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• Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door

developed by Intelligent Systems, published by Nintendo
1 player / Nintendo GameCube / 2004.10.11

Paper Mario Thousand Year Door title

Like the N64 before it, the GameCube didn’t get too many RPGs. Intelligent Systems once again picks up the slack with a sequel to Paper Mario, subtitled The Thousand Year Door. This time Mario receives a letter from Princess Peach that contains a map that supposedly leads to a mysterious treasure. Oh, and she’s been kidnapped again.

Turning A New Leaf

Thousand Year Door may take place in the Mushroom Kingdom, but most of the locations don’t feel like typical Mario tropes. The main hub, Rogueport, is a sketchy town that feels decidedly out of place for a Mario game what with a gallows right in the middle of it! A few new types of characters and creatures are introduced to the Marioverse, including the X-naut villains and the creepy Voodoo doll-like denizens of Twilight Town. Sadly these haven’t appeared in another Mario game since, which is suprising as the X-nauts resemble a new range of Shyguys and Sniffits.

Paper Mario Thousand Year Door screenshot

Fold it right there!

Paper Mario’s flat body is actually given a purpose in Thousand Year Door, something glossed over in the first game. You’ll gain special powers, like the ability to fold up into a paper airplane to glide over gaps. A simple but clever ability turns Mario’s body so he can slip through tight spaces. However, some of these powers can only be activated when standing on specific tiles, which somewhat limits the fun.

Paper Mario Thousand Year Door screenshot

Lights, Camera, Action!

Thousand Year Door introduces a crowd of spectators to the stage-like battles. Instead of praying to refill your star energy, you appeal to the crowd for applause. On top of that, by pressing a button at the right moment in addition to the timing needed to pull off moves you can impress the crowd with a flashy performance for even more. This means you can use your star powers more often than you could in the first game.

However, it’s not all good. From time to time baddies in the audience will pelt you with objects, so you have to keep your eyes peeled. The background props can tip over and slam on top of everyone. Stage lights will sometimes fall, knocking someone dizzy for a few rounds. And fog machines will puff at random, making ground-based attacks difficult to land for a round or two.

These tweaks add some randomness and complexity to the otherwise simple battles. And Mario’s allies now have their own life meter. In the first Paper Mario, allies could only be knocked out temporarily if they were targeted by the enemies. This time, they can be hurt and knocked out completely, which gives you more to worry about.

Paper Mario Thousand Year Door screenshot

A New Coat of Paint

Graphically the characters leave something to be desired. They’re made up of separate moving parts, which are tweened to create animation. This approach results in sharper details and they move more smoothly than their N64 counterparts. On the other hand, they’re less expressive compared to the hand-drawn animations seen in the first game, which is disappointing.

The music doesn’t leave a big impression but there are some nice paper-themed visual tricks peppered throughout the game. The screen crumples up and is whisked away whenever you enter a pipe, and 3D objects can be flattened out into stickers that peel away from the background. Bosses go beyond sprites with large three-dimensional “paper” models. While not quite as ambitious or cohesive as the later Paper Marios that really nailed the handcrafted aesthetic, it moves the series in the right direction.

Paper Mario Thousand Year Door screenshot

Wrapping Things Up

Thousand Year Door is pretty good, but it doesn’t quite measure up to the original Paper Mario. Some of Mario’s new pals are pale immitations of his old gang, recycling many of the same abilities. That said, Mario’s new paper powers almost make up for it, resulting in more varied actions and puzzles than before. And a couple of the scenarios Mario finds himself in are completely unlike anything I’ve seen in other RPGs, so it has that going for it. Clocking in at around 30 hours, it has plenty to offer fans of more casual RPGs.

PROS:
+ Makes good on Paper Mario’s paper theme
+ Introduces some fun new character types
+ Some imaginative scenarios think outside the box

CONS:
– Isn’t quite as funny as the first game
– Some of the allies feel recycled from the first game
– Doesn’t quite nail the hand-made aesthetic like it could have

Official website (UK)