top of page

Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door Review



 

Genre: Turn-Based RPG

Modes: Single Player

Developed by: Intelligent Systems

Published by: Nintendo

Release date: May 23rd 2024

Platforms: Nintendo Switch

 

In 2000, Nintendo and Intelligent Systems brought us one of the most unique Mario experiences to date. The game was Paper Mario, released on the N64. Serving as a spiritual successor to 1996's Super Mario RPG, Paper Mario expanded and further cemented the Italian plumber’s footing in the style of turn-based combat and much more story-driven ideas. The success of Paper Mario gave birth to a sequel released in 2004 on the GameCube, Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door. Lauded as the best in the series, The Thousand-Year Door was beloved by fans at the time, but due to underperforming sales of the GameCube (especially compared to the PS2), the game has increased in value on secondhand market shops, such as eBay. Now, in 2024, Nintendo and Intelligent Systems have brought us a ground-up remake of The Thousand-Year Door, giving the game its much-deserved second go in the limelight. 


I should preface that I have not played the original GameCube release, but I can honestly say that the Nintendo Switch edition is one of the most charming, rewarding, and surprisingly creative games I have played for a long time. Joining Mario and his army of varying companions on an epic journey through varied locations was a truly wonderful journey. Top that off with fantastic writing, a deep (but easy-to-grasp) combat system, and memorable characters and you have a fantastic game for a new generation of fans.


AN AGE OLD TALE:

An ancient, prosperous settlement is mysteriously washed away after a night of catastrophe. In its demise, a new town called Rogueport is built where the previous settlement once stood. Mario and Luigi receive a letter and a map from Princess Peach, who has traveled to Rogueport for a vacation. After journeying to the town to find the Princess, Mario finds no trace of her. Thus begins an odyssey to obtain the seven Crystal Stars, powerful relics scattered across worlds surrounding Rogueport, and to open the Thousand-Year Door, an ancient door rumoured to be a gateway to the land that once thrived. Mario must claim the Crystal Stars before the X-Nauts, a group of soldiers under the leadership of Sir Grodus, steal the Stars for their plans of world domination.



Thousand-Year Door keeps Paper Mario’s visual aesthetic of a world made entirely of paper. Every inch of the land, from the waves of the ocean, bushes in a forest to the stage and audience during a combat encounter, is meticulously designed to resemble paper. From the dank and moody orange and blacks of Twilight Town, which could pass off as the setting of a Tim Burton film, to the colourful consumerist town of Glitzville. Thanks to the HD upscale of this remake, we can appreciate every single set piece for what it is: a beautiful expression of colour and creativity that calls back to childhood past times of arts and crafts.


Along your journey through unforgettable lands, you encounter a cast of memorable characters and companions who join you on your journey. Familiar faces from Mario’s previous games are accounted for like Goombas, Koopas, and Bob-ombs. But new and obscure characters will appear along Mario’s quest; like the adorable Punis whom you encounter during Chapter 2 of the game, or numerous NPC wrestlers in Chapter 3; ranging from suspicious Toad Jolene, the corrupt and greedy Grubba and the laughably arrogant champion Rawk Hawk. Every character is so well-written that you can, despite no voice acting, visualise every character’s unique mannerisms and vocal speeches. This is helped with the nostalgic, and at times hilarious, Banjo-Kazooie style voice effects that are unique to every character. 


The writing takes a very self-referential perspective when it comes to humour. This is the furthest I have ever seen Nintendo go when it comes to making a comedic story that is not afraid to make fun of itself. Characters often break the fourth wall to reference the player throughout the story. My favourite example is during Chapter 6 when an X-Naut is obviously in disguise amongst Mario’s pirate crew. The X-Naut speaks directly to the player saying that he is a fraud, but pleads with the player to not tell Mario. Nintendo also makes references to its successful games and consoles. The GameBoy Advance is used in several sections of Chapter 3, Mario receives emails from a GameBoy Advance SP and there is a Fire Emblem reference in there for good measure.


THE PERFORMANCE OF A LIFETIME:

Mario will have help along his quest to collect the Crystal Stars, and these take the form of the seven different companions who accompany you as the story unfolds. Not only do these characters help you solve puzzles during exploration sections, but they are essential in combat. The combat of Thousand-Year Door is what makes it shine. The best way I can describe it is like this; I was never too sold on the gameplay of turn-based RPGs. It was never really my style. But after playing this game, I want to branch out and play as many games as I can with turn-based combat.



Each combat encounter takes place on a stage, both visually and metaphorically. Every encounter feels like a performance to test your skills and your ability to strategise. You begin the game with two basic attacks; jumping and using your hammer to strike enemies. After you win a battle, you are rewarded with Star Points. The tougher the enemy, the more Star Points you are rewarded. Once you reach 100 Star Points, you level up and can choose to either increase your health by five, increase the number of badge points by three, or increase your flower points by five. The badges are not something I used massively, but they do provide you with useful quirks like stronger attacks, making your defence stronger so you take less damage, and new abilities to use in combat. The flower points are the most useful and what I prioritised during level-ups. The flower points enable you to use special hammer abilities and jumping attacks for Mario during combat. Each attack costs a certain amount of flower points, once you run out you can not use that attack again. But all is not lost, thanks to the items purchased at shops. With the coins you collect from fallen enemies and world exploration, you can purchase special attacks, health revivers, and power revivers to boost up your Flower Point score. For every Crystal Star you collect, you are also rewarded with a special ability that can significantly change any battle. Every time you use one of these abilities, the Star Bar empties but it can be built up again with audience cheers or with character ‘appeals’.


Adding to the combat, each of Mario’s companions provides unique attacks that can be used for a different variety of enemies. Yoshi can gulp up an enemy and spit it out so it hits the enemy behind them, or he can pound on top of an enemy dealing damage. But if an enemy has a spike on his head, like a Spiked Goomba, Yoshi’s pound attack will not do damage. In that case, you could use Koops who can only attack enemies on the ground and spiked enemies are not a problem. Or you could go for Madame Flurrie, the evocative actress desperate for a comeback who uses her wind and kissing abilities (yes you read that right) to blow enemies away (literally).


As the story progresses and you start to collect the Crystal Stars, there are brief sections where you play as Bowser and Princess Peach. Peach’s sections serve as story exposition which gives you more information about the X-Nauts plans and what exactly is behind the Thousand-Year Door. These segments are a welcome change of pace and feature arguably the best NPC in the game, an A.I. computer named TEC. His conversations with Peach are some of the best-written sequences in the game. Bowser’s sections are not as good as Peach’s but they feature brief dialogue encounters as Bowser finds out about Peach’s disappearance and Mario’s quest. These segments sometimes end in platforming sections that call back to the original 2D Mario games of the NES. They do not play anywhere near as well as Super Mario Bros or Super Mario World but their place is more than welcome.



As far as criticisms, there are only two annoyances that I felt dragged the game slightly. The main issue I have is pacing. The game took me 27 hours to finish, not too long, especially for an RPG, but certain chapters drag on slightly for my liking. This is apparent in Chapter 2 and Chapter 3 of the game. The game is split up into chapters, each one ending with the collection of a Crystal Star. This is great, but with Chapters 2 and 3, there is a fair amount of backtracking and repetition that made parts of them a chore to get through. The backtracking is apparent in Chapter 2, where you have to guide several Punis through a gauntlet of puzzles. The section relies too much on backtracking through areas you have already traversed through and because each area looks the same, it is very easy to get lost. This made Chapter 2 my least favourite part of the game and one that could be improved on. Chapter 3 on the other hand drags on because of the repetition of the combat. I love the combat, but Chapter 3’s runtime is about 85% combat and the rest is exploration. The Chapter is around 3 hours in length. This makes Chapter 3 feel extremely long and the pacing suffers due to the unbalanced flow of story beats.


VERDICT:

Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door has long been considered the best Mario RPG Nintendo has made. Whilst I have not played other Mario RPGs, I can very much understand why. The game is a complete joy from start to finish with fantastic combat, memorable characters, an engaging story, and some of the most creative visuals I have seen in a long time. You feel like you are embarking on a treasure hunt with Mario and his friends. The closest thing I can compare the progression in this game to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. You start very weak, but you get smarter and improve with every single encounter, and with every Crystal Star you get, the achievement you feel is reminiscent of beating a Divine Beast in Zelda. Despite some pacing issues, I cannot recommend The Thousand-Year Door on Switch enough.



Comments


SummerSale Vertical.jpg
SummerSale Vertical.jpg
bottom of page