This Mario fangame just oozes cool style. But is it enough?
If I told you Mario Roots borrowed what seems to be a number of elements from Sonic games, how would that make you feel? What images would it conjure up in your mind? Rest assured that while Roots does borrow a couple of elements from Sonic games, this still feels like Mario – albeit Mario with a slick sense of style that you normally do not see in the official Mario games, let alone in fangames.
Roots, if you cannot tell by screenshots, is set primarily in the Paper Mario graphical style. It leans more towards the “Super Paper Mario” side of things, though, offering up standard platforming controls – it’s just that stomping on an enemy’s head will do a certain amount of damage to his hit points rather than outright kill him. As you play, Mario levels up, finds new items, and even recruits new party members – each with their own special abilities. Where the game borrows a bit from Sonic is in the timing based moves – now, keep in mind I haven’t played “Super Paper Mario” (I don’t own a Wii), so maybe this was present there – but when you launch off of trampolines and the like, pressing up will cause Mario to do a trick that gives him extra height, similar to a move you can do in Sonic Advance 2 and Sonic Rush. Similarly, when stomping on an enemy, pressing Down at the peak of your jump will cause Mario to slam down on the enemy even harder, eliciting a multiplied damage bonus – the more you can slam down on top of an enemy, the higher your damage (and the EXP recieved) is multiplied. Rounding out the rest of Mario’s skills is a move similar to Luigi’s “Green Missle” attack from Smash Brothers (used to break walls) and a sliding kick that doesn’t seem to be terribly useful.
The demo has quite a bit to do – offering up four levels total and two boss fights. Two of these levels are sanctioned off in to the game’s “Challenge Mode”, which basically means one thing: Expect to die a lot and restart the level often, as bottomless pits and one-hit-kills are the name of the game. The levels offered in story mode, however, are thankfully much more forgiving. The first level, Mushroom Way, brings to mind what you’d expect out of Green Hill Zone if it were a Super Mario Brothers level, with lots of checkerboard tiles and lush greenery. The level is mostly linear, offering up only a few secret areas for those of us who know how to work the launch-off-a-trampoline-trick maneuver properly (or are willing to backtrack after getting the first Party Member, Lily). The first boss fight, against Bowser, is a relatively simple affair – bopping him on the head enough to defeat him is a snap.
The second level in story mode is where things start to get a bit wobbly, however. Though in the previous level you’ll notice that sometimes the controls can be kind of weird and there are some mis-aligned level tiles, it’s not until the “Mushroom Kingdom” level that the problems really rear their heads in full. For starters, the level itself begins with a cutscene showcasing a Shyguy inside of MegaMan X Ride Armor. This is, at least to me, very weird – especially given the dramatic visual clash between the style of a MegaMan X sprite and a Paper Mario style Shyguy. The level itself is jammed full of pretty much non-stop enemies – Shyguys that throw bombs, Shyguys that jump in to the air, and more enemies from MegaMan X. Visually, the level itself feels like a cluttered mess, featuring a mash-up of realistic textures, art ripped from the Paper Mario games, and new, original artwork that seems to lack the polish and detail the other graphics in the level feature – all jammed really close together forming a visually cluttered mess. Being the first level that makes you actually use the wall kick to reach a new area or two, you realize just how awkwardly its implemented; essentially, the controls reverse themselves for the wall kick, as you have to hold the jump button in order to grab on to a wall and then press the run button to jump off of a wall. It basically makes no sense. To make matters worse, since there are several sections in this level where you must be close to a wall to jump to a platform or something, you often find Mario will accidentally grab the wall in order to wall kick. Not cool.
The second boss fight pits you against a pair of spazzy Hammer Brothers who dart around the screen very quickly and toss hammers just as fast. It was here I was forced to make heavy use of the healing items I had picked up thus far in the demo, as I’d often get hit by stray hammers while trying to hit the Hammer Brothers themselves; neither of them really seemed to be stunned by my attacks, they would just keep lobbing hammer after hammer while I bopped away on their heads. Beating them gets you a hammer of your own which you can then use to clear the level, ending the demo.
Overall, Mario Roots has a lot of potential that it squanders on inconsistent visual design and, at times, weird controls. There’s something about just the way Mario moves and feels that seems… like it wasn’t put together well enough. For example, when Mario gets hit, the minute I touch the ground I can jump again, but if I was holding a directional button, I have to let go and press it again to regain control of Mario. That’s a little weird, to me. There are also ways Mario reacts to things like bricks and platforms that just doesn’t feel right. It’s hard to put my finger on, really. The demo also gets an extra thumbs down from me for not including gamepad controls, forcing me to use a tool like Xpadder. Regardless, though, none of that ever ruins Mario Roots for me, it just sits at the back of my mind, nagging at me. As good and as interesting as Mario Roots is right now, with better controls and a more solid feeling given to the world and Mario himself, it would be, hands down, one of the best Mario fangames I’ve seen so far.