Paper Mario The Thousand-Year Door Review – Brilliant Then, Brilliant Now

Paper Mario The Thousand-Year Door Review - Brilliant Then, Brilliant Now

In an era where Nintendo has dominated for the bulk of (let’s ignore the Wii U shall we) the majority of the last two decades, it’s easy to forget that prior to that period of dominance came the Gamecube. Nintendo’s little purple box was completely dwarfed by the immense popularity and (DVD playing functionality) of the PS2, and even the newest face on the block, the Xbox, with its online and the Master Chief, but what is often overlooked is the incredible library of games that came to the system. From new faces like Pikmin or Luigi’s Mansion, to sequels to hit IP like Super Smash Bros. Melee and The Legend Of Zelda: The Wind Waker the Gamecube delivered in spades, and it was another sequel that snuck out in July of 2004 that in a very subtle, low-fuss kind of way, won the hearts of millions – Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door. Now it’s more than two decades later and Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door has returned, but the years have not taken the shine of this gem. Even now, The Thousand-Year Door is a must-play for Mario fans, RPG fans, and anyone looking for a wholesome time. 

A sequel to 2000’s N64 generation closer, Nintendo’s newest Mario RPG took all before it with impressive visuals, engaging turn-based combat, and a truly lovable cast of characters, and 20 years after the game’s initial launch, those components are still shining brightly today. The Thousand-Year Door drops players in Rogueport, a bustling but dangerous town that Princess Peach has led Mario too. The problem is that by the time Mario arrives, Peach has vanished, and with little to go on, Mario’s investigation into her untimely disappearance begins. This leads him to discover the fabled Thousand-Year Door, as well as a colourful cast of companions and a menacing mob of monsters keen to get in the path of Mario as he endeavours to crack open the Thousand-Year Door, save Peach, and protect the people of Rogueport from the threat of the X-Nauts and their dastardly plans. 

The game’s plot continues to throw ludicrous curveballs at the player, but each hits the mark. As you journey around the world collecting the seven crystal stars, you’ll find yourself being introduced to new and familiar faces, wildly differing environments, and a great sense of humour. Endearing from start to finish, the story of Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door, gets you in the door, while the gameplay keeps you there.

In a day and age where classic, turn-based JRPG-style combat has been waning in its relevance, the turn-based (but highly interactive) combat of The Thousand-Year Door sticks out as a throwback we all needed. Just like the 2023 remake of Super Mario RPG, players not only select what they want Mario, Goombella, or whomever else might be in their party, to do, but they can then execute timing-based prompts to do more damage, or to dull the impact of an enemy’s blow. It is by no means a revolutionary mechanic, but it works well for Paper Mario, and all these years on, it works again now. Mario can also leverage his paper aesthetic to execute some context-sensitive actions to navigate the environment. Early in the game for example, Mario learns to fold himself up into a paper plane and use that ability to fly across to far-away platforms. This, along with the numerous other later additions are clever ways to leverage the aesthetic and make it serve a gameplay purpose as well. It worked then, and it still works now. 

Presentationally, Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door still feels a bit like a 2004 game. It’s certainly sharper around the edges, the game’s graphics have been morphed into something more HD, and there are some new sound bites, and updates to the soundtrack, but overall the presentation of the game remains largely as it once was, highlighting the brilliance of the game’s original style. The game does run at 30FPS, something that even a non frame-rate snob such as myself noticed pretty early on, but it should have no significant impact on anyone’s ability to play the game.

There are a small selection of other quality-of-life improvements, such as the partner ring, the pipe room that allows for more efficient fast travel around the world as well as art and sound galleries to immerse yourself further in the world Nintendo have created, but overall, this is a pretty straight forward reworking of the original game. Little changed, but also, little in need of change. 

Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door was a masterpiece in its day, and remains so in 2024. It’s a bit of a shame that a full remake wasn’t on the cards so that the game could get a modern facelift, however, the game’s touched-up 2004 aesthetic, paired with its 2004 charms and 2004 endearing characters and immerse gameplay, still hold up well all these years on. There is no better time to dive into one of the greatest JRPGs of all time than now. Nintendo, this is the Paper Mario game we all want, more of this please!

Paper Mario Review Box

Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door was reviewed on Nintendo Switch with a code kindly provided by Nintendo Australia

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