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Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door Package Art
  Intelligent Systems

Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door

Looking back, it’s not hard at all to recall the crummy hand that was dealt to the original Paper Mario. Nintendo had announced a “Super Mario RPG 2” years before they released a single screenshot; they intentionally built up hype and expectations for a just-as-stellar (and just as graphically revolutionary) follow-up to the SNES swansong Super Mario RPG. When Nintendo had the audacity to unveil a 2½-D, cartoon-inspired game called “Mario Story,” when their entire base had been expecting a graphically stunning, mature epic, more than a few gamers felt disenfranchised. It had just become clear that Nintendo was going to be losing a console war for the first time in its (relatively brief) history, the company was no longer in any position to deliver anything less than what their fan-base demanded.

In hindsight, the ordeal was really a pregame for the “Space World Zelda” scandal, where Nintendo demoed the mature-looking Zelda game all of their fans hoped for before scrapping it for a kiddy, cell-shaded Zelda. Several fans wrote the publisher’s games off altogether.

That’s why I’ve been so shocked in the six months since we heard about Paper Mario’s sequel to find that almost every gamer worth his salt has been extremely excited (nay, jubilant) over the prospect of continuing the adventure that started as the PS2’s shadow began to cast over the previous generation’s final worthwhile titles. Now, I have to assume that it’s because of one of two reasons: either gamers have given up on hoping for a mature, badass Nintendo, or they can’t help but recognize that the original Paper Mario blew away expectations by being one of the defining RPG experiences of the last generation.

I’m personally a member of the latter camp. Here’s Why.


Once people got the original Paper Mario in their hands, it was hard not to fall in love with its vibrant color scheme, slick artwork, and undeniable charm. The Thousand Year Door continues that tradition from every angle.

The game’s great use of color and animation make it a prime candidate for showing off your Cube in 480p. The art style is classic Nintendo chic, from the environments to the characters’ design, and is so consistent that you could pretty much imagine what to expect from the entire game after looking at a few screens. What’s been improved upon even more since the original is the convincing charm lain out by the first game. Mario’s animations are very detailed and expressive, specifically when he’s pulling off his special moves (like squeezing through cracks or turning into a paper airplane). In general, this new Paper Mario title does a much better job than the first did of consistently taking advantage of the fact that the entire universe is supposed to be made of paper.

If you’re looking for a downside, there are certainly a few jaggies to be found when the game isn’t being run in 480p, particularly where corners meet in the environment (although it could be said that it wouldn’t look much different if you tried making, say, a castle out of pieces of paper). Also, the game's special effects are pretty (though surely intentionally) minimalistic. Don't expect to see anything that causes your jaw to drop. After all, everything is made of paper.


The audio is a slightly less impressive part of the game, only because it continues the Nintendo tradition of putting off its inevitable embrace of any voice acting at all in its big-name games. The good news is that the dialogue is shockingly hilarious at points in written form, and that might well have been ruined had Intelligent Systems decided to implement voice acting, but it’s not an excuse to continue avoiding it completely.

Also impressive is the game’s soundtrack, although it might stand out a bit too much, resulting in the repetition getting frustrating toward the end. Overall the orchestrated tracks do justice to Mario’s traditional style of songs, much like Wind Waker was treated to some really high quality versions of Zelda classics.


Paper Mario is, in nearly every sense, a streamlined role-playing experience. The game casts you in the role of Mario and it tells a very light-hearted, but steadily unraveling story. But the mechanics are as simple as they possibly could be while still maintaining the spirit of a turn-based RPG. The game only asks you to keep a few stats in your head at a time—namely Mario’s hit points, flower points, and badge points, which are used for health, special moves, and equipping badges (which are used to modify Mario’s abilities), respectively.

However, just as much as it steers clear of a lot of the nitty gritty found in hardcore RPGs, it also adds refreshing elements that make it much more accessible to the average gamer who might not have the patience or dedication to steamroll through a traditional role-playing title. Intelligent Systems started by making battles more interesting than most turn-based RPGs is the crucially important action element that, through a little timing and precision, one can double the damage they dish out and half the hits they take. However, it really does go beyond that in this title by making use of unique actions for special moves. Paper Mario features a highly satirical sense of humor regarding both RPGs at large as well as itself. One bit I found moderately hilarious was Luigi’s role in the epic, which was to periodically share long-winded stories poking very apparent fun at Mario’s own adventure. The light-hearted, non-serious nature of the games should be highly appealing to anyone and everyone who’s fed up with hackneyed post-apocalyptic, medieval, fantasy-themed adventures.

The game’s pace kicks off to a slow and deliberate start, as it pitches a series of very Nintendo-esque tutorials to introduce you to the game’s concepts, but once things get underway, it quickly matures into an extremely gratifying experience. The story definitely holds your hand along with plenty of prodding along from your sidekick (of which you receive several, but only keep one out at a time). The dialogue, as I mentioned before, is fresh and surprisingly funny for a game coming from Nintendo (much as Mario & Luigi Superstar Saga was for the GBA), and the game rewards you with some meatier cutscenes between the chapters. The battles aren’t usually exceptionally challenging, but being successful at consistently pulling off the timed action sequences is critical to succeeding. Still, the game’s level design is probably the most challenging aspect of the game, as the levels are very cleverly crafted. As Nintendo fans, I doubt we expect any less, but when you look at the vast majority of RPGs out there, Paper Mario does a great job to escape from the drab, repetitive, uncreative ‘dungeons’ that plague even the best of the genre.

In general, the gameplay will probably be seen as not quite deep enough for those looking for a really hardcore RPG experience with Mario’s name and likeness in it. However, I think that anyone—even self-proclaimed hardcore gamers—could play Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door and see past its less complicated character management to really appreciate its satire and plain ol’ fun design. If you’ve been wanting to break into the genre, or know someone who’s never played an RPG but really likes story-driven gameplay, I don’t think Nintendo could have designed a better set of basic gameplay training wheels if they’d tried.




It’s interesting how only Nintendo would have the gall to conceive of a game that absolutely everyone would love except for hardcore fans of the game’s particular genre. And the reason games like Mario Golf, Donkey Konga, and Mario Kart appeal to Joe Gamer more than a more realistic or complicated entry might is because Nintendo tackles each genre foreign to its roots (be it sports, rhythm, or racing) with a certain prudence that results in games that are highly introductive and accessible to everyone, while very much maintaining the exceptionally fun qualities of the traditionally popular games in each category.

And that’s really what Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door is, if you were forced to squeeze it into a nutshell three sizes too small; it’s all of the fun of a well-produced role-playing game without the micromanagement. Because while Paper Mario could certainly be passed off as an enjoyable, though perhaps overly simplified endeavor, the real story is in its unabashed satire of not only typical RPGs, but of itself. Everything about the game is throbbing with personality, and that vibrant flavor does a great deal to propel that unknown quantity that we who observe the industry call a game’s “presentation.” Sure it’s kiddy looking, but it’s easy to forgive when the game isn’t afraid to include a spin-off of the supercomputer HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey that comes to grips with the fact that seeing Princess Peach naked in the shower changed its outlook on life and love.

The end result is that anyone who has any patience to not be constantly shooting or hitting things in rapid succession should take a good hard look at this game. And while it’s definitely only a medium-length RPG (probably taking most people about 30 hours to complete), it’s a pretty big time commitment for most casual gamers looking forward to the rest of this incomprehensibly blockbuster holiday season. If you’re looking for a great long-lasting game that’s consistently fun from open to close, quit reading this stupid review and drive to the store.

final score 9.5/10

Staff Avatar Justin Searls
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"The thing about twinkies is, you can't eat just eight."

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