Jonny gets down and dirty with the import version! These impressions are SPOILER FREE, since I have no idea what is going on with the story.
Having played the Japanese version of Paper Mario 2 for nearly twenty hours, I feel confident in predicting that this game will be a big hit when released in America this fall. The sequel doesn’t stray far from the last game, and it doesn’t include any features from the amazing GBA offshoot, Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, but fans of any of the previous Mario RPG games will love it. Even more music for your ears: Paper Mario 2 looks to weigh in as the longest of the series by far. It’s a BIG game with a ton of secrets to discover.
It may be hard to wait until October for the English version, but importing Paper Mario 2 is hard to recommend unless you know at least some Japanese. Some parts of the game are simple and logical enough to get through on pure intuition, as I’ve been able to do with the past couple of Zelda games. Other parts are so obtuse that I’ve had to use a translation guide for step-by-step help. And of course, I have no idea what most of the badges do. There is an excellent translation/walkthrough at GameFAQs, but it is still a work in progress and might not even be finished before the English version is released. If you read the language or just don't mind the extra challenge, you can import the game from our partners at Lik-Sang.
As I said before, Paper Mario 2 is strikingly similar to its predecessor; even the graphics look nearly identical, until you see some of the more complex environments and bosses. The story introduces many new characters and worlds, and from the translation guide I’m using, the dialogue seems to be silly and light-hearted, as you would expect from a Mario game. For most of the game, you control Mario and one partner, such as a goomba, koopa troopa, etc. Partners can level up to become stronger, and you’ll meet new partners as the game progresses. The partners have abilities that can be used on the field screen and in battle to help Mario. At the end of each chapter, you also briefly control Peach and then Bowser in narrative scenes that help show other sides of the story. (Bowser does not seem to be the main villain, although he is pursuing Peach for his own naughty plans.)
Mario’s abilities are easily divisible into three categories: jump, hammer, and paper. Jumping allows Mario to get around complex environments and to find secret blocks in the air, and an upgrade lets him butt stomp, too. The hammer can break certain blocks, and upgrades make it powerful enough to break new kinds of blocks. Paper mode includes a variety of different moves, including the famous paper airplane move and, much later, a paper boat mode. Both of these moves can only be activated in certain places. Other paper moves allow Mario to flatten himself sideways (perpendicular to the camera), which lets him squeeze through tight spaces, and the roll move lets Mario roll himself up into a small tube capable of rolling underneath obstacles. The level design is dense with opportunities to use these moves, with many secret, optional areas and hidden items for players who like to explore. As with a Metroid game, every ability can be used to access areas that you saw earlier in the game but couldn’t yet reach. However, most of the backtracking seems to be totally optional, as new areas are opened up near the game’s hub city and are generally easy to find.
The battles are, again, nearly identical to those in the original Paper Mario. Though turn-based, battles are full of action, because both attack and defense can be augmented by timed button presses. New to the sequel is the option to counter-attack instead of just defending; the timing is trickier, but the tactical advantage can be significant if done correctly. The only other major addition to battles is the audience. Mario must depend on his fans in the crowd to fill up his star power meter, which fuels huge special attacks. The seats fill or empty depending on how impressive your moves are, and the battle stage can be upgraded if the crowd gets large enough, which will generate new interactive effects, such as fog machines, that make it harder for enemies to strike. For an extra boost of star power, there’s an appeal command, which is naturally more effective with larger crowds. Sometimes there will even be a heckler in the audience, and pressing X will cause Mario or his partner to run down there and kick out the spoilsport.
My impressions thus far are pretty much the same as what I felt about the E3 demo: it’s really not very different from the first Paper Mario game, but with a series this unique and fun, it’s hard to complain about more of the same. Paper Mario 2 is so much fun, and at my current pace, it’s going to last me at least twice as long as the last game. That’s even with me skipping straight through all of the text.