Poppy plumber

Jul 4, 2001 at 12:00 am

Everyone’s favorite bumbling plumber collides with sugar-soaked daydreams in “Paper Mario” — but can he save Princess Peach from her kidnapped peril? As in classic literature, it is the tale of knight vs. dragon, blotted with gumdrops and bonbons. Spin it wildly around, add two dashes of Nintendo and your recipe is complete.

But “Paper Mario” is born with a dual-nature intact, as the game was prompted to lead the Nintendo 64 — a dated console chugging its last breath — to the graveyard with style.

Plus, it is an experiment in dress-up. Rather than publish a sub-par 3-D cartridge, Nintendo opted for a classic two-dimensional approach. Instead of a 360-degree arena, “Mario”, outlined in thick black marker and inked in bright paint, frolics in a world reminiscent of pop-up fairy tales.

Thus, “Mario” requests that you to free your mind of all preconceptions. Like Moulin Rouge, each character is snipped from a child’s coloring book, designed to intoxicate from beginning to end (a well-founded motivation, considering the game can take more than 50 hours to conquer).

At its core, “Mario” is a simplistic role-playing adventure, light-hearted enough for younger players, but ultimately short on depth for veterans of the genre. Its fighting system is elementary, its plot, long and uneventful.

Just don’t expect complex equations and you’ll be comfortable.

Beyond that, like many plastic women in LA, “Mario” craves attention from the curious eye. Each character is presented in full-pledged “Powerpuff” mode, minus little girls with fist-barred grins. The art direction is striking, highlighted most potently when Mario trips from grace — instead of plummeting, he flows, swaying back and forth in the breeze, just like a leaflet would.

Once prepared for redundancy and other annoying obstacles, “Paper Mario” sits nicely on the mantle of your imagination. But it’s not a “like” or “dislike” sort of game; it is bound by the addiction for completion — sound and furious. Stray far if you’re not an alcoholic within the first hour.

Jon M. Gibson investigates the triumphs — and pitfalls — of games and other technological poundcakes. E-mail him at [email protected].