by Marty Demarest & r & & r & Super Paper Mario Rated Everyone; Wii

& r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & S & lt;/span & uper Paper Mario is the sixth videogame in which Nintendo attempts to tell an actual story starring their most famous hero. Most of the countless Mario games have no more plot than "rescue the princess." But beginning with the Super Nintendo's Super Mario RPG, Nintendo has periodically released role-playing Mario games in which the hero and his cohorts are characters in a story, not just figures in a game of skill.

The stories that Mario has endured are not complex literary creations. Super Mario RPG was subtitled Legend of the Seven Stars, and Super Paper Mario may as well be named Go Find the Eight Hearts. These are basic quests -- the same sorts of arbitrary adventures undertaken by the likes of Odysseus and Baron Munchausen. The heroes must solve some challenge, and in the course of solving the challenge, the heroes grow and develop.

Three of the Mario role-playing games, including Super Paper Mario, have featured Mario as a storybook character -- a flat animated paper cutout who can slip through cracks and fold himself into paper airplanes as he adventures through the game's equally flat world. It's a cute idea that went nowhere in the Nintendo 64's original Paper Mario, got stepped up a notch for the GameCube's Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, and now finally works in Super Paper Mario.

One of Mario's newest powers in Super Paper Mario is the ability to flip between two and three dimensions. Like the classic Super Mario Bros., much of Super Paper Mario is a two-dimensional romp across stacks and platforms built of breakable bricks. But one press of a button and Mario flips into three dimensions, in which his brick platforms might be farther apart than they looked in two dimensions. Some enemies even disappear, and others only appear in the 3D worlds, turning into invisible flat foes when the screen returns to two dimensions.

Further moving this Mario entry along is the action that takes place between sections of storytelling. Enemies are defeated here just as they are in most Mario classics: by jumping on them. Gone is the choppy turn-based combat of past Mario role-playing games, in which the story would stop so that Mario (and pals) could battle enemies, one turn at a time. Now combat flows from the story with all the addiction of classic Mario gaming, making it the smoothest Mario story Nintendo has ever told.

THE GOOD: I haven't been in control of this many Mario superstars since Super Mario Bros. 2 let me direct Mario, Luigi, Peach and her servant. Super Paper Mario tops that by giving me a role-playing party that consists of Mario, Peach and Bowser -- the holy trinity necessary for any Mario game.

THE BAD: The plot of Super Paper Mario is so unimportant that at one point in the game, Mario falls asleep while listening to the reason why he must save the world. If Nintendo is going to take the time to make a role-playing Mario game, they should take some time to tell a genuine story.

THE BOTTOM LINE: A paper-thin role-playing game that's buoyed aloft by a gently surreal setting and some puzzle-rich inter-dimensional Mario action.

Book-Talk Teasers

Wed., Aug. 4, 1-2 p.m. and Wed., Aug. 18, 1-2 p.m.
  • or