Reviewing Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door – A Grand Return to the World of Plumber RPG

A faithful enhancement of one of the best RPGs of its era, Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door is once again one of the best RPGs of its (new) era.

By Steven PetiteTwitter: @steven_petite on May 21, 2024 at 6:00AM PDT

Let’s get straight to the (unsurprising) statement: Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door for Nintendo Switch is an incredible turn-based RPG that is every bit as charming, witty, and joyful today as it was two decades ago. Much like 2023’s Super Mario RPG, Nintendo didn’t mess with the formula so this is the game you know and love, only it’s prettier, sounds better, and includes several meaningful quality-of-life updates. But whereas Super Mario RPG was quite obviously an old game reborn for a new generation, Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door stands toe-to-toe with the best turn-based RPGs of the current console generation.

Considering Paper Mario’s bizarre history over the past two decades, newcomers would be forgiven for not knowing what the heck to expect in The Thousand-Year Door. To be blunt, Paper Mario’s original identity and soul disappeared in the wake of The Thousand-Year Door. Today, Paper Mario is perhaps best-known as the Mario series that can’t seem to pick a genre. But The Thousand-Year Door, much like its N64 predecessor, follows the tradition of Super Mario RPG and is more aligned with the Mario & Luigi series–the now-defunct series that pushed Paper Mario out of the genre–than any of the Paper Mario games that came after it, including The Origami King. And The Thousand-Year Door’s Switch version further solidifies its spot at the top of the Mario RPG tier list.

The visual upgrade is more of a refreshing touch-up than a comprehensive revamp. Its fairytale-like visuals with pop-up characters and surroundings already held a timeless appeal, but the new widescreen aspect ratio, with its vibrant colors and sharp textures, modernizes renowned settings. The vibrant flowers and white-petaled trees in Boggly Woods are breathtaking, the eeriness in Twilight Town and Creepy Steeple is accentuated (particularly on Switch OLED), and the enhanced lighting and shadows really enhance the waters around Keelhaul Key. While environments are not as intricately detailed as in The Origami King, The Thousand-Year Door remains a stunning game that could pass for being native to the Switch.

The game also boasts an outstanding performance. Not a single performance issue was noted throughout my 41 hours (and counting) of gameplay, whether in docked or handheld mode. Instant saving, quick load times, consistently fluid animations, accurate recognition of inputs for timing-based Action Commands – this is as good as it gets for an improved version of an enduring classic.

The GameCube edition had one of the most remarkable soundtracks under the entire Super Mario umbrella. I’d dare to state that the remixed soundtrack undergoes a stronger overhaul than the visuals. Don’t worry, you’ll get a badge early on that allows you to revert to the original without utilizing any Badge Points, for those who prefer the traditional musical backdrop. Nostalgia may reign supreme for some, but I strongly recommend established fans to try the new OST in every chapter. Combined with remixed tunes, unique battle themes encapsulate the atmosphere of each place, thus enhancing the already brilliant turn-based combat system.

For the most part, the Switch version faithfully replicates the gameplay of the original. However, the few newly introduced features do make a significant difference, especially when it comes to valuing your time. If you played the first version, you’ll remember the cumbersome General White chase sequence that demanded considerable, tedious backtracking. A new fast-travel room under Rogueport town square solves that issue and many others. After each chapter ends, a new warp pipe surfaces, enabling instant travel back to each chapter’s central area. Besides resolving the near-infamous General White conundrum, fast travel comes in handy for quickly revisiting places as additional partners join your team with new skills. Backtracking was always a necessity to secure certain items, including key ones, but now, it’s a more efficient and enjoyable experience.

Game Over does not automatically return you to your previous save point any longer. With auto-save points throughout the journey, you have the option to retry a level or go back to your last save each time you’re defeated. Unlike the original, where a Game Over could set you back by approximately 30 minutes, you now respawn in the room of your defeat. Importantly, your stats remain the same as before the defeat. To record your progress, you still need a save block. However, the option to restart from the same point saves you from replaying already finished segments. This is a major timesaver in a game like The Thousand-Year Door, which lasts over 30 hours.

A convenient new addition is the Partner Ring. With this, you can instantly swap partners rather than opening the full menu. Although it may seem minor, this mechanism significantly influences progress in the game since only one of Mario’s six or seven partners can join him at a time. Partners, like Madame Flurrie who can blow gusts of wind to unveil hidden routes and treasures, or Koops with his shell toss move that helps reach far-off objects, play an essential role in solving puzzles. The new wheel hence became instrumental in maintaining the game’s flow.

Other improvements make the game more welcoming for new players and limit progression roadblocks. When you’re stuck, pressing ZL initiates a partner hint. Several progression hints are provided by Mario’s first companion Goombella, while other partners assist if their abilities are required. Sophisticated new systems including many new dialogue lines make for one of the better hint systems I’ve seen in a game. They provide useful clues without giving away everything outright. This guidance keeps players who aren’t fond of puzzles moving along to the story or battle sequences.

As for the combat, the turn-based encounters remain the same, implying a plethora of Action Commands to master. The user interface improved, the movesets for Mario and his seven partners, special moves, and badge lists align with the original. The Battle Master, a new NPC, is beneficial for newcomers or those seeking a refresher. Located near the fast-travel warp pipes in each main area, the Battle Master sets up dummy enemies for practicing Action Commands. They also offer a range of tips that expands as you unlock new partners and moves.

Understanding why the overarching progression and battle systems remained unchanged is not difficult. The Thousand-Year Door boasts the greatest combat mechanics of any Mario RPG, paper-based or otherwise. With regards to defense, Action Commands rely on the single button press timing mechanic found in Super Mario RPG. However, the moves of Mario and his companions have advanced far beyond this simple action. Some require you to hold and release buttons at the right time, while others entail flicking the analog stick or pressing a sequence of buttons. Story-based enhancements and badges further evolve the iconic jump attacks and exaggerated hammer swings of Mario.

Badges, in effect, act as the gear system and alter stats. Apart from basic attacks, all other battle moves drain FP or Flower Points. Given my liking for using high-cost FP moves, I ensured the equipping of badges that reduced FP usage and replenished points through successful strikes. The badge system is remarkably flexible, making it possible to modify the setup to fit your style of play. Although there are a total of 86 badges—one more than previously thanks to the addition of the original soundtrack badge—Mario’s Badge Points or BP limits their usage.

Upon leveling up Mario, you can opt to upgrade one of three main stats: HP, FP, or BP. Mario is the only character having a conventional leveling system, thus FP and BP effectively become shared pools for the entire team of seven to eight characters. While this may seem odd, it works extremely well. Moreover, it encourages exploration, as it requires three Shine Sprites to “level up” each companion in order to unlock new moves and roughly equalize their attack power and HP with Mario. A total of 42 Shine Sprites are hidden across the Mushroom Kingdom, so each companion can be leveled up twice. If you, however, don’t improve the stats of your companions during the second half of the game, any of the numerous enemies—Hammer Bros, Chain Chomps, Magikoopas, and Frost Piranhas—are likely to decimate them. If not the regular enemies, then the bosses towards the end of the game will almost certainly succeed, except, of course, if you are exceptional at Superguarding.

Although I wouldn’t categorize The Thousand-Year Door as excruciatingly difficult, it is impressively balanced and incorporates sufficient elements of suspense in several battles. Limiting Mario to pairing with just one companion at a time and arranging enemies in a straight line—as opposed to in parallel—effectively defending the latter part of the line from certain attacks, makes the selection of battle companion and move critically important. Despite regularly countering enemy attacks, I was still defeated on a few occasions. More significantly, many other instances pushed me to the edge. The most critical fact, however, was that I battled almost every enemy roaming the overworld, but never felt underpowered or overpowered.

Regrettably, enhancements aimed at improving quality of life do not include accessibility options or difficulty sliders. Although badges like Simplify do make Action Commands a little easier to perform, using them does slow down the regrowth of your special move gauge, meaning you are detrimentally affected in a way. Conversely, the Unsimplify badge limit timings for windows and quickens the recovery of the special meter. Skilled players gain, whereas those needing assistance with Action Commands must compromise. Despite some Action Commands being problematic (or unattainable) for some players with limited mobility, it’s good to still have badges from the original game like Double Pain (Mario takes double damage) and others. However, badge adjustments won’t change that

Despite the familiar story of Mario, where Peach is kidnapped by the X-Nauts, an evil alien robot organization headed by Sir Grodus, the story’s writing and characterization are exceptional. Mario’s role-playing games have always had unique dialogue, unforgettable characters, and lots of emotions. The Thousand-Year Door follows this pattern. All seven partners are driven by the need to prove something to themselves and the world. Even though they are all great, it is odd that all four female partners – Goombella, Vivian, Madame Flurrie, and Ms. Mowz (optional) – are unmistakably attracted to Mario, while Admiral Bobbery and Koops have emotional connections that surpass the unattainable hero with a mustache. Mario seems to be the first person to ever be kind to Vivian. Yes, beneath the humor are quite a few sad undertones.

The Thousand-Year Door has such a wealth of dialogue touching on the full spectrum of human emotions that it is so worth it to speak to every NPC you encounter and read the messages sent to Mario’s Game Boy Advance SP communication device – there are some real treasures in there. I was quite taken aback by some of the dark humor, and it’s hard to believe that a Bob-omb’s words with a steering wheel on its back affected me more than any other game recently. There’s even talk about the need for renewable energy sources. Let’s remember, this game is from 2004.

Despite the pacing being uneven in places (Creepy Steeple has some dull backtracking and Glitz Pit mostly features 20 simple fights with nearly identical preludes between all of them), the majority of the 30-plus hour adventure keeps the story progressing while slowly introducing new mechanics for battle and exploration, such as Mario’s ability to turn into a paper boat for water crossing or to roll into a small cylinder to access tiny passages. The intermissions between chapters featuring briefly playable characters Peach and Bowser remain enjoyable breaks between searching for the Crystal Stars that open the infamous door located underneath Rogueport.

The Switch version of Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door stands out as the best way to experience this exceptional turn-based RPG that features Mario. Rather than a complete makeover, The Thousand-Year Door is more of an enhanced HD remaster from the original GameCube version, sporting minor yet significant improvements that streamline and enhance the gaming experience. The compelling remixed soundtrack adds a new dimension to the engaging and dynamic turn-based combat system. Combined with an extraordinary character lineup and a script that consistently delivers playful dialogue, The Thousand-Year Door engagingly incorporates all the aspects of a fantastic turn-based RPG. It always possessed these qualities, but now they are mixed more harmoniously.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Previous Article

Upcoming Addition of Ads to Google Search's AI Overviews

Next Article

Controversy Surrounds Eventbrite for Promoting Illegal Opioid Sales to Potential Addiction Recoverers

Related Posts