I’m going to take a step back from my usual baseball writing and take a nostalgia journey back to my childhood.
Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door was my favorite role playing game growing up. I loved the writing, the characters, the locations, the story, and the music. It was the perfect sequel to the original Paper Mario released for the Nintendo 64, and I was excited to see what Nintendo would follow The Thousand Year Door (TTYD) up with.
Super Paper Mario wasn’t bad. The writing was phenomenal, great humor and a dark yet compelling story for a Mario game. But I didn’t love the Wii remote controls and there was no GameCube controller option. I didn’t find that one as enjoyable as the first two.
Then the abomination that is Sticker Star came out and the series has been destroyed ever since.
TTYD came out for the GameCube in 2004 and we haven’t seen a true Paper Mario Game in 16 years. I really thought we’d never get one again.
Until I found an Arlo video this summer about a game called Bug Fables: The Everlasting Sapling. I didn’t watch much of it because I didn’t want to be spoiled but when he said at the beginning of the video this game was like classic Paper Mario, I knew I had to give it a shot. I bought the game at the end of June for $25 off the Nintendo Switch eShop thinking it would be just another fun quarantine activity.
What I didn’t realize was I was about to play my favorite video game of all-time.
I don’t want to spoil anything so I’m not going to go into story specifics. But this game is better than TTYD, and in my eyes, it’s not even close. Bug Fables takes the gameplay that we all loved from the first two Paper Mario games and improved on them.
First off, there are three main characters: Vi the Bee, Kabbu the Beetle and Leif the Moth. There are no additional party members but that’s actually an improvement because be honest, how often did you use Goombario or Goombella after chapter two in the original games? There’s no character development in those party members, especially the ones you get early in game. They have a story arc in the chapter you obtain them in and then they’re irrelevant for the rest of the game unless they’re good battlers.
Bug Fables does not have that problem. All three characters are so relevant it’s hard to say who the true main character is. They’re all equally important to the story and all get different abilities as the game progresses. And unlike Mario, who is a silent protagonist, these characters actually talk and you get to really see all three of them grow and develop as the game goes along. Each one even has their own side quest and, in one particular case, can add so much value to the game that it feels like its own chapter (if you’ve played the game, you know what I’m talking about).
The battle system has been vastly improved. All three characters are equal fighters with HP and “skills” that use TP (similar to Paper Mario’s FP). Some skills utilize more than one party member at once, similar to Bros Attacks from the Mario and Luigi series. You can switch turns between party members and rotate the battle order before each turn. In TTYD, Mario was the main fighter and was always in the front of the party. In Bug Fables, anyone can be in the front which increases attack power in exchange for getting attacked the most. It’s a very fair trade off when you see it in game.
Each character has their own advantage in battle. Vi can use her beemerang (yes, it’s called a beemerang) to strike down flying enemies, Kabbu’s horn can pierce defense and Leif’s ice magic can strike enemies hiding underground. Dodging attacks has also been enhanced so the amount of damage you take depends on how well you time pressing the buttons to dodge attacks as opposed to super guarding being tied to a different button. It’s just an improvement all the way around.
In terms of tattling enemies, Paper Mario really gave you zero incentive to actually “tattle” every enemy. You always had to bring out your Goomba partner and it felt more like a hassle than anything else. In Bug Fables, all three party members can “spy” enemies and the game actually rewards you for doing it with a really cool side mini-game that I won’t spoil.
Badges are back but they are called medals in this game. A lot of the same medals that were in Paper Mario are present here, but there’s a lot of cool different ones the developers put in as well. You can customize your medal layout depending on your style of play. Cooking is back as well but there’s three chefs in three different towns and all three have their own signature dish, which is a really cool touch.
The music in this game is phenomenal. The main city, Ant Kingdom City, is such a bop and they did a great job in making a song you are going to hear a lot throughout the game an enjoyable one. Each chapter boss has its own unique theme and each one fits the vibe of the battle perfectly (the final battle theme is my favorite final battle theme ever). There’s seven chapters and seven boss battles, but the game adds so much more value with mini bosses and bounties for a total of 16 bosses and 20 mini bosses all together.
TTYD had the trouble center where you could take on requests from random non-playable characters throughout the game. That also felt like a hassle because you could only take one at a time and you had to pay to get out of a request you didn’t want to do. Bug Fables lets you take as many requests as you want and can work on multiple requests at the same time.
The Pit of 100 Trials is back but much tamer. In this game, it’s a cave with 50 enemies and no bosses. They have their own area in the Bee Kingdom Hive, called the B.O.S.S., which is a simulator where you can fight any boss or mini-boss in the game as many times as you want after you’ve defeated them.
This is the only game I’ve ever 100 percented, from beating the game on hard mode, which is a medal given to you right at the beginning of the game if you want an extra challenge, reaching the maximum level, finding all the discoveries and finishing all the requests to filling the bestiary and recipe book and collecting all the songs, metals and crystal berries. It was fun to me, and that’s why I wanted to do everything there was to do in this game.
This game is better than TTYD no matter how you look at it. I’m grateful I found this game on a whim and am not embarrassed at all to admit I’ve put over 200 hours into this game. These indie developers were clearly big classic Paper Mario fans and they surpassed its legacy with this masterpiece. I can’t wait for the sequel to come out. At the end of his review, which I watched after beating the game myself, Arlo said this is the game he’s been waiting 16 years for and every review you see will tell you that if you love classic Paper Mario, you will love Bug Fables. That couldn’t be more true.
(Photo Credit: Images via Nintendo, design by Ryan Waldis)