Paper Mario 2 looks to be a big draw

Intelligent Systems takes the 2D RPG format back to the drawing board, and it's looking splendid. Witness Mario as a paper aeroplane, on the high seas, and fighting his way through legions of enemies.

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April 1st is a difficult day for the likes of us. So often in the past we've woken, forgotten what day it was, stumbled wearily in the direction of the nearest newswire and put our trust in some truly enchanting spoof, only to recoil in horror a few seconds later when a red-eyed jester popped up and danced a merry jig on our humbled faces.

Sometimes though April 1st is just a coincidence, and this does appear to be one of those occasions. By the looks of it, Famitsu Weekly in Japan really has blown the lid on the next Paper Mario RPG title, despite our happening upon the bewilderingly colourful scans at just past 8am on this most fated of days. If it's a fake - though it plainly is not - Nintendo still ought to make it...

Although Nintendo has mentioned Paper Mario's Cube sequel in the past, this is the first solid confirmation (April Fools Day disclaimer notwithstanding) we've seen that the game is well into development. Known as Mario Story 2 in Japan (where the original N64 Paper Mario was simply Mario Story), the title is underway at Nintendo's first party chums Intelligent Systems, whose experience with the turn-based Advance Wars and Fire Emblem RPG titles will doubtless prove invaluable.

As you'd imagine, Intelligent is persisting with the previous game's stylistic 'paper cut-out characters on gorgeous 3D backgrounds' approach. It also promises to employ turn-based battles with action elements along much the same lines as AlphaDream's GBA title Mario & Luigi, which was itself an extension of the old, 16-bit Super Mario RPG ethos and drew dollops of inspiration from the N64 Paper Mario title.

The quirky and enjoyable sense of humour that ran through those titles looks to be on the cards here, too, and early shots prove Intelligent Systems is capable of stepping outside the game world and poking fun at it - one particularly ingenious idea is having Mario fold himself into a paper aeroplane and fly around.

We're looking forward to some post-Cube in-jokes about water jet packs, and fully expect to run into Link on the high seas at some point. We're not sure if he can do a paper boat, but we've glimpsed a ship full of Toads sailing the ocean blue, an airship, Mario and brother Luigi stalking around their house in the Mushroom Kingdom, Mario coupled with a bushy haired blonde goomba at his side - presumably a party member - and Mario faced with a big red dragon about a hundred times his size.

We've also seen a little of the battle system - the Hammer Bros. clearly show up and inadvertently furnish Mario with a hammer at some point, because he can be seen clobbering a Starfish or something in one of the shots, and we've also seen him flattened, fluttering through the air after getting pranged by a ball on a chain, and bopping enemies in sequence in a range of shots that have literally hundreds of enemies on-screen at once. The latter certainly bodes well for the quality of the tech behind the game if they're all meant to move around as well, and it looks like they are.

Other shots show Mario dodging (or perhaps chatting with) a big Whomp, striding through waist-high tracts of snow and visiting various castles, and there's also a shot of Bowser working his way through a mock-up of Super Mario Bros. world 1-1, which ought to be interesting. Will Mario ally with his oafish nemesis once again, as has been the trend in these RPG spin-off outings? Probably.

Visually the game's cel-shaded engine is a bit reminiscent of Viewtiful Joe at times, with lots going on in both foreground and background, but this is no bad thing, and it certainly carries on the fine Paper Mario tradition in every area from the little we've seen thus far.

Obviously given that every Mario RPG since the inaugural SNES outing has been gold dust in a cart, we're expecting big things from the first disc-based attempt. It's due out in Japan this year, and we'd expect to see it - along with a firm US release date announcement - at Nintendo's E3 showing this year.

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