After Sticker Star, Paper Mario fans have split into two camps: Those who are less critical about the changes in Paper Mario, and those who are devastated to see the series drop in quality since The Thousand-Year Door and demand blood. Despite their virulent anger with each other, both camps agree that they would love to see the amount of characterization and creativity in future titles that was present in the first two games.
Well, thanks to a new statement by Kensuke Tanabe, Paper Mario fans young and old can now be reassured that will never happen.
Last week, VGC interviewed Nintendo veteran Kensuke Tanabe along with others from Paper Mario: The Origami King’s development team. In the interview, Tanabe made several statements that will ensure Paper Mario, (and by default, all Mario games) will never resemble The Thousand-Year Door again.
“It’s no longer possible to modify Mario characters”
Since Paper Mario: Sticker Star, it’s no longer possible to modify Mario characters or to create original characters that touch on the Mario universe. That means that if we aren’t using Mario characters for bosses, we need to create original characters with designs that don’t involve the Mario universe at all, like we’ve done with Olly and the stationery bosses.
Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door has a cast of characters that were interesting and unique, but still fit well into the Mario style by being alterations of pre-existing character designs, like Goombella, Koops, and Admiral Bobbery. These were characters first, and Mario-game elements second.
The fanbase can be certain, from this point on, the Mushroom Kingdom branding is too restricted for another adventure with characters that have unique personal designs. Unless of course it’s one of the various Toads in Paper Mario: The Origami King. They can all be slightly variating as long as, beneath their various colors and jobs, they are blank slates.
“Blank slate” is the key phrase here. Nintendo wants Mario and his universe to be solely merchandise and branding products. There’s no room for exploring story, ideas, or world-building. According to Miyamoto and the boys (which I’m sure is the name of an indie Nintendo cover band somewhere on this planet) the Mario universe is as explored as possible.
This doesn’t really make too much sense though. There was a whole slew of new characters explored in Super Mario Odyssey that felt perfectly Mario-esque. We visited a ton of new worlds and met with all kinds of new creatures, so why are we all of a sudden told to stop asking for new and interesting characters?
I think we all know the true answer: If Nintendo allowed Paper Mario to climb to its highest potential, it would be so good, nobody would buy any other Nintendo games. Our children’s children would say, “Zelda who?” and “Mario Kart? You mean like Paper Mario, hallowed be thy name?”
Or maybe it’s because that new Super Nintendo World theme park would have to keep expanding if we kept adding new characters. Maybe they fear crowds of people protesting, demanding a Goombella-themed archaeology dig attraction.
Maybe they’re just out of shelving space for Amiibos and don’t want to have to make any new ones. Maybe their 3D printer broke.
Regardless, anyone who wishes to see another game set in the Mario universe with the same amount of depth and character as TTYD, best stop wasting time and start looking for some more fulfilling franchises to get invested in. (Bug Fables comes to mind.)
But is this inherently bad?
Not necessarily. Paper Mario: The Origami King shows what the potential for storytelling is without exploring deeper character. Is it anywhere near as engaging as TTYD? Certainly not. But is it a good time? For the most part, yes. The story writers just have to work a little harder to find a way to convey story.
A lack of character depth means there is no pre-established history to build off. The writers must start with nothing and show all of the growth, development, personality in real time as the player goes through the game. For this reason, it takes a lot longer for the story of The Origami King to engage the player.
While playing through the beginning parts of the game, I felt disillusioned by the superficial world with shallow characters, but, about halfway through, there is one explosive moment that took me by surprise. I didn’t realize how much I cared before that point. I had an emotional connection to these characters I didn’t even realize I had developed.
So, is Nintendo’s restriction on character in Mario games useless and unnecessary? Yes. Does it damage game quality? For sure. Can good games still be developed around this restriction? I believe so. It’s just far more difficult.
It seems like Nintendo still has an interest in producing story-based Mario games, but unless they can amend their dedication to lifelessness in their crucial story elements, their games will forever be in the shadow of The Thousand-Year Door. The best course of action for future games would likely be to move principal characters from the “Mario universe” to a universe where the characters don’t have to be so… paper-thin. Thank you. Thank you. Please hold your applause.