Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door
Some gamers might not remember it, but there used to be a time when a new Mario game meant something. There’s a reason Super Mario 3 remains the best selling game of all time. But in recent years, our poor plumber has had his name slapped on everything from pinball to party games. While many of these games have been good, or at least adequate, they’ve significantly diluted the power of the Mario brand [“name” instead?]. Between Mario Pinball, Mario Tennis, and the other recent titles featuring Nintendo’s main mustachioed man, you can be forgiven for missing Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door. But Mario’s latest adventure is a compelling and fun trip.
Paper Mario: TTYD is the latest in the Mario RPG series, which started as a collaboration between Nintendo and then buddy Square [enix?]. As the title suggests, the games combine traditional RPG game play with Mario’s universe. Mario RPG was followed by Mario and Luigi on the Gameboy Advance and the original Paper Mario on the Nintendo 64. The game follows its predecessors in many respects; like the Nintendo 64’s title, the Gamecube RPG takes place in a paper world, where the flat (visually) characters do 180 degree turns. Like all the Mario RPG games, Paper Mario combines traditional platforming gameplay by making [maybe “allowing” would sound better] the player time button presses during battle to do additional damage to enemies.
While the game follows the paper look of the first Paper Mario, the Gamecube title looks much better; backgrounds are bright and vivid and the characters look great. Indeed, the game looks more like a Saturday morning cartoon than a game, it’s just that gorgeous. “Paper” is better integrated into the gameplay as well, as almost all the games’ graphical effects, including scene changes and uncovering (literally) secret areas, are made to look like paper. Mario himself can become a paper airplane, roll himself, or turn sideways in order to get into nooks and crannies. The redesign of classic Nintendo characters, including Mario himself, is great. Everyone, from enemy Bloopers to Koops to even Bowser are adorable. I can’t help but feel that this design of Mario is much closer to the spirit of the plumber we grew up with (as opposed to the realistic Mario that was in Mario Sunshine, Mario Party, etc.
The game starts out with Mario receiving a letter from the Princess Toadstool, from the city of Rogueport. She’s trying to get to the bottom of the town’s central mystery, an ancient treasure. When Mario goes to Rogueport, however, there’s no Princess. He does, however, meet up with a female Goomba. They pair up to find the Princess, whose fate seems tied up with the city’s ancient treasure. From there, Mario visits several different lands, searching for star pieces that will open the Thousand Year Door underneath Rogueport.
Of course, on the way he meets new sidekicks and enemies. When Mario meets an enemy in a level, the game switches to a “school play” set up, with Mario and his current sidekick on the left of the screen and the enemies on the right. In the foreground is an audience, hungry for action. Correctly timing button presses during Mario’s attacks, or correctly blocking enemy hits, excites the crowd, adding to your star power, allowing you to perform special attacks. However, get the audience mad and they’ll throw stuff at Mario, destroy the set, or wreck havoc backstage. There’s a lot of stuff on screen during these battles, but it never gets too confusing and the whole new dimension of the crowd does add a fun new aspect to the series. Conceptually, the game simplifies the standard RPG numbers game; Mario and his sidekicks share magic points (called flower points) and Mario only has two basic attacks, jumping on the baddies or hammering them (there are plenty derivations on those attacks, of course). Anyone looking for a Disgaea level of complexity would be better served somewhere else.
The simplification continues throughout the game. There are very few puzzles that are as impossible to figure out as Final Fantasy X or anything. Even when the player hits an impasse, there’s a helpful witch that will give hints (for a price, of course). The game doesn’t roll over for you though; there are puzzles and figuring them out does yield a sense of satisfaction.
Between allies and adversaries, there is plenty of room for fun use of the Mario universe. Mario meets many old friends; Rogueport is abound with Bandits, Bob-ombs, Mousers, Goombas, Dinos, from Mario World, Mario World 2, and Mario Bros. 2 and even Pinnatas from Mario Sunshine. Furthermore, between “acts” Bowser and Peach have their own adventures; Peach’s are mostly a bore (though she changes clothes much more than is reasonable) but Bowser’s (including a parody of the original Super Mario Bros starring Bowser) are a blast. Mario’s cellphone, the Mailbox SP, looks like a Gameboy Advance SP, of course, and its ringtones are themes from the plumber’s previous games. The writing scintillates; the game is genuinely hilarious. Especially noteworthy are the interludes when Luigi explains his own adventures to Mario. With all the classic fun, for a seasoned Mario veteran, Paper Mario is a trip down memory lane, but there’s enough meat to keep even newbies entertained.
However, Intelligent Systems adds a lot of new content to the series. Past the first mission, in Petalburg, which is classic Mario, the developers have added many new places for Mario to visit, including a glitzy floating city with a fighting tournament and a dark land. The new lands mesh reasonably well with the classic Mario worlds, and are something fresh in something that could have been a complete rehash of Mario’s career, but they (the visually obnoxious Rawk Hawk comes to mind) lack the charm of Nintendo’s classic characters. While I have to applaud Intelligent Systems for not riding the coattails of the previous Mario games, [not?] playing it safe might have been a more satisfying experience.
The game has some other small issues as well; as much as Paper Mario lookslike a cartoon, the lack of spoken dialogue gives it away as a game. Though like Mario & Luigi there are a lot of sound effects (Mario’s “Ok!” and other such exclamations), ninety-nine percent of the game’s dialogue is text. C’mon, Nintendo, if you are going to make your games look like cartoons, make them sound like them too! Make the experience complete. In other areas, it’s impossible to skip past cinema scenes. Normally this isn’t a big deal, but during the aforementioned tournament, after every fight you’re “treated” to the same cutscene over and over. Even Metroid Prime 2 allows the player to skip non-loading cutscenes. Furthermore, Mario’s sidekicks are often extremely similar (close to carbon copies) of his sidekicks in the original Paper Mario. Changing up the formula a bit would have been much appreciated.
It’s simple and very similar to the Nintendo 64 Paper Mario. Despite even its unwieldy title, Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door is an engaging, fun diversion. Unlike other simple RPGs, the game is reasonably long too (and it contains a “secret” battle arena which lengthens the play time a bit). It, perhaps, is not worth the retail price, but if you enjoyed any of the previous Mario RPG titles Paper Mario for the Gamecube is a great title to add to your collection on sale.