The RPGs in the Mario series have all been mostly heralded by critics and fans; and rightfully so, as they frequently attract many players with their engaging play and charming writing wrapped in cutesy packaging. Paper Mario: the Thousand-Year Door is no different in this regard.
Managing to keep what many loved about the first game, yet improving on a lot of its mechanics in several ways, The Thousand-Year Door earns its spot among the top Mario RPGs.
Here we goooo!
The Thousand-Year Door's gameplay will be reminiscent to many who played the series' first outing on the N64 prior to this one. The play runs and jumps throughout a 3D world telegraphed with paper characters and environments. This may sound strange at first, but the game telegraphs it in a very well-done, cartoony fashion. A big difference between this game and the first is that in the prior edition, this was just a visual gimmick; now you have several paper abilities that you can activate at various points throughout the game.
The game is an RPG, but is a simple one; it isn't overbearing at all in complicated things like skill trees and auto-commands for AI partners. When the player levels up, they are allowed a choice of upgrading three different stats; Hit Points by a multiple of 5, Flower Points (used for special abilities) by a multiple of 5, or Badge Points (used for badges) by a multiple of 3. As in the first game, badges are a form of equipment that can provide Mario with special skills, stat boosts, or just an amusing visual or audio gimmick that normally doesn't cost any BP (such as making an animal noise sound when Mario attacks an enemy, or palette swapping Mario's clothing to that of Waluigi). Mario also gains SP (Star Points) over the course of the story as he collects Crystal Stars, which will enable him to perform particularly special moves.
In combat, players control both Mario and the partner he has active. Commands are simple; just attacks, items, Star Point moves, Other, and Run. Battles can get surprisingly difficult (especially when working through the brutal Pit of 100 Trials, which gets progressively harder as one goes through), and it manages to open up for some interesting strategy on the player's part, especially if a lot of strategic badge use comes into play. Also, an interesting point is that all battles take place on a stage, in front of an audience that ranges from only a few measly members to an enormous attendance. The audience will sometimes randomly throw both you and the enemy party gifts and put-downers (though both can be dodged and/or hit back through on-the-spot button pressing), and this adds another layer to the battles that sort of keeps you on your toes. To sum it up, combat, though simplistic, is still rather fun and provides challenging battles at several turns.
However, I have to say that while there a few nice puzzles in the game, I generally found problem solving the main field kind of boring and elementary, normally just using the bare basics of your partners' special field abilities or your own abilities to fold into different paper objects (such as paper planes or paper boats). A bit of a drawback, really, and while there are plenty of fun hidden secrets around, it still makes exploration sort of bland.
Regardless, The Thousand-Year Door has an engaging system that one gets hooked on very easily. Even if it is a bit of a simple RPG system, that doesn't stop it from being very fun, and isn't having fun the main point of games anyways?
This dragon is definitely a good-looking boss, but I'm distracted looking at this screencap by the bad health this player is caught in now...
I mentioned some features of the graphics briefly in the gameplay overview, and they really are a joy to behold. Most of the characters are simple 2D paper cutouts, with amusing cartoon expressions and designs. The overworld is 3D, but is also shown using paper, and quite a few more complicated objects are portrayed as intricate origami designs; the dragon shown in the prior screenshot is even a larger character that is portrayed using such a style.
The game has a very unique look that is entirely its own, and the concept may sound confusing (and perhaps look a bit confusing) at first, but it's easy to get used to and is a very lovable visual design.
Every now and then one gets the opportunity to play as Bowser in a platforming stage; trust me, it's funny.
The game's sound is pretty accomplished across the board, particularly in the area of music; there are some great tracks here that I could listen to over and over. Perhaps nothing as downright addictive as Beware The Forest's Mushrooms (SMRPG) or generally just as well-made as Bowser's Castle (PM1), but still some nice music, so word to the composers for inserting some great work into this game; some particular favorites of mine are the various themes for the Excess Express and the Glitz Pit battle theme.
Sound effects are also done well, and are even played heavily into gameplay at one point. The music creators did a rather well job making sure we would be clapping and tapping to this game's tried tunes all the day long. (...I sounded like an old Nintendo Power writer just now...)
The original Paper Mario, despite some great, humorous writing, had an honestly stereotypical tale that involved the usual "Bowser kidnaps Peach" blah that we see in every console Mario game. While not insanely original itself in terms of plot; Peach, of course, still gets kidnapped; The Thousand-Year Door succeeds in improving the plot and improving its already-excellent writing.
The main storyline involves Peach inviting Mario on a trip to Rogueport, where she seems to have discovered some type of treasure or prize. Mario heads off there to meet his Lady Love, but he runs into trouble when he has to save a young Goomba girl named Goombella from a small gang of strangely-dressed men, and then he discovers that, of course, Peach has been taken captive by a mysterious force called the X-Nauts. Mario then must go on a quest to rescue her, but along the way, a few odd twists occur...
The writing is purely awesome; humor is well-timed, there are many eccentric characters that make for hilarious personalities to watch, and there's a lot of charm and wit in the writing that really shows how much effort was put into crafting an enjoyable moment-to-moment Mario tale for the player to follow. Mario gains different partners that assist him in the field and in battle throughout the game, and I eventually came to care for each of them, as they were well-written, believable characters. I applaud the writers for their work here.
The story also takes a couple interesting twists as it goes along; at one point, in order to gain a boat ticket from a very rich mob boss, Mario must try and break up an eloping couple; or at least try and get them to stop from going away and getting married. At another point, Mario must make an attempt to solve several different mysteries. These odd situations are fairly innovative and are normally fun to perform.
The story is accomplished in the Paper Mario sequel, and despite the typical Peach-gets-kidnapped-nuez plotline, it gets rather high marks for it's fantastic writing.
Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door is a highly enjoyable experience that improves in many ways upon the original Paper Mario, which I already found to be a great game. It's sort of old at this point (it was released 7 years ago for GCN), but if you've yet to play this gem, I definitely recommend picking it up; you're in for a lot of fun.
FINAL RATING: 9.0 (not an average)
Thanks for reading the review!