Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door Review

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Story
The story follows Mario on his quest to save Princess Peach from a new group called the X-Nauts. The X-Nauts are led by Sir Grodus, who is trying to get the crystal stars, which are needed to open the “Thousand Year Door”, and is said to hold immeasurable treasures. Mario takes on said quest in order  to find the crystal stars by use of a  map he received from Princess Peach before she was kidnapped, in hopes that he can collect them before the X-Nauts, and then save the princess. Right off the bat, this game sets itself apart from standard Mario games by giving players  a new villain. Throughout the story, Mario’s adventure is broken up by quick segments from Princess Peach’s and Bowser’s stories.

Princess Peach returns as a partially playable character, as she makes a new friend in the X-Nauts’ supercomputer named “TEC”. TEC fittingly becomes infatuated with Princess Peach and thus gives her information that is helpful to Mario as well as a means to send messages to Mario’s” Email SP”–a Gameboy Advance SP with email capabilities. Princess Peach returns the favor by helping TEC do the things it is unable to, as it is a computer.


The most interesting element of the story is Bowser’s part. Bowser hears from Kammy Koopa that Princess Peach has been kidnapped by someone. Angered that someone would kidnap Princess Peach, something he is known for doing, he goes out to find the people who captured her and teach them a lesson for messing with the Koopa King. The Bowser story elements play out the same way as Princess Peach’s: between chapters in Mario’s adventure, one gets quick glimpses of his adventure with some of them being playable. Bowser frequently shows his incompetence by failing whenever he tries to find information on Princess Peach’s whereabouts and ultimately ends up mistaking a poster for Princess Peach, thereby activating a broken grenade with his fire breath, and falling into the ocean while trying to transition to a floating wrestling style arena.

With this style of story and each area one visits has its own mini-story to tell, the game does not feel like a typical Mario title at all. This is done  in a good way, too, as the game feels fresh because you cannot guess what is going to happen next easily. Paper Mario and the Thousand Year door consistently adds surprises to the story in ways that will keep you wanting to continue playing to see what will happen next.

Graphics
While the graphics don’t stand out today, they look incredibly well-done given the paper aesthetic the game took in 2004. This game made sure that the graphical capabilities of the time were not up for question, as there were no disputes about paper-thin sprites. The Gamecube’s  developers only sought to make a good game, without  pushing any hardware boundaries, even when it was released.


The biggest part–the creativity–used to make the paper look for everything is done very well, and you feel like the environments you explore could be made into a real diorama. I would love to see more games in this kind of style today, as it really does make the 2D-3D crossbreed of graphics pop. Fighting bosses with a more 3D look in this environment and style truly stands out. The paper aesthetic is taken to new heights with this game, and while the graphics of Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door are nothing big, the paper look can keep this game looking spectacular for years to come.. I can only hope that this game gets an HD treatment eventually.

Environments
The overworld of Paper Mario 2 does a great job of offering a world one could feel a part of. The environments in this game take a step up from Paper Mario: while in the original the Toad Kingdom was the main hub world, in Paper Mario and the Thousand Year Door, we get a new place called “Rogueport”. From Rogueport, one can access other worlds through pipes in the sewer system, via cheep-cheep blimp or by train. As with Paper Mario, every world Mario visits feels unique. There is a huge sense of creativity as one explores every level as Mario, and none of them feel the same. Even story-wise, there are no copy-and-pasted parts to this game.


In one world, Mario helps little creatures called “Puni” as their home is being invaded by the X-Nauts in search of a Crystal Star. From there, Mario goes to a floating town to enter a cage fighting ring as “The Great Gonzales”. This leg of the journey is followed by searching a haunted island that is inhabited by a ghost pirate protecting his treasure. There is never a dull moment in this game and I absolutely love it.


While most RPGs have one visit the same place with a different gimmick or color scheme, the environments in Paper Mario and the Thousand Year Door always feel new and fresh when you visit them. Nothing feels recycled from other parts of the game, and while there are strange gimmicks for each location, they do not feel like gimmicks as you are visiting the worlds and playing through them.

Gameplay
“Paper Mario and the Thousand Year Door” is an RPG, and as such the most important parts of the gameplay is the overworld and the battle system. While both have stayed the same since Paper Mario, they have expanded to both include more features than the original, and they are all welcome additions to the series.

As previously discussed,the overworld of this game is called Rogueport. From there one can travel to new locations to obtain Crystal Stars. A new mechanic introduced in this game from the original Paper Mario is curses–these are given by ghosts locked in black chests that must be freed. Curses provide overworld abilities such as inverting Mario on his axis to fit through small vertical gaps or by allowing him to turn into a paper airplane to pass over large gaps. In the typical Paper Mario comedic fashion, the ghosts and Mario act like becoming cursed is a terrible thing. As one unlocks these curses, one gets the ability to access new areas in previous worlds that one have visited.

The battle system has stayed largely the same overall throughout the  Paper Mario series. One has three major meters that control the battle: Health, Flower Power, and Star Power. Health works exactly as you expect it to. You have a set amount of health that you can upgrade over time and if you run out of health in battle then you get a game over. Flower Power works the same as it did in Paper Mario as your primary source for using Special Attacks. Special Attacks also depend on the items or badges you have equipped to Mario during the battle. Each Special Attack uses a set amount of Flower Points, and if you run out of Flower Points or don’t have enough then you can’t use a Special Attack until you replenish them via an item, ability, or restoration point such as an Inn. Star Power replaces the Star Spirit from Paper Mario. You gain Star Power as you attack and perform combos on enemies. You can then use that Star Power to use Crystal Star abilities such as replenishing health for yourself and your ally or attacking enemies.

The fighting sequence in battle is turn-based. In a standard battle, one usually goes first, then the enemy attacks after that. In the overworld, however, one can initiate a “first strike” by attacking an enemy one sees via hammer or jumping on them. You will get a free hit on that enemy with the attack you started in the overworld and  then your turn starts. On the other end, enemies can initiate a battle the same way. Once in battle, the main two options are to use your jump or hammer against the enemies. These abilities may be a standard attack or a special attack, depending on the level of one’s boots and hammer. Once you initiate an attack, you have the ability to do a combo move by hitting the action button or performing the command for the move shown on the screen. This combo could end up hurting the enemy more or allow you to attack for extra time, if timed correctly. Other special attacks can be added through the badge system. Badges are found throughout the game and may be equipped outside of battle with a multitude of different effects. Some badges will make Mario impervious to some enemy attacks, while others can give you the advantage of attacking multiple enemies or performing more powerful attacks. You also have the ability to use an item to either replenish HP or Flower Power, attack an enemy, or add a stat boost to yourself or your ally. Your other option is to use a Crystal Star power, which you unlock by completing chapters in the game and collecting the Crystal Stars.

While the basics of the battle system are the same as Paper Mario, there is now one big difference in battle called “the stage”. Now, instead of battles taking place in the environment you are in, they take place on a stage as if you are putting on a show, audience included. The better you are at pulling off combo attacks, the bigger your crowd will be. At the end of an attack your crowd will cheer or boo, giving you Star Power in the process. You also have the ability to appeal to your crowd to gain a larger amount of Star Power based on the size of the crowd. They can, in turn, help you out by throwing items to you or they could turn on you by throwing rocks or trash. You can attack the crowd member that is aiming to throw something your way but be careful not to attack a crowd member who is trying to throw you a free item. Outside of the crowd, the stage also has backdrops, lights, and effects. These can both help and hurt you as well. By using special attacks that cause the stage to shake, backdrops could fall over and cause damage to Mario, your ally, and even your enemies. Always be on the lookout for any background fixtures that may begin to fall as you can try to defend yourself by hitting the action button.

Allies return to help Mario on his adventure. While some allies are close to the same as their original Paper Mario counterparts, there are also some new ones in the mix. You will have a Goomba named Goombella on your team that acts the same way as Goombario. Koops, the Koopa, the same as Kooper. Some new allies take the roles previously held by multiple allies such as Yoshi, who takes the place of both Parakarry, by letting you glide over small gaps you can’t jump over, and Lakilester, as a quicker way to ride around levels. There are also entirely new allies, like Ms. Mowz, who can sniff out hidden items in the overworld.

In battle, your allies have their own unique attacks and new special attacks that will help you strategize fights. For example, enemies that cannot be attacked by jumps can be attacked by Koops, who knocks into them with his shell. On the other hand, enemies with high defense can be attacked by Yoshi who can swallow one enemy and throw it at another behind it. With each ally’s unique skill set, you need to keep all of their strengths and weaknesses in mind when engaging in battle. Despite this, you also have the ability to swap them out for another during battles, should one ally’s abilities not be helpful in that battle situation.

This gameplay is not without its faults though. Being an RPG, there are times when you need to grind battles in order to level up to prepare for a boss fight. Some enemies giving very little experience per fight, so leveling up at times just to be able to increase your badge capacity, health, or flower points can be a long journey. In the overworld, platforming can be a bit rough at times–prepare to fail a few times before actually reaching your destination Mario has a tendency to feel both heavy and floaty at the same time, jumping quickly only to fall like a rock. This can be frustrating at times, especially when trying to jump between platforms in a timed sense.  

When performing combo moves, I don’t know if it was my controller or television on a delay, but I often missed combos that I guarantee I hit on time. This sometimes occurred during an entire battle, with me being unable to land a single combo. I do not know if it was an issue with the equipment I was using or a glitch in the game, but it caused plenty of unnecessary frustration while playing. The rest of the fun this game has to offer, outweighs all of these problems, no matter the severity.

Lasting Appeal
This game like most RPG’s has great lasting appeal. Even being over a decade since the game came out, it still holds up today as a great RPG. I would love to see the Paper Mario franchise return to this style of gameplay with a new story and I would be wholly satisfied with it. Even though the graphics were a bit dated being as this was a gamecube game, I could still see people enjoying it for its story and gameplay long into the future.

While future paper Mario games do move away from the battle system style that this game has, I feel like it has its lasting advantages. Nintendo needs to look at this game as an example of how they did an RPG system right and act using it as a stepping stone for future titles in the franchise.

Enjoyment
This game takes everything great from Paper Mario then adds in new content to make it even better. It is on the same level as Banjo-Kazooie to Banjo-Tooie in terms of upgrades. Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door was one of my favorites when I first played it, and it continues to be a great game even today.

With every chapter story feeling unique in its own way, the game never feels boring. There is always something new to be used or done in each chapter in order to find the Crystal Stars. Even the plot strays away from the “Bowser kidnaps Peach” storyline we see in most Mario games. This concept continues in Super Paper Mario as well. If you haven’t played it before, I suggest seeking out a copy online or at your local used game store. It is a classic game that anyone can enjoy even to this day.