With Paper Mario: The Origami King coming out on the Switch in June, I’d like to look back at the Paper Mario title that introduced me to video games in the first place, and how my family came up with the Paper Mario Bible.
My first game console was a Nintendo GameCube. My parents bought it for my younger sister and, I while it was phasing out, so most of our games came from the sale bins. But that didn’t mean they were bad games; we would race badly in Mario Kart and get scared of Boos in Luigi’s Mansion. There were many amazing titles from that generation that I still enjoy today. But the game that stuck with me the most was Paper Mario and the Thousand Year Door.
Paper Mario and the Thousand Year Door is a turn-based RPG set in a papercraft world. I adored the colorful environments and crafty art style. My sister and I quickly fell in love with Mario and his wacky bunch of sidekicks, but there was one particular obstacle getting in the way.
My sister and I were a pair of six-year-olds and my mom was an immigrant who had never played a video game prior to coming to America, so needless to say the nuances of adventure-based games went way over our heads and we often got lost. At one point we got stuck and couldn’t progress in the story. We ended up repeatedly fighting and dying to an overpowered Koopa who was guarding a gateway to another part of town.
Looking back it’s painfully obvious to me that the overpowered Koopa was meant to stop us until we progressed further into the story, but I was six and the fundamentals of game design were lost on me. At this point we could had given up; it felt like we were just running into a Koopa shaped brick wall anyways. But my mom paid for this game, so damn it, we were going to play it.
She went online and found a complete walkthrough for the game and printed it all out for us. God knows how much paper and ink we used that day. She went through and stapled together as many of the pages as she could, leaving us with a multi-part manual. It was comically large and I struggled to flip through it with my tiny hands. I became accustomed to calling it the Paper Mario Bible. Later, I would find out about official video game strategy books at Best Buy and I felt like we personally swindled Nintendo.
Playing Paper Mario became a family affair. My mom would play the game while my sister and I leafed through the walkthrough and read the instructions to her out loud. We would also take turns playing depending on what we were good at. Turns out being incredibly bad at jumping puzzles runs in the family and it hits my mom the hardest. When it came to hand eye coordination she would pass the controller to my sister, who wasn’t good at jumping puzzles but she was somehow better than a thirty year old woman. Completing the game was a group effort to say the least.
But it was our first foray into video games, and it left some lasting impressions. The colorful paper world captured our imaginations. My sister and I became very attached to Mario’s in game companions. Just the other day we got into an argument about whether our first companion Goombella was useless or not (easy to say she’s useless when her whole power is giving information and you’re using a guide!)
On a second look at the game it seems that a lot of the stuff seemed scarier than it was. I recall being frightened of the first boss, Hooktail, the big red dragon, even after we discovered his strange fear of crickets. I was happy to let my mom handle fighting him; boss fights are a grown up job.
I also remember being particularly terrified of the Twilight Town’s storyline where a mysterious ghost steals Mario’s body and leaves him as a shadow. It seems tame now but I can safely say that at the age of six, watching Mario be doomed to watch a bodysnatcher live his life while he was trapped in a shadow form was the scariest thing I had ever seen. At least I had the Paper Mario Bible with me, which had the step by step instructions on how to reclaim Mario’s physical form from the body snatcher.
Even though I was probably too young for that game, it did bring our family together. It was something we could do together and be excited about. My mom even used to wake my sister and I up after we went to bed and ask if we wanted to play. I’ll always remember sitting in front of the TV in my pajamas while we played past our bedtime.
If my mom hadn’t printed out the walkthrough I don’t think we would have experienced the game fully. We would have been like Sisyphus condemned to fight the same Koopa guard over and over again. It would have been such a shame to miss out on the title that kickstarted my life long love of video games. Paper Mario captured my heart, and to think I only got to play it because my mom was too stubborn to give up on a game she paid full price for.
I recently found that walkthrough online and I was surprised about its length. On print form, the walkthrough would have only been 53 pages. While I know realize the Paper Mario Bible wasn’t as big as I remembered, the image of my mom standing by the whirring printer while 53 pages of Paper Mario walkthrough came out is hilarious to me.
The Paper Mario Bible was a product of its time, an introductory guide to video games for the immigrant mother and her children. The memory of that big stupid walkthrough barely held together by staples will always put a smile on my face. And while I’m super excited for the new Paper Mario game, if I need a walkthrough I will probably just read it off my phone.