The era of the Nintendo 64 would be remembered for a host of great games that are still enjoyable to this day. From the very start, we were given one of the most revolutionary games of the time, Super Mario 64, released in 1996. This game revolutionized 3d platforming and served as a basis for the future in 3d gaming. Four years later, Paper Mario was released in 2000 and some have consider it the spiritual successor to Super Mario RPG.
Both of these games are considered to be “must-haves” in the N64 line up. But which game is the best? Which game is in general, more fun to play?
Considering that these two games occupy different genres, this question can be hard to answer. SM64 is a platforming game. It has a non-linear progression in the story and you don’t have to acquire all of the stars in order to fight Bowser. PM, on the other hand, is an RPG. It has a strictly linear storyline and you are required to collect all seven stars before taking on Bowser. Nonetheless, both of them are, at their heart, a Mario game.
Both of these games also rank high on the nostalgia meter for me. If you were my age plus or minus a few years, it’s somewhat likely you played these games growing up at your house or at a friend’s house. I remember the first time I played SM64 and was astonished by the colorful graphics, the music, the world, and of course, the flying. Putting on the flying cap and soaring through the air was amazing and it was real treat to wear that cap. PM was a different sort of nostalgia as I especially loved the humor, the art style, and again, the music.
However, to cut right to the chase, I think the better game in the series was PM. PM has several things going for it that make it the better game.
The first reason why was the world of the game. Though these games were on near equal footing, PM’s world felt realistic. We saw it not as stages but as actual places where you can walk from the Goomba Village on one end of the world to the Koopa Village on the other. True the SM64’s paintings and castle were very well fleshed out, but I found it a real treat to explore the Mushroom Kingdom and talk to its denizens.
Speaking of which, that’s the second thing PM has over SM64. SM64 felt so lonely to me as you could only speak to a few characters (mainly toads). PM had tons of characters with varying personalities, many of which weren’t just one-note characters that said the same thing over and over. This becomes apparent after you defeat the boss of the chapter. The characters express gratitude for saving them and they can later be involved in certain sidequests. Your partners also had personality, especially Bow.
Finally, it wasn’t just the characters but the game itself that had personality. Humor filled PM through dialogue, battles, and scenery. The Koopa Bros and their Bowser Machine, the Crystal Palace and its kooky puzzles, and Bowser and his hopeless infatuation with Peach. And when you combine this humor with the tight RPG system, you have an amazing Mario game.
Regardless, SM64 still does things right that PM just couldn’t achieve. The tight controls are amazing and lend itself incredibly well to the ample wall jumping and backflipping you do in that game. The game is also a step more difficult than PM and thus when you acquire each of those 120 stars, you feel gratified in accomplishing a difficult or long winded feat. The open world system that I mentioned before is also nice as you can pick and choose what stars you want to get instead of following a direct path. Because of which, I have played this game more often than PM. If I want to kill five or ten minutes of my time, I can turn on the game, play a random stage, get a star, and continue doing on other things. Sometimes, I get the same star twice because they’re hella fun! Especially the Boo Mansion and Bob-omb Battlefield stars.
But even so, PM is one of my favorite Mario games. It was only topped by one other Mario game, Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door, which took everything that I liked about PM and made it one step better. But my gushing for that game will be for another time.