Every Paper Mario game, classified
The Paper Mario series is a fascinating corner of the Nintendo stable, and not just because the famous plumber becomes flatter than a pancake. The op...
The Paper Mario series is a fascinating corner of the Nintendo stable, and not just because the famous plumber becomes flatter than a pancake. The opinions of fans seem to be divided right down the middle. Depending on who you ask, the series is either a complete disaster that hasn't seen a good game since the GameCube or a cheerful, quirky little thing that showcases the developer's creativity. And their fondness for papercraft.
From the good to, well, Sticker Star, there is much to explore in Paper Mario. So let's dive in and see if we can create a definitive ranking for each title in the franchise.
Updated on September 23, 2023, by Bobby Mills: The Paper Mario series recently received a new addition to its lineup, Paper Mario: The Origami King. Our previous update already included this title in the rankings, but now we want to take into account the changing perspectives since it has been out for a while (and possibly soften our strictness towards some of the other entries).
Furthermore, Nintendo recently announced a complete, ground-up remastered version of The Thousand-Year Door for 2024. So we thought, why not draw a little more attention to this fan favorite?
6 Paper Mario: Sticker Star
To put it mildly, Sticker Star was a controversial game. In a drastic departure from the usual series standard, unique locations like Rogueport and Flopside were replaced with the typical Mario fare. Sing it with us: Grass world, desert world, fire world, jungle world, cloud world, final boss.
Equally confusing was the noticeable absence of any RPG elements - adhesive stickers replaced the traditional battle menu - and a truly annoying companion named Kersti. Imagine Navi, turned up way beyond level 11.
When you take away the entire identity of a franchise, argued the fans, there isn't much left to work with. However, that doesn't mean there wasn't any fun to be had. The soundtrack is a highlight of the series, featuring remixed hits from retro favorites like Super Mario World. Some levels, including a Snifit game show, an attack on a ski lift, and the Enigmansion (a ghost-hunting adventure in the style of Luigi's Mansion), were absolutely captivating.
Unfortunately, the desire to stay closer to the Mario brand undermined the potential of Sticker Star - but it's still worth a try for fans of the series.
5 Paper Mario: Color Splash
Color Splash is essentially Sticker Star, but done right. Nintendo has listened very attentively to the complaints about the various systems in the heavily criticized 3DS game. For the Wii U debut of Paper Mario, they have made sure to address as many of these issues as possible.
The writing is just as witty and sarcastic as one would hope for. And while the game technically still isn't an RPG, it moves much closer to that genre than its handheld counterpart. For example, you once again level up (in a way - the color capacity required to charge stronger attacks increases through battles).
Yes, the only supporting characters the game uses are Toads, just like in Sticker Star. But it's hard to care when the individual interactions are so well done. Name me another Mario game where a Shy Guy on a train contemplates the futility of existence as a defenseless minion.
The combat system is based on a card mechanic, not unlike the stickers, but a better implemented roulette wheel means you're never completely disadvantaged. Overall, while Color Splash may not be the pinnacle of its genre, it is a delightfully playful, effortless adventure that deserves your attention.
4 Super Paper Mario
Super Paper Mario was the first game in the series that truly departed from its RPG roots and adopted a 2D platformer approach, while still retaining elements such as EXP and badges. Isn't it cool how change can sometimes be positive? Like its predecessors, the game offers captivating music, fantastic writing, as well as interesting locations and characters to explore and interact with.
The story, in which the malicious Count Bleck attempts to erase the entire reality out of revenge for the loss of his long-lost love, sometimes becomes almost Kingdom Hearts-like - leading Mario to very dark places. Where else can you find a chapter where the group navigates through hell? Or an extensive homage to The Exorcist with spine-chilling scenes? Or the prophecy that Luigi is destined to end the universe, written in an ancient book?
Undoubtedly, it is the most complex narrative in the franchise and is often referred to as the one that prompted Miyamoto to intervene and say, "Hey guys, maybe we should dial it back a bit."
With four main playable characters in the form of Mario, Luigi, Peach, and Bowser (along with their accompanying Pixls), there are plenty of opportunities to tailor the adventure to your abilities. Overall, Super Paper Mario has dared to try bold and exciting new things while still preserving the core identity of the series.
3 Paper Mario: The Origami King
The Origami King feels like the most complete form of what Sticker Star and Color Splash aimed to achieve, finally striking a balance between the series' modern playfulness and its classic innovation. Most importantly, the beloved feature of partners returns, unlike the Pixls in Super Paper Mario, which were essentially glorified tools.
A special shout-out goes to Bobby, the Bob-Omb, who goes through an existential crisis when he realizes that the fate of his kind is to explode, and he has far exceeded his expected expiration date.
The battles have been revamped, and although they are still turn-based, they now revolve around 360-degree rings, adding a certain level of puzzle-like mystery to the combat. You must try to align enemies by manipulating the concentric layers into a row in order to attack as many enemies as possible at once.
Yes, it is a bit too easy and can sometimes become very repetitive - especially since you can spend a lot of coins to add Toads who solve the puzzle for you - but it keeps you engaged.
The charming origami graphics are absolutely delightful, and with these new folded creations come new powers and abilities. For instance, Mario's "1000-Fold Arms" ability allows him to extend his arms in the overworld and pull back the landscape to reveal the path forward.
In conjunction with a surprisingly heartwarming story, Origami King is just as good of a modern Paper Mario as you could imagine.
2 Paper Mario
The original Paper Mario, where it all began (condemned to relative obscurity as a late N64 game until YouTube emerged), is a fantastic adventure.
With new and interesting locations in the Mario universe, entertaining and diverse characters to interact with, snappy writing, an easy-to-understand yet deep combat system, a fun selection of companions - this game had it all. It even included the long-awaited Princess Peach Back-Simulator, a feature demanded by fans for ages.
Originally conceived as a sequel to Super Mario RPG, with the paper art style added later in development, this change allowed the game to feel absolutely timeless. It doesn't matter how old it gets, no matter how grainy the textures may be, it doesn't matter: it is nestled within a storybook, so the pages may be a bit worn.
So many iconic locations were part of this game. The chase in Tubba Blubba's Castle, Shy Guys' Toy Box, the penguin murder mystery - the list goes on. The only criticism one can make about Paper Mario is that it doesn't...
1 Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door
It can be fun to swim against the current, but in this case, the general consensus is right: The Thousand-Year Door is undoubtedly the best game in the Paper Mario franchise. It has everything that made the original great and even improves upon it.
The complex story is incredibly enjoyable to play through and is written in a fantastically hilarious way that sparks laughter. Luigi makes occasional appearances and tells tales of a side adventure he had in the "Waffle Kingdom." Real or made up? You decide.
Of course, this lightheartedness is balanced by serious conflicts, such as the invasion of the alien X-Nauts or Peach being possessed by a 1,000-year-old entity with catastrophic intentions.
The partners met along the way, such as the studious Goombella or the old Admiral Bobbery, all have their own unique abilities and backstories that make them both useful and entertaining. Other NPCs, including a criminal Pianta syndicate and the wrestler Rawk Hawk, are just as humorous and contribute to the sense that the game takes place in a vibrant and breathing world.
The game's graphics are stunning to this day, and the soundtrack is filled with captivating songs that are sure to stay with you. Similarly, the combat system is fast, entertaining, and easy to understand - yet it still incorporates mechanics that can be challenging for those who want to master them.
Overall, Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door is unforgettable, to the extent that Nintendo is remaking it from the ground up for the Switch in 2024, answering the prayers of fans worldwide who had long believed it to be impossible. HD Professor Frankly awaits us!