loss.
- Would I play again: This is a great game! It’s also a game that is completely overshadowed by PM:TTYD, so… Sorry.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Dragon’s Crown for the Playstation 3! Get ready to beat ‘em up while possibly nursing severe back issues. Please look forward to it!