I get the feeling if toys were really like this, no one would want to grow up.
Genres: Platformer, RPG
Developer: Intelligent Systems
While I have a liking for nearly every genre of video games, one of my favorites would probably have to be the RPG. While there are games with cliché plots and unlikable characters in the genre, the opposite is just as prevalent and I love to play through these interesting stories with characters I really care about. That being said, I also appreciate it when RPGs do something different than the norm, and that’s what first attracted me to the genre itself, through a little game called Paper Mario. There’s a lot to love in this game, from the surprisingly interesting story and likable partners to the unique battle system and varied places you travel to. As it turns out, the Mushroom Kingdom has a lot of different areas to explore and while I liked most of them quite a lot, one of the best was hidden away in the Toad Town hub itself: Shy Guy’s Toy Box.
After finally getting out of the mazelike Forever Forest after finding the third captured Star Spirit, powerful, wish-granting stars Bowser managed to capture, Mario comes back to Toad Town to find chaos. There are Shy Guys all over the place, causing trouble and stealing things from the inhabitants. The music for the area has even sped up to fit the hectic situation. After getting clues from the Toads and learning of the new dungeon’s existence somewhere in the town, you eventually settle on the location of the Toy Box being in an abandoned house. After invisibly spying on the place for a short while, you see a Shy Guy go through a secret panel in the wall and, upon going through, come upon and jump inside the Toy Box.
Shy Guy’s Toy Box is, as the name would imply, a toy box where all the Shy Guys appear to live when they aren’t messing around in Toad Town. It’s much bigger on the inside than the outside (insert Doctor Who joke here) and is filled with numerous toy-related things that serve as both background and obstacles, such as a series of rising and falling pegs you have to navigate Mario around and an entire area filled with jack-in-the-boxes you have to bounce through across the building blocks in both foreground and background. All these different areas are connected through a toy train line with four stations that’s conveniently out of service when you first arrive. This train is the main form of progression through the dungeon, as you have to get a toy train car and then keep unblocking the tracks until you can get to the final station where the boss is. All these aspects lend themselves well to the overall feel of the Toy Box and you quickly get a good sense of how kiddy and silly the place is meant to be.
Although every station has paths that lead to one or two areas, to make any real headway, you have to complete the train tracks through various means, such as hitting a switch or whacking some blocks in the correct order. To accomplish this, you have to go through the available areas and find the various items stolen from Toad Town, either by fighting a Shy Guy carrying the item or just stumbling across them as you search. After the stolen goods are firmly in your possession, you spring out of Toy Box and return them to who they belong. In general, that person will then give you an item necessary to proceed. For example, after finding the storeroom key for a shop in Toad Town and returning it, the storeowner allows you to take anything you want from the storeroom. One of the available items is a toy train car that you then drop into the Toy Box so you can start riding the train around.
I really like this interaction between the dungeon and Toad Town. Before this point, I had felt Toad Town to be a rather generic hub that served its purpose well enough, but didn’t really stand out. However, interacting with all the different inhabitants and helping them with their problems gave the burg a greater sense of importance and far better character than previously shown. In addition, the constant trips back to the hub also segmented the dungeon into easily digestible chunks. While every section of the dungeon had its own quirks regardless, the segmentation made every new dive into the box more interesting. Every dive felt like entering a completely new area, instead of just another section to jump through.