Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door Review

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Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door remains as magnificent as it ever was. Two decades on, this personality-packed papercraft adventure makes a whizz-popping return on Nintendo Switch.

After Princess Peach somewhat suspiciously comes into possession of a mystical treasure map while holidaying around the Mushroom Kingdom, the moustachioed plumber’s cutout counterpart journeys to the ruffian-inhabited Rogueport to set out on his second quest. With a legend speaking of an unknown treasure that lies behind the Thousand-Year Door deep beneath the town, the portly hero learns that he must recover the seven Crystal Stars to unlock it.

The mighty benchmark to which Intelligent Systems‘ handicraft has been judged ever since, it’s hard not to recognise exactly why The Thousand-Year Door deserves the praise that it is still constantly heaped with to this day. Building on the carefully folded foundations of its predecessor, for many it remains the bravest and most daring in its ambitions within the series.

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Where Super Paper Mario, Paper Mario: Sticker Star, Paper Mario: Color Splash and Paper Mario: The Origami King saw the developer largely experimenting with gameplay mechanics to surprise players in new ways, the sequel, compared with the original Nintendo 64 game, managed to achieve that tenfold while injecting its world with quirky characters and laugh-out-loud pun-ridden dialogue.

That quality shines right through from the allies that accompany Paper Mario on his adventure – from University of Goom archaeology student Goombella to a freshly-hatched Yoshi or the once-proud sailor Admiral Bobbery – to the turn-based combat that underpins your confrontations with troublesome enemies and mischievous bosses. That’s not to mention the side stories to the main event – Princess Peach’s interactions with TEC as the X-Nauts’ main computer attempts to comprehend human emotion to Bowser’s astonishment that someone other than him would dare kidnap her.

Each character lends their own unique abilities for use in battle – Goombella’s Tattle ability lets you check an enemy’s HP and weaknesses whereas Yoshi can gulp up an enemy to spit it out at another and Admiral Bobbery can hurl time bombs that explode when the next turn ends – as well as to overcome environmental puzzles, such as kicking Koops inside his Koopa Shell to slam him into far-off switches to active them or hiding in the shadows with Vivian to bypass a gate. Paper Mario, too, will receive “humiliating” curses that grant him abilities that will help you traverse your surroundings, whether that see him curl up into a tube or turn into a paper plane or boat.

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While everyone will have their clear favourite partner characters that they will want to stick to teaming up with, exploiting enemy weaknesses will frequently require you to swap between your whole party to overcome the confrontations that you are thrown into. That means that every character regularly takes their turn in the spotlight, unlike many role-playing games where less popular party members are often relegated to the sidelines.

The battles themselves take place on a makeshift cardboard stage in front of a live audience who will cheer on your successes and reward you or hurl rocks at you if they’re disgruntled with your performance. Your continued progression on your adventure will the stage become increasingly more complex – audience members dashing on-stage to drop items from the rigging to damage combatants or activating ice machines that can temporarily freeze you or your enemies.

Throw in Action commands, souped-up Flower Point (FP) moves, unleashable Items and the Special powers granted by the Crystal Stars, and, approached in the right way, battles remain engaging and a constant thrill throughout the game’s entirety – especially the boss encounters which look to surprise players with new challenges to overcome.

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Whether this should be seen as a remake or remaster is muddied, Nintendo itself referring to The Thousand-Year Door’s return as “a visually enhanced version” or that the GameCube classic has been treated to “updated graphics.” However you choose to see it, this upgraded port has remained faithful to the original game on which it is based while taking the chance to modernise parts of the experience to address its minor criticisms.

What’s new, though? The soundtrack by Yoshito Hirano and Yuka Tsujiyoko has been newly arranged, a Sound Gallery lets you listen to both the new and original GameCube tracks, you can view character and location sketches in an Art Gallery, and, if you take an elongated break from the game, Goombella can hint about where you should go next to offer a reminder. There’s also a Battle Master Toad who can mentor you with combat tips, and a new Pipe Room beneath Rogueport that allows you to more quickly return to areas that you have completed as you work through the game’s several chapters. These aren’t groundbreaking additions necessarily, but they are welcome ones to expand a port that returning fans have been clamouring for and a whole new generation will now have the chance to experience.

With fourth-wall-breaking gags, a riotous storyline and a thrilling turn-based combat system, Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door has it all. This fan-favourite GameCube classic has long deserved a second chance to take to the stage, and this is the perfect opportunity to marvel at its quirky treasure hunt – whether you’re returning to Rogueport or searching for the Crystal Stars for the first time.

Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Nintendo

9/10
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