Paper Mario: Thousand Year Doors Review

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The Mario RPG brand represents some of my favorite adventures in the genre. The comedic tone, engaging art, and busy combat systems have always been key to me, but Thousand-Year Door was a personal blind spot. I had played previous and subsequent Mario RPGs, but I skipped it when the original was released in 2004, and tellingly, he hadn’t yet been hired to Game guide at the time. When Nintendo remastered the acclaimed RPG for the Switch, I welcomed the excuse to finally play it. I was impressed by how much the graphics and music had improved two decades later, and found the comedy to be mostly on point. Now, I fully appreciate and understand Thousand-Year Door’s reputation as a classic, but it’s not without its 20-year-old issues. You could say it represented the early signs that the series would become less interested in being an RPG in the years to come, and ultimately suffer because of it.

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Thousand-Year Door has always been an attractive game. Nintendo is adept at prioritizing evergreen art styles over fidelity, and Paper Mario is the poster child for that approach. The lighting effects are the main improvement on the Switch version, and they make a huge difference – the game looks fantastic and state-of-the-art throughout. Beyond the game’s visuals, a number of minor changes (like faster partner switching and hotkeys) support silky out the experience and generally remove annoying obstacles.

Combat also remains enjoyable, without the need for upgrades. I’m a sucker for timing button mashes in any RPG, and I welcome that here, but I was surprised to see that the execution prompts were present throughout the game. I assumed they would disappear after the tutorials, and was annoyed to learn that they never did. And while necessary and tactically useful, special abilities are time-consuming, and I dreaded having to operate them. That feeling extended to my partners as well, and I found myself using the ones whose attacks were the quickest to execute, even if they didn’t do the most damage.

Over time, the Mario RPG series has vacillated between adventure and RPG, and it’s here that the Paper branch of the tree began to branch out more in an adventure direction. Subsequent games, like 2020’s The Origami King , rely entirely on drop leveling mechanics, which is a mistake. I love the sense of progression, and I enjoyed it here, even if it felt like I was going back in time to see her final hurrah.

The adventure game mechanics work within the game’s worlds and characters. It’s a breath of fresh air to see completely fresh characters in a Mario game, especially when they feel out of place in the Mario aesthetic. I looked forward to seeing each fresh location and the weirdo who lived there, and I was never disappointed.

But further, in its desire to be as much an adventure game as an RPG, something Paper Mario has always struggled with, Thousand-Year Door has way too much backtracking. Almost every location in the game requires you to go to the end of the area to get an item, take it to someone, then go back to where you were and repeat every fight along the way. With restricted quick travel options, this process was often tedious.

The sequences where you don’t play as Mario are equally unexciting. Peach has some fun dialogue with an AI that has trouble understanding emotions and some fun puzzles to solve, but if Bowser had been cut from the game entirely, I don’t think I would have noticed or cared. His little payoff at the end wasn’t worth checking out between each chapter.

Despite all the annoyances of repetitive areas and sluggish (but engaging) combat, Thousand-Year Door is currently a hit for the series. It’s the first time I didn’t want a Mario RPG to go (I generally prefer the direction Mario & Luigi went), but the constant fourth-wall breaking, the myriad of colorful and unique characters, and the willingness to just be weird all make for an enjoyable journey. I’m grateful that this polished version of a GameCube classic that I missed is finally available on a state-of-the-art platform.

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