The third entry in the Paper Mario series, Super Paper Mario eschews the traditional RPG gameplay in favor of platforming with RPG elements mixed in. However, instead of the focus being on the platforming itself, the levels are more akin to a maze you are forced to navigate. Any actual platforming you may find is an isolated anomaly, just like any fun you might have.
In Super Paper Mario, an enigmatic figure known as Count Bleck has abducted Princess Peach and Bowser, forcing them to marry in order to trigger a dark prophecy heralding the destruction of all worlds. As Mario (and later with Peach, Bowser, and Luigi to help) you are tasked with finding the eight Pure Hearts in order to foil his plan. This simple (but often funny) story serves as the backdrop to the rest of the game.
As I mentioned earlier, this game has been labeled a platformer with RPG elements, but both aspects are extremely rudimentary. The "platforming" boils down to navigating a two-dimensional maze in order to find the exit, while jumping on the slow-moving enemies' heads. There is very little skill required, and after traversing what felt like the same level for the third time, I nearly fell asleep from boredom. The "RPG elements" do nothing more than increase the amount of damage you can take before dying and how much damage you do when jumping on enemies. The only feature of the game that I found interesting are the little familiars you receive, called Pixls. Each Pixl grants you a new ability, such as being able to blow up cracks in walls (as well as enemies), turn sideways to avoid detection, or shrink down to get into hard to reach places. You are forced to use them in creative ways in order to progress, which is the most entertaining part of the game.
The typical Paper Mario visual style, with everything seemingly made of two-dimensional paper cutouts, returns for a third time. This is definitely a good thing, as it differs from normal cel-shaded graphics enough to stand out. The characters pop off the screen, and the environments have a clean, sharp look to them. Early in the game Mario receives the ability to flip the perspective of the environment, making it three-dimensional for a short period of time. During this time the graphics lose some of their luster, but you spend much more time in a normal 2D plane. The music is fairly forgettable. There are some remixes of classic Mario tunes, but you probably won't find yourself humming along. The sound effects, on the other hand, are excellent. Several of them are lifted from previous Mario games, and they fit perfectly with the new ones.
Super Paper Mario is a very flawed game that focuses too much on the wrong aspects. What could have been a fun and enjoyeable platformer has been watered down into a tedious mess. There is too much running around in a search for the exit, too many fetch quests, too much needless exposition, and too little actual platforming gameplay. To me, it feels like the developers couldn't decide what kind of game they wanted to make. Hopefully a sequel will provide a solution to these problems, because a true 2D platformer in the Paper Mario style would be absolutely incredible. Super Paper Mario, on the other hand, is a rental at best.