When you look at Mario, your first thoughts certainly aren’t on the complex story, the complex game mechanics that his games exhibit. He’s a simple character, perhaps the single best character in all of gaming to showcase the concept of “fun.” As such a flexible character, he has seen all kinds of genres, from racing to action to sports, with one of his more surprising appearances being in the RPG genre.
Paper Mario has had quite the reputation in the Nintendo archive, and as such, has received attention over the years. It is now a series, so far consisting of five individual titles, yet many people have only ever known the first three. So, really, what happened to the series after that? How did it do?
Today, I wanted to try something new! I’ll just be comparing sales, reception, and general consensus on each part of the franchise, and see how it looks. Do the sales match the reception? Is there any trend to be seen? Well, let’s find out.
Starting off relatively simple, then surprising me with future entries of the series, Paper Mario’s sales over the years have had some pretty drastic changes. The first game in the series sold 1.37 million units- a fair amount, considering how influential and notable Paper Mario is. Thousand Year Door, the second entry, sold 1.91 million, again, a rather reasonable amount, considering the increased demand for a Paper Mario sequel. However, with the next game in the series, Super Paper Mario, that number skyrocketed- to 4.23 million units sold, well over twice the amount of Thousand Year Door, for what many people consider to be only the third best entry in the franchise.
It is here where we see a drastic decline in sales for the series, that continues today. To my knowledge, a not very well-known or received entry, Paper Mario: Sticker Star, had 2.21 million units sold, still a good amount higher than Thousand Year Door. This decline in reception seems to have made an impact on the sales of the next game, Color Splash- despite an E3 showing that looked promising, as of December 2016, the game has only sold about 800,000 units- the lowest amount ever for any Paper Mario game.
Reception-wise, the trends I found aren’t TOO surprising, honestly, but it’s certainly interesting to see, especially in contrast to sales and popular opinion. The first Paper Mario, the original, received a 91.51 average from eight different sources, with specific praise for its innovation and general accessibility for many people. From there, ratings would have you believe that every single Paper Mario title after the first has gotten worse. Thousand Year Door and Super Paper Mario take their 2nd and 3rd positions with an 87.19 and 85.47 average score respectively.
At this point, the last two Paper Mario games, in accordance with their…rather lackluster reputation, received drastically lower scores. Sticker Star received a 76.91, while Color Splash, on average, received a 68.16. With this knowledge, I think the general story of the Paper Mario games, and their reputation, is pretty clear. The original Paper Mario was a legend, a great game that innovated a lot! With Thousand Year Door and Super Paper Mario, Nintendo’s innovations were received well, but people wanted a return to the original formula. With the last two entries in the series, they just couldn’t retain that unique charm from the Paper Mario series- too much was changed, too much was added, and so, it was reflected in the ratings, and eventually, the sales. At least. That’s what it seems.
3. General Popularity
Generally speaking, I’m sure many people can agree that there is a consensus on what games are truly the best. A quick visit to /r/papermario can confirm this- no one likes the last two games, and everyone loves the first two. The order for many from best to worst, with only small differences, is The Thousand Year Door far in front, the original Paper Mario, Super Paper Mario, Sticker Star, and Color Splash. Without exception, Thousand Year Door is by far the best, while Super Paper Mario tends to be considered the dark horse of the franchise due to its unique, deviant game mechanics.
The correlation between popularity and reception is very clear. It lines up very well with the individual reception of each Paper Mario game, but what immediately seems to stand out is the sales amounts- why did Super Paper Mario and Sticker Star have so many more sold entries? Simply put, I believe that it’s a simple matter of consoles. The Wii and the 3DS were two of Nintendo’s biggest consoles, while the Wii U was easily one of its worst. Super Paper Mario, Sticker Star, and Color Splash’s sales all line up with this trend! Although. The final game clearly, clearly isn’t helped by its poor reception.