As always, a friendly reminder that this post may (does) contain spoilers.
I was really shocked when I heard a lot of the negative things regarding Super Paper Mario. I hadn’t played it myself, but I heard it was disliked because it wasn’t a turn based RPG like its predecessors. A friend had a copy of the game, so I popped it into the Wii to get my own opinion of it. Once I adjusted to the fact that it wasn’t going to be like the previous two Paper Marios, I found myself enjoying the game. Instead of the RPG format, Super Paper Mario is primarily a side-scrolling platformer. You get to play four different characters over the course of the game: Mario, Peach, Bowser, and Luigi. It’s solid in its own right, but the gameplay of Super Paper Mario is merely a vehicle for the story.
Out of the three games, while having my least favorite mechanics, it has my favorite plotline. It still retains the humor and self-awareness that the Paper Mario series is known for, but with a much darker tone than the two games combined. This time, the true threat of the main villain is known right at the start: Count Bleck wishes to destroy all dimensions with the power of the Chaos Heart. Though the reason for his plans are initially unknown, it will take the power of the Pure Hearts and our four heroes to stop the prophecy of the Dark Prognosticus, which is an ancient, evil book that Bleck has used to enact his scheme. The characters are more complex and well developed than in previous games, so each individual adds more value to the story itself. Even the villain is more dangerous. Bowser wanted to take over the Mushroom Kingdom (or perhaps just beat Mario) and the Shadow Queen wanted to rule the world, but Count Bleck upped the ante. He wants to completely wipe all worlds out of existence, so his threat spans across every dimension of the Paper Mario universe.
It was the first Paper Mario I had to play through again to understand how all the story elements connected and what kind of relationships the characters actually had. Even though most things are presented in a clean and bright format, things definitely become much grimmer in the later half of the game.
The composers of the soundtrack to Super Paper Mario are Naoko Mitome and Chika Sekigawa, and as usual, there are some arrangements of Koji Kondo tracks because after all, this is a Mario game. The music is excellently composed and doesn’t even lean on the original Mario tracks that much, so even with a change of composer, Super Paper Mario does the legacy of the series great justice. I definitely have my fair share of songs that I want to talk about, no matter how briefly, so let’s get the show on the road.
Birth of a Chaos Heart
An unholy matrimony between Bowser and Peach is set up by Count Bleck, the two of them being hypnotized by Bleck’s Assistant Nastasia, thus creating the Chaos Heart. This song basically sets the tone for the nature of the Heart and Bleck’s ultimate plans. The marriage scene was weird and unsettling, and the sudden appearance of this song helps you realize the importance of what just happened. With the Chaos Heart, Count Bleck can begin his plan to wipe all dimensions from existence. This also contains Count Bleck’s leitmotif, so for the entire game, you will be able to associate variations of this song with him.
Flipside is the hub world and space between dimensions, though it too is under the threat of complete annihilation by the Chaos Heart (you can see the void increase in size in the background as the game goes on). The music doesn’t depict this area as peaceful like Toad Town or shady like Rogueport, instead, its defining feature is being quirky. Not only are there odd people everywhere, but the town has so many facets to it, including ones that can’t even be seen unless Mario switches to 3D mode. Being a dimensional rest stop (sort of), it’s not surprising that these characters are even more bizarre than the ones that Mario has met before. Despite this, the music reassures you that you are safe and generally in the company of fine people.
Count Bleck’s Plan
Whenever the game switches to Castle Bleck and shows the villain’s side of the plot, this is the music that plays. Count Bleck already shows himself to be quite different than previous villains, never punishing his own minions if they fail. Instead, Nastasia has them do something like… paperwork or singing songs… which is punishment enough, I guess. The ticking of the clock in the background of the theme and steadied pace of the melody both display a sense of calculation and deep thought. In a way, perhaps, it’s telling of how distracted Bleck is by his thoughts, which is why Nastasia is the one that handles punishments.
An Unrivaled Battle
It’s a little repetitive, I know, but I wanted to be sure that I included An Unrivaled Battle because it’s just a joy to listen to. It goes along perfectly with that rush you get when you pick up that Super Star and become a huge and pixely giant. Just picturing it playing while rushing across the screen and destroying everything in sight makes me really happy. I love to listen to the awesome music while just holding tight.
O’Chunks is the Irish named boss (with the Scottish accent) that you fight about four times through the game, the most out of all the bosses. He’s one of Count Bleck’s followers, and is a little bit dull-witted to boot. However, as the song makes clear, he makes up for his lack of intelligence with hardiness and persistence. His loyalty to Count Bleck is matched only by his confidence in his own ability to defeat you, and his battle theme represents that determination pretty well.
Dimentio, Charming Magician
As you approach the location of the second Pure Heart, you first have to encounter Fracktail, the robotic guardian dragon. He quickly recognizes Mario as one of the legendary heroes and lets him pass. Cue the arrival of Dimentio, the jester/magician and another one of Count Bleck’s followers, though he wouldn’t quite use that word. I’m not saying Final Fantasy 6 inspired this, but Dimentio gives off some serious Kefka vibes right from the get-go. The music makes Dimentio come off as smooth and sadistic, like someone in full command of the situation.
We’ll be seeing more of Dimentio in the game and the post, but right now there’s the matter of why he has arrived on the scene. He damages Fracktail’s circuits and that causes the dragon to go berserk, starting the first major boss fight of the game.
So now that Fracktail has gone crazy, it’s up to Mario to take him out. It’s an exciting song for Fracktail himself, but also for the environment that you fight him in. The parts of the song that relate to Fracktail are the all-over-the-place melody and the electricity-like synth sounds that are supposed to be his short-circuiting. Past that, I really like the song because I can close my eyes and picture any kind of intimidating enemy in a desert scene. Obviously, this makes sense because you fight Fracktail in a desert, but my point is that the song could be great for an opponent of any kind. Fracktail isn’t too tough, so I’m glad he was still given this kind of attention with a great song.
Did I mention that Dimentio has awesome music pretty much all the time? All the fights with him take place in Dimension D, which is a dimension that was created by (and named for) him. While the battle with O’Chunks made you think he was coming at you with everything, It’s Showtime feels like Dimentio is playing with you the whole time. It’s hard not to think that someone who can teleport at will, trap people, and also create explosions (oh yeah, he sends Mario and company to hell via explosion death) is someone that might be toying with the guy who can jump really well. It keeps with his base theme as well, as many of the recurring characters have their own leitmotifs.
After Tippi (your butterfly partner) gets kidnapped by Francis, you have to break into his castle to save her. Once you’re in the castle and you look at all of Francis’s stuff, you see that he’s a little bit of a whack job. Obviously it’s not good that he took Tippy, but his robotic cat creatures and bizarre obsessions make you realize that he’s living in his own little world. The theme of his castle is like a twisted sort of waltz and the castle is where he reigns supreme… living alone… spending lots of time on the internet… oh by the way… Francis is a huge nerd.
I think (or hope) that Nintendo doesn’t assume all their fans that use the internet are like Francis. The point of the Francis chapter was more to have some fun and the theme reflects this idea. He’s basically the nerd that makes all other nerds not want to be nerds. He kidnaps living things in the wildlife so he can take pictures of them and post them on the internet and then complain about things on the internet. There’s even a dating sim section that he has with Peach right before the battle, although this probably resonates more with Japanese gamers as those games are much more popular over there (Suuuure they are… – EDITOR FRANK). The battle (and theme) with Francis are really just enjoyable and are a good stress break while playing. Whether Nintendo really is hating on fanboys though, the world may never know.
I love these grand outer space tunes because they capture the idea of progress and the goal to explore the unknown. Super Paper Mario and Super Mario Galaxy came out in the same year (a good year for Mario games) so clearly Nintendo had a thing for outer space songs in general at this point. A neat little observation: despite having different composers, the song shares some similarities with Buoy Base Galaxy from Mario Galaxy:
Obviously it’s not resoundingly similar, but it’s just that they have the same feel and qualities. Clearly, space exploration is a deep seated point of interest for me.
Mr. L, Green Thunder
Who could this suave and debonair man be? What kind of mysterious origin does this Mr. L have? Why exactly does he look so much like Luigi? No time to focus on that, however, because I can’t figure out if this song is making fun of Mr. L’s clear superiority complex or if I’m just supposed to assume he poses some kind of threat. Either way it’s catchy, so for all I know, there are many more meanings for it than two.
The Sammer’s Kingdom houses the race of warriors known as the Sammer Guys, which is a not-so-subtle play on the word “samurai”. As you start the level, you see that the void of destruction in this world has grown massive and will soon likely consume the whole kingdom. So when I think of the Sammer Guys, I think of honor and duty. I figure that no matter the outcome, they will stay where they are and fight with honor until they die (which will be soon, apparently). They draw on ancient Japanese traditions and customs, so the samurai ideal will live on through the music even if their world is destroyed.
Not long after entering this kingdom, you’re stopped from reaching the Pure Heart, and the destruction begins. Tippi gets you out of that dimension to avoid said annihilation.
The World of Nothing
After the destruction of the Sammer’s Kingdom, you go back inside in hopes that the Pure Heart survived the devastation. The kingdom has been reduced to an empty white void of basically nothing with little scraps of debris scattered on the ground. Sometimes in a song, less is more. A core melody isn’t really required in this song because it showcases the emptiness and aftermath of what was wrought here. An entire dimension, filled with color, life, and energy, is reduced to complete nothingness. It’s the theme of despair and a true motivator for making sure that this doesn’t happen to all the other dimensions as well.
This is the second time you fight the Brobot (piloted by Mr. L… who can he be?), although this battle theme is the one that sticks in my head more. There are two reasons I think of for that: one is that you walk through the World of Nothing to find Mr. L, so there was a lack of distracting music beforehand. The other reason is that in this fight, even if he wasn’t more dangerous, the music made me think of him being all smug and superior. In that regard, after witnessing the total devastation brought on by his boss, Count Bleck, I wanted to kick his ass. Aside from the emotional attachment, this track is a sweet variation on Mr. L’s original theme. After this fight, Mario leaves and Dimentio arrives and kills Mr. L, sending him to the Underwhere (hell), which leads into the next chapter!
River Twygz Bed
Like I mentioned before, Mario, Peach, and Bowser are killed by Dimentio and are sent to the Underwhere. At one point, Mario finds out that someone matching the description of Luigi has fallen into the River Twygz. So this is the theme of the river bottom, and since it’s basically the River Styx, there are the sounds of deranged souls and bizarre things trying to talk to you, desperate just to be heard. It’s a pretty terrifying place for a Mario game.
As a further play on Greek myth, the guardian of the exit from the Underwhere is a Cerberus-like monster. Basically, it’s three different colored chain chomps (pictured in the video), but that’s not what’s great about this part. The song is that of the mini-boss theme, but it’s been retrofitted to the 8-bit style. Making popular songs 8-bit is pretty common on Youtube thanks to people’s nostalgia for old games. Add in to the fact that the fight is a classic turn-based RPG that actually kind of reminds me of Earthbound combat, and you’re in nostalgia-town!
By this point in the game, the player has seen snippets of various memories regarding someone named Blumiere and Timpani after every chapter. Blumiere was a member of the Tribe of Darkness who had taken the Dark Prognosticus from the Tribe of Ancients. Long story short, Blumiere fell in love with Timpani, who was a human, and it was forbidden. So before Blumiere could marry and escape with Timpani, his father kidnapped her, wiped her memory, and left her to wander around alone until she died. So in his rage, Blumiere took the Dark Prognosticus and destroyed his dimension out of anger and sadness (told you this story was dark). After this, he looks to fulfill the prophecy of total dimensional annihilation because he can’t live without Timpani and decides to take it out on everything. It’s revealed to us by Dimentio that Tippi is actually Timpani, saved by Merlon by being turned into a butterfly, and Blumiere is Count Bleck.
Why did I tell that whole story there? It’s because it’s key to understanding why I like Castle Bleck’s theme so much. Unless you know that story, his castle just seems like an evil and dark place. With the knowledge of his past, the theme takes on a more emotional and confused setting. The castle is something that Count Bleck made, but his sadness is so great, it’s like the existence of said castle is just a byproduct of Blumiere’s misguided attempts at trying to resolve his issues. Without Timpani, he has become a nihilist and so his castle mirrors that empty dark feeling that resides within himself. While I can’t say I agree with his methods, and I see that we had to stop him, Bleck became a sympathetic and tragic character pretty quickly. All of that makes this next song all kinds of emotionally charged.
Champion of Destruction
It plays earlier in the game, but this song is way more important after you defeat Count Bleck. After being defeated, the Count is crumpled on the floor. In truth, he has been hoping that Mario and the rest of the heroes would show up and kill him before his plan could come to fruition, despite finding out that Timpani was alive after all. He basically realized that this plan he put in motion was something horrible and unforgivable and is ready to face the consequences. Bleck urges you to hurry and finish him off, but Dimentio arrives to spoil the “fun”. Basically, he reveals that he was playing Blumiere all along and that the real person who would fulfill the prophecy would be him instead. Dimentio’s plan is to recreate the dimensions in his image, so the destruction won’t even affect him.
At this point, with the song playing, Count Bleck has gone from mastermind bent on destruction to completely pathetic. He played with a fire that seemed to be under his control, but didn’t realize that the fire was burning down the world around him, waiting to get its chance to consume him as well. Dimentio sends Bleck and Nastasia to Dimension D and continues with his plan.
The Ultimate Show
Dimentio reveals that he also had seeds (apparently literally) planted in Luigi, so that when the time came, Luigi would follow Dimentio’s command and fuse with the Chaos Heart because of his insecurities and general lack of self-worth. Luigi then becomes a huge monstrosity, which Dimentio then inhabits to gain complete control over the Chaos Heart as Super Dimentio. After about halfway through the fight, Count Bleck and Tippi reunite and give power back to the Pure Hearts, who had lost power earlier, so that Mario can hurt Super Dimentio (as beforehand this was a unwinnable battle situation, much like in the past two Paper Mario games). Once that happens, this song heightens the importance of Dimentio’s defeat. It especially meant a lot because Bleck was a really important character to me now and I didn’t want his reignited love to be in vein.
This song empowered Dimentio’s thirst for glory and manipulative nature, so it was only fitting that we turn all that emotion he was using as an advantage back onto him. Nothing better than foiling a villain who thinks he had it all wrapped up and won. The music is worthy as a final battle theme, without being as dire as the battle with the Shadow Queen.
After the fight, Dimentio is defeated and Luigi comes out perfectly okay. In order to stop the apocalypse, Blumiere and Timpani get married in the same place where the Chaos Heart was made in the beginning of the game. This creates a huge Pure Heart that cancels out the Chaos Heart and saves the world! Our heroes go back to Flipside without Bleck or Tippi and celebrate. After the credits, we see two people, we can assume to be Blumiere and Timpani, sitting in regular forms on a grassy and sunny hillside under a tree.
Of all three Paper Marios, Super Paper Mario had the superior story. I can’t say for certain that it had the best music, but the character development and story arcs introduced one of my new favorite characters of the Mario franchise: Count Bleck. The more serious music teamed with a more serious story created a game that had a lot more depth than previous ones, and really I think that’s a good thing. So despite what people initially had to say about it, for me, Super Paper Mario ranks right up there with the other two Paper Marios.
That will bring an end to the Paper Mario Extravaganza! I care a lot about these games and their soundtracks, as evidenced by my three longest posts ever in a row, so I hope I was able to communicate that passion in words. These are all great games that, even if I’ve spoiled the hell out of them, you should still totally play for yourselves. I don’t think you’ll regret it.
Comment below on what songs from Super Paper Mario you liked that I may or may not have mentioned or just comment on the post itself! Either way, I’ll see you all tomorrow for my Thanksgiving post, which will feature everyone’s favorite glutton.
Hope you enjoyed the Paper Mario Extravaganza!