How Life is like Paper Mario

I think nostalgia is the emotion that has cost me the most money recently. My fiancée and I purchased and played through the original Paper Mario on our Wii U, due almost entirely to my request. I can remember controlling Mario as he waddled through the two dimensional Mushroom Kingdom dozens of times as a child. It was one of the first video games I ever played, and it holds a special place in my thoughts. Completing it again recently has brought back numerous old memories, but also came with recognition of things I hadn’t noticed or thought about before. My perspective on professors has certainly changed, for one thing, as has my outlook on what I wish for. For an E-rated Nintendo game, Paper Mario has some surprising moral depths.

What is Paper Mario?

For those who’ve never played it, Paper Mario is nothing like the typical Mario games Nintendo releases. In fact, it’s something of a reversal. The world is three-dimensional, with hidden treasure behind bushes, hidden passageways at the back of castle walls, and other elements that make the world much more fleshed out than only a background. Fighting is turn based, and involves items and special powers. You also travel with a diverse cast of partners who help you reach new parts of the landscape. All in all, it’s a significantly different experience.Paper Mario

However, there are some elements that make it unmistakable as a Mario game, even outside of the not-so-subtle title. The most common enemies are Goombas and Koopas, and the thread that ties the entire kingdom-spanning plot together is the fact that Bowser has once again kidnapped Princess Peach. Yet the fact that it has a plot at all allows the game to explore the hidden depths and motivations of characters that we believe we know so well.

Careful what you wish for

The McGuffin of this particular episode of Mario’s adventure is called the Star Rod, and has the power to grant any wish. The Star Rod is originally in the care of seven star spirits, but the game opens with Bowser raiding their sanctuary and stealing the Star Rod for himself. He then proceeds to defeat Mario and kidnap Princess Peach using its power, and thus begins Mario’s journey to save the star spirits who can help him defeat the Koopa King.

Right off the bat, it’s interesting to note that Bowser doesn’t wish for Peach to love him, or Mario to disappear, or anything so drastic. In fact, aside from his increasing his own strength to superhuman (super-koopa?) levels, he doesn’t truly wish for anything world changing. This is the start of a path that could wind its way to numerous conclusions, but I believe it stems from Bowser’s fear. If Princess Peach loved him, would he be the same person? If Mario were gone, if the defining conflict in Bowser’s life were suddenly solved, what would become of him?

It seems most likely that Bowser, at least the Bowser of Paper Mario, is simply afraid of change. He must take the old adage of “careful what you wish for” totally seriously. And through the story, and Bowser’s defeat, we see the repercussions of that fear. He’s too scared to wish for what he truly wants, so he doesn’t get it.

The main takeaway

The lesson I take from Paper Mario is this: wish for what you truly want, and be positive it is indeed what you really want.

There are various other minor lessons I find funny, such as the fact that a renowned professor believes a whale is a tuna when he sees it in person. However, I was able to find a powerful main takeaway, which makes me glad I made that nostalgia-fueled purchase a few weeks ago. If you haven’t played Paper Mario yourself, I can highly recommend it. Its sequel is one of my favorite games, period, and may warrant its own post some day in the future. Until then, I can savor the experience of playing a game that provides me with such fond memories of the past.


You may have noticed a few changes to the site, and that is because I have decided to reboot my blog so that it can be more focused and personal. You can still find the old posts archived on this site, but I won’t be posting with the same methodology. There will be no more categories, and at least for the foreseeable future, all of my posts will have the title of “How Life is Like [blank].” I believe this will make for a much more cohesive experience on both my end and yours. I hope you enjoy the new format!