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Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door Remake Review

Nintendo Switch by Intelligent Systems 0 text

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Mario goes flat again in timeless RPG style

It feels like a thousand years have passed since Princess Peach first summoned Mario to the seedy city of Rogueport to hunt for the legendary treasure that sleeps beneath the town. In reality, it’s only been 20 years since Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door graced the GameCube, but it seems longer because the Paper Mario series has abandoned its traditional turn-based RPG battles ever since. The Thousand-Year Door rapidly faded into legend, kept alive by the spoken word of longtime Nintendo fans who clung onto hope that it would one day open again.

Finally, that patience has paid off, as the Nintendo Switch remake of Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door is the definitive version of this classic adventure. It unquestionably justifies why the original is so treasured, pairing a faithful recreation of one of Mario’s most iconic quests with a set of welcome additions and modern improvements that keep it feeling fresh off the printing press even two decades later. Just as Princess Peach tells Mario he MUST come to Rogueport, I’m telling you that you MUST play The Thousand-Year Door.

Gameplay 9

From its opening moments to the end credits, it’s still impressive how distinct this RPG feels from any other game in the wide Mario universe. The surprisingly gritty world of Rogueport and its surrounding towns, a lovable cast of offbeat partners Mario recruits along the way, and an Indiana Jones-style race between Mario and the scheming X-Nauts to unlock the secret behind the sleeping door give this journey an unforgettable identity that has passed the test of time with flying colors.

It helps that the Switch remake is absolutely gorgeous, with lovingly redone character models and dazzling environments that fully commit to the original’s papery, storybook aesthetic. It’s always a joy to look at, and the lighting in darker environments like Hooktail’s Castle, Boggly Woods, and Twilight Town is stunning. It maintains 30 frames per second very consistently, with only slight framerate dips when the screen is flooded with hundreds of characters at once, but that doesn’t happen often and never really bothered me. The revamped soundtrack is similarly amazing, with outstanding updated versions of the original tunes and new battle theme arrangements specific to each location.

The sharp, laugh-out-loud script is consistently as funny and charming today as it was in 2004. The exciting premise and artistic world are backed up by a sharp, laugh-out-loud script that’s consistently as funny and charming today as it was in 2004. The Thousand-Year Door wastes no time setting its comedic, irreverent tone: Just minutes after Mario sets foot in Rogueport, he’s witness to the town’s high crime rate as members of the Pianta Syndicate get in a brawl with their rival Robbo Thieves in the background. Almost every character does or says something hilarious that also serves the excellent worldbuilding, like the evil, cackling spirits who are convinced they’re cursing Mario for all eternity, when they’re actually blessing him with a useful upgrade. Side characters like those from the Pianta Syndicate and Robbo Thieves constantly intertwine with Mario’s journey, and some folks even email life updates to his Game Boy Advance SP-like phone with adorable photos of themselves attached. How thoughtful!

Small interludes also stand out, like ones where you play as Princess Peach while she’s held in captivity by the X-Nauts or as Bowser as he searches for the mythical treasure with his moronic band of minions. Some story elements from Princess Peach’s segments haven’t aged super gracefully – it plays up the fact that she has to take off her dress not one, not two, but three separate times across less than 30 total minutes of Peach gameplay – but it’s still fun to see how she assists Mario from afar. The Bowser sections offer a glimpse of how the King of the Koopas comically mismanages his dysfunctional army when he’s not getting tossed around by Mario.

Another clear highlight is bumping into Luigi throughout Rogueport, where he updates Mario on his parallel misadventures in the Waffle Kingdom. Mario can’t even stay awake to hear the whole story (poor Luigi!), but I love soaking up every word of it. This remake enhances the endearing dialogue even further, as developer Intelligent Systems replaced the generic typewriter text sound from the original with an amusing Animal Crossing-like babbling noise unique to each character type. It’s an impressive touch that shows a willingness to go above and beyond to polish this beloved tale.

Mario’s quest to collect the Crystal Stars before the X-Nauts do is the backdrop for each of the eight chapters, but some of the most unforgettable moments come from within the smaller stories that pop up. For example, one Crystal Star is the crown jewel of a wrestling championship belt, kicking off an incredible sequence where Mario – dubbed by his promoter as “The Great Gonzales” – climbs the ranks in the Glitz Pit’s cutthroat pro wrestling world. Every chapter has its own flavor like this, and it’s always delightful to see where Mario and friends will end up next.

Graphics 10

Speaking of friends, Mario’s party of seven partners is one of The Thousand-Year Door’s greatest strengths. Each character you recruit has a well-defined design and personality: Koops is an insecure, shy Koopa who musters up the courage to travel with Mario to avenge his father, while Goombella is a smart, sassy student at the University of Goom who’s interested in archaeology. Every chapter provides some backstory for the new companion it introduces that’s generally very sweet and oftentimes strikingly mature and emotionally resonant, which highlights how the series hasn’t managed to match their quality since.

When exploring, each partner helps out in a unique way: You can kick Koops’ shell to hit far-off switches, while Yoshi significantly increases your speed and can flutter across gaps. The remake’s new Partner Ring lets you change characters on the fly in the overworld, making some late-game puzzles that require lots of partner switching much snappier. And, there’s a robust new hint system you can access at any time where Goombella will tell you exactly what to do next. Some quests are a little bit obtuse at times, like when it’s unclear who exactly you need to talk with to advance the story, so that was a nice fallback that ensured I never got stuck.

Partners also fight alongside Mario during The Thousand-Year Door’s excellent turn-based battles. Paper Mario’s trademark Action Commands are here, where you deal more and take less damage if you properly time the correct button presses. But The Thousand-Year Door takes it much further than basic jumping, hammering, and blocking, spicing up its battles with a great Badge-based upgrade system and electric live audience so I never got tired of fighting at any point during the 30-hour campaign.

Collectable Badges – which are hidden throughout the world and on sale at Rogueport’s Lovely Howz of Badges – let you customize Mario’s abilities however you want as long as you have enough Badge Points to equip them. There are over 80 Badges to choose from: Some give Mario powerful new types of jump or hammer attacks, like the Quake Hammer, which attacks all non-flying enemies with one big smash. Other badges impact Mario’s stats, like the P-Up, D-Down Badge that boosts attack power but sacrifices defense. I turned my Mario into a glass cannon, to the point where perfect Action Commands disposed of enemies in a flash, but any mistake led to him taking serious damage. As a Paper Mario pro, I loved turning up the heat with my Badge builds to create more of a high-risk, high-reward balance, and it’s always fun to mix and match to try out different combinations if anything starts to feel stale.

It’s the live audience, though, that truly pushes battles to the next level. Lots of Nintendo games are presented as stage plays (a tradition going back to Super Mario Bros. 3 and most recently seen in Princess Peach: Showtime!), but The Thousand-Year Door has my favorite implementation of this idea. When a fight begins, Mushroom Kingdom citizens frantically rush into an auditorium to watch it unfold on stage, cheering when Mario does well and leaving early when things go poorly (are they trying to beat traffic?). Hecklers threaten to pelt Mario with rocks and stage lights or fog machines might malfunction during the battle, requiring a timely block.

Balancing fighting with appealing to the crowd is so dynamic, and it’s even more entertaining when you pull off the Stylish Moves that add flourishes to attacks and make the crowd go wild. Mario can backflip after pulling off a Hammer attack, or Koops can breakdance after rushing through a line of enemies in his shell. Pumping up the crowd through well-executed Action Commands and Stylish Moves fills up Mario’s special attack meter, and it’s one of the coolest mechanics I’ve ever seen in an RPG. The fights aren’t especially difficult – with the exception of some late-game bosses and optional challenges like the returning Pit of 100 Trials – but keeping track of all the mechanics at play during battle meant I never fell into a repetitive rut where I stopped having to think. If you love punishment, the Double Pain Badge doubles the amount of damage Mario takes, but besides that there aren’t traditional difficulty options to be found here. On the flipside, if you’re a Paper Mario rookie and want to improve your skills, the new Battle Master Toad hanging out in most towns lets you practice your Action Command timing whenever you like with no penalty for messing up.

Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door Remake image 2

Storyline 9

The Thousand-Year Door’s one major flaw I wish this remake had done more to fix is the main quest’s overreliance on backtracking. Most areas have two major points of interest separated by several linear pathways, and the campaign

frequently forces you to travel back and forth between them multiple times over the course of a chapter.

Adventures on the pirate island of Keelhaul Key and in the spooky Twilight Town are especially bad about this. These chapters make Mario travel all the way to the edge of an area, realize he doesn’t have the means to progress further, walk back to the town he started in to get something, then return, and so on. It’s about as much fun as realizing you forgot your wallet as you pull into the movie theater parking lot. The new Partner Ring means your trusty Yoshi steed is more accessible than ever, so at least it’s quicker to run back and forth than it was on GameCube, but that’s a half measure when it comes to fixing the level design, which is noticeably outdated in a remake that otherwise feels pretty modern.

To its credit, Intelligent Systems made several changes to at least somewhat address the backtracking problem without fundamentally changing the original’s design. In Keelhaul Key, a helpful new spring shortcut means you only have to do an annoying section of precise Yoshi platforming once, rather than every time the chapter asks you to go back and forth across its screens. So they removed the painful part, but not the actual trek.

It’s not as if major changes were unthinkable, because The Thousand-Year Door has some big ones elsewhere, the best of which is its revamped Warp Pipe Room. This fast-travel hub opens up underneath Rogueport a few chapters in, and it’s a total game changer for quests that make you revisit previous locations. In the original, the only way to get to the Glitz Pit was to ride the blimp all the way on the far side of Rogueport. Now, there’s a pipe that zips you straight there, and it’s conveniently labeled in a room filled with pipes that lead back to the central locations from every chapter. Similarly, longtime fans will remember that Chapter 7 contains a particularly ridiculous quest that requires revisiting every major town in the world, but with the help of the new-and-improved Warp Pipe Room I was done with this mission in less than 10 minutes. It wasn’t a particularly stellar 10 minutes in terms of actual entertainment, but it was a lot less tedious than what I’d been braced for.

Even if solutions like this feel like putting makeup on a blemish that we all can tell is still there, I respect the decision to keep this remake extremely faithful, and the combat, story, music, and graphics are so much fun that I really don’t mind the back-and-forth exploration too much. And thankfully, you don’t see any tedium in the fantastic dungeons, which are packed with interesting puzzles, collectibles, and epic boss fights that shake up the usual battle conventions in interesting, cinematic ways. Mario also learns clever paper abilities throughout the campaign, like turning into a paper airplane or rolling up into a tube, and those open up new shortcuts and secrets in the Rogueport Sewers to give exploration an almost metroidvania-like feel at times.

Outside of the main campaign, the entirely optional side quests are your pretty standard RPG fetch-quest fare. Sometimes they’re good for a laugh, like a mouse who asks Mario to whack him with his hammer over and over again until he remembers something important, but from a reward standpoint they’re largely skippable because they mostly give you items or coins that can easily be found elsewhere. I also dislike the side quest system: Mario can only accept one at a time from Rogueport’s Trouble Center, and you must solve or abandon it before taking on a new task. If this remake is already trying to make things more convenient, why not let us take on multiple quests at once to cut down on the number of times completionists will have to walk back and pick up a new one? As it stands, they don’t seem worth doing… with the exception of one extremely worthwhile reward I won’t spoil here.

Multiplayer 8

Paper Mario has finally returned to its RPG roots with an amazingly loyal and visually dazzling remake of The Thousand-Year Door. Everything fans have been begging Nintendo to bring back is here, including a delightfully varied turn-based battle system with satisfying real-time elements and unique, lovable party members who are essential to both the story and gameplay. Rogueport and its surrounding areas are bursting with personality thanks to writing that’s just as sharp and funny today as it was in 2004. It also introduces a host of modern improvements that streamline (but don’t eliminate) the original’s backtracking issues, easily making this the best way to experience Mario’s quest to gather the Crystal Stars. There’s a reason The Thousand-Year Door has been considered one of the greatest Nintendo games for the last 20 years, and this brilliant remake ensures it will maintain that reputation for at least a thousand more.

Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door Remake image 3

Issues and Community Feedback

The Thousand-Year Door’s one major flaw I wish this remake had done more to fix is the main quest’s overreliance on backtracking. Most areas have two major points of interest separated by several linear pathways, and the campaign frequently forces you to travel back and forth between them multiple times over the course of a chapter. Adventures on the pirate island of Keelhaul Key and in the spooky Twilight Town are especially bad about this. These chapters make Mario travel all the way to the edge of an area, realize he doesn’t have the means to progress further, walk back to the town he started in to get something, then return, and so on. It’s about as much fun as realizing you forgot your wallet as you pull into the movie theater parking lot. The new Partner Ring means your trusty Yoshi steed is more accessible than ever, so at least it’s quicker to run back and forth than it was on GameCube, but that’s a half measure when it comes to fixing the level design, which is noticeably outdated in a remake that otherwise feels pretty modern.

Conclusion 9

Paper Mario has finally returned to its RPG roots with an amazingly loyal and visually dazzling remake of The Thousand-Year Door. Everything fans have been begging Nintendo to bring back is here, including a delightfully varied turn-based battle system with satisfying real-time elements and unique, lovable party members who are essential to both the story and gameplay. Rogueport and its surrounding areas are bursting with personality thanks to writing that’s just as sharp and funny today as it was in 2004. It also introduces a host of modern improvements that streamline (but don’t eliminate) the original’s backtracking issues, easily making this the best way to experience Mario’s quest to gather the Crystal Stars. There’s a reason The Thousand-Year Door has been considered one of the greatest Nintendo games for the last 20 years, and this brilliant remake ensures it will maintain that reputation for at least a thousand more.

Pros and Cons

  • Gorgeous visuals
  • Engaging battles
  • Hilarious writing
  • Excessive backtracking
  • Limited fast travel
  • Tedious side quests

Player Quotes

"I’ve never played Paper Mario before. I own a GameCube, but prices of the cult classic are sky high. I refuse to pay three figures for a video game, no matter how good people tell me it is. With the Thousand-Year Door remake as my first foray into Paper Mario’s adventures, I was immediately blown away."

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Please note that this review is based on the feedback and sentiments of players on various Reddit threads and does not represent the views of all players.