It’s already been over 20 years since the Nintendo 64 was the company’s last offering. In 2001, the N64 was about to be released while its successor, the GameCube, prepared for launch. Just before hanging up its hat, the N64 released one final swansong in the form of paper mario. Originally created as a sequel to the Super Nintendo Super Mario RPGit spun off into its own thing and started a whole new sub-franchise.
The game is often applauded for its charming story and enjoyable gameplay, but arguably the real star of the series is the original’s art design. paper mario. While other games from the era visually showed their age, paper mario has aged gracefully thanks to its attachment to a specific aesthetic. For a game that’s over 20 years old to still look great, even in the wake of new systems, it just goes to show why having a strong art direction is as important as pushing the polygon count on screen.
The timeless appearance of Paper Mario
While the Nintendo 64 may have been state-of-the-art at the time, games that were once graphical stunners like perfect dark were eclipsed by those that followed over the years. Naturally, with each new generation of consoles, the power of each machine gives way to more impressive technical capabilities. However, as beautiful as these games may be when they first hit shelves, it’s a superficial force that will likely fall victim to the passage of time.
While something like Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune in 2007 has since been eclipsed in terms of realistic graphics, paper mario retains its own authentic style. The choice to commit to a storybook look and feel with all of its characters and locations having a paper or cardboard look helped the game stand on its own.
It’s a simple design choice, but one that paid off. While even the most critically acclaimed N64 games like Super Mario 64 and Ocarina of time are often mocked for their now blocky 3D graphics, paper mario is spared those same comparisons thanks to its timeless art direction.
The Importance of Strong Art Direction in Gaming
paper mario (along with its sequels) aren’t the only games to exemplify the importance of strong art direction in games. That’s not to say that pushing boundaries and innovating in graphical prowess isn’t important; making new discoveries for what can be achieved with the latest gaming technologies is important and can yield truly magnificent results, as evidenced by titles like Assassin’s Creed: Walhalla.
But there is a balance to be found so that a game is not abandoned in just a few years. In 2002, the year after paper marioNintendo released another remarkable title in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. Despite initial backlash for its more caricatural visuals, Wind Waker is remembered as one of the franchise’s most stunning entries. This is particularly evident in the 2014 Wii U remaster, which used some slight improvements and made a 12-year-old game as timeless as ever.
This can also be seen outside of Nintendo titles, with some Capcom releases like Joe seeing it and Okami with particularly gorgeous visual designs. This latest game has been worn many times over the generations and continues to be praised for its painted aesthetic. The leaps and bounds made with graphics as seen in Unreal Engine 5 projects are certainly significant, but the value of strong art direction is also worth considering.
paper mario is available on N64, and is also playable via Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack.
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