"[...]it’s no longer possible to modify Mario characters [in the Paper Mario series] or to create original characters that touch on the Mario universe."

This Video Games Chronicle interview with the Paper Mario: The Origami King production team has been making rounds on Twitter recently, specifically this quote from producer Kensuke Tanabe when asked about designing the game’s villain:

Since Paper Mario: Sticker Star, it’s no longer possible to modify Mario characters or to create original characters that touch on the Mario universe. That means that if we aren’t using Mario characters for bosses, we need to create original characters with designs that don’t involve the Mario universe at all, like we’ve done with Olly and the stationery bosses.

The conversation around the game has mostly been a circular argument about RPG battle systems up until now, but this quote touches on something that’s been frustrating in the newer Paper Mario games, where there’s a tangible limitation placed on what the writers can do with the characters and story. Color Splash was an improvement over Sticker Star with snarkier and punchier dialogue, but it was still using the stock-standard Mario characters (mostly Toads).

Mario Odyssey has been brought up a lot, as an example of a recent mainline Mario game that goes way outside of the traditional series imagery by introducing tons of unique character design and even letting you put Mario in wildly different outfits. It reads like a Disney situation, where the company headquarters is allowed to be weird and divergent with the character imagery, but everyone else needs to play ball with the established designs.

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Damn, nintendo’s really mad people want geno in smash huh

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Is this why Toadette has been so popular lately? She was the last new character before the deadline?

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I still don’t understand the quote. What does it mean for a new character to touch on the Mario universe? So they aren’t allowed to put Toad in a moustache now, or are they forced to put a moustache on Toad?

If they create a completely new character, in a Mario game, isn’t that character still in the Mario universe, yes, no, huh?

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Yeah, @Mango, I’m trying to wrap my head around this. This just seems like such an absurd limitation to say that you can’t modify or imitate the Mario cast.

Like… What? Why? Where did that decision come from? What is the the motivation on not touching the established Mario universe characters? How could that possibly benefit the game, the creators, or the brand?

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I can only speculate, but from people I’ve talked to, Nintendo will usually overlook when external studios experiment with their IPs for low-confidence projects, and then tug the reigns way back when it’s something with a lot more visibility from the main headquarters.

It’s hard to square the “Mario exposed nipples” Nintendo with the “we cannot allow this koopa to wear a bow tie” Nintendo, I think it’s just indicative that there are still very conservative actors in the company’s management.

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They did give Mario a tribal tattoo so it’s all very confusing

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Can’t help but wonder if a translation issue has made this sound more extreme than it is.

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The posts going around about this producer are bordering red-strings-on-corkboard level reading between the lines, but Tanabe does strike me as the skittish type of middle-manager who ends up playing telephone with messaging from the higher-ups.

Mario & Luigi: Dream Team came out very close to Sticker Star, and while DT doesn’t do anything too outlandish for the series its part of (most of the character types are either stock Nintendo or carryovers from the previous M&L games), it’s definitely not a game that plays as incredibly safe as Sticker Star does with the Mario imagery.

As for why the newer PM games keep doing this, it might be the production leads retreating into their shells when it comes to critical reception since Sticker Star sold well and Color Splash had the excuse of being on an unpopular, sunsetting console. I don’t know if we’ll see a major creative direction change, but at least there are indie takes like Bug Fables on the structure from the first two games.