The game I chose for Review a Great Game Day is one that I’ve mentioned countless times on my Twitter feed, and have repeatedly pleaded with Nintendo (with no results, obviously) to release on Wii U Virtual Console. This amazing, memorable game is Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door for the Nintendo GameCube. In comparison to the original Paper Mario on the N64, The Thousand-Year Door improved vastly on everything that worked from the first game, and added in a whole lot more. Along with the familiar, charming art style, we’re presented with a vast game world, well fleshed out and populated with an interesting cast of characters that fit right in with the existing Super Mario Bros. universe, and sprinkled generously with collectibles and secrets to collect.
The game opens with the Princess mailing Mario a map (a familiar premise, if you ask me), which leads to her being kidnapped (surprise, surprise). However, it’s not by Bowser this time, but a mysterious villain named Sir Grodus. Mario, currently unaware of the Princess’s fate, boards a ship to Rogueport where he meets a Goomba named Goombella, who’s being harassed by another shady looking character, Lord Crump, and his lackeys. From there, the heroes visit Professor Frankly, who identifies the map and lays the foundation of the game’s premise – a hunt for the Crystal Stars, which are the keys to open the legendary Thousand Year Door under Rogueport.
Throughout the story, you’re treated to a wonderful variety of locales – the quiet and peaceful town of Petalburg and the nearby Shhwonk Fortress, the Boggly Woods and the Great Tree (an area for which I have a great love of the style and colors used), the exciting (and shady) Glitzville, the spooky Twilight Town (no, not from Kingdom Hearts) and Creepy Steeple, the pirate infested Keelhaul Key (which sounds like a level name straight out of Donkey Kong Country), the snooty Poshley Heights, and even the Moon itself. Who knew the Mushroom Kingdom was this big? Every area is littered with colorful details, all rendered to look like pieces of paper in a pop-up book. There are even some places where you can enter a pipe in the foreground and appear in the area’s background, a cool way to make the world more dynamic. To top it all off, the game boasts a rocking soundtrack, with memorable beats and excellent battle music (really, go look it up and have a listen right now).
The battle system is probably one of my favorite features of this game, and takes a page (pun intended) from Super Mario RPG. Any command that you select, from regular weapon attacks to special abilities, require extra button input as they’re being performed by the character. If executed correctly, often requiring good timing, you can score critical hits, deal greater damage, and make your attacks more effective in general. When enemies attack, you can also press the button at the right time to guard and reduce or negate any damage taken. The icing on the cake is the stage-themed battle arenas, complete with curtains, an audience, and props and backdrops that can actually fall and damage your opponents.
Depending on how well you do your attacks, you’ll get better reactions from the audience, and more people will fill the seats. These cheers replenish your Star Energy, a resource that you use to activate the powerful abilities of the Crystal Stars that you pickup throughout your adventure. You might even get some presents tossed your way (or garbage if you perform poorly). This mechanic had me completely invested in every battle, enjoying the positive responses for my good plays and laughing at the jeers and boos for my flops. At times, you’ll even see Luigi sitting in the audience (hey, at least he’s included). It’s all great fun and adds to the game’s overall charm.
Outside of battle, Mario can power up his abilities by finding and equipping Badges. These increase his stats or give him access to different combat abilities. To equip them, you need a certain number of BP, or Badge Points. There are even a couple of unique ones that change your appearance (Wario or Luigi). You can find them all over the world, hidden in Question Blocks, received as rewards, dropped by or stolen from enemies in combat, or purchased from a merchant for coins. Additional collectibles include Star Pieces (which make me think of the Red Jewels from Illusion of Gaia for some reason), which can be traded for a set list of prizes depending on how many you’ve found, and Shine Sprites, which can be used to power up your partners.
Throughout your adventure, you meet a varied cast of unique characters that you can swap between at any time, all complete with their own unique abilities and back stories (GASP). Goombella, the scholarly Goomba, is the first you meet and can give you additional information about your current location, and can identify enemies in battle. Koops is a timid Koopa Troopa from Petalburg that’s on a quest to avenge his dead father, and is good at attacking multiple ground based enemies in combat. In the field, he can hit switches and blocks that would normally be out of reach. Madame Flurrie is a voluptuous ghost that can blow away fake walls to reveal hidden passages in the world, and can manipulate the wind to do different things in combat. Yoshi, the little spiky headed baby Yoshi, can be ridden by Mario to hover over large gaps (like from Yoshi’s Island fame). Vivian, a reformed villain, can pull the team into the shadows to hide them while adventuring, and can use fire, magic, and her wily charms against hostile bad guys. Admiral Bobbery is a seasoned seafarer that functions just like the bombs from Legend of Zelda – he can destroy cracked walls and trigger switches, and of course unleashes his explosive fury when challenging enemies in combat. Lastly, you have Ms. Mowz, who looks like a cousin of the Mousers from Super Mario Bros. 2. She’s actually an optional character, but is the only one who can steal items from foes.
Even Mario has his own set of unique paper-inspired moves to use when exploring the world of Thousand-Year Door. As you progress through the game, you learn more of these amusing techniques by opening special spooky black treasure chests – folding into a paper airplane to glide over gaps, turning sideways to enter narrow cracks, rolling up into a tube to pass under low passages, and transforming into a boat to sail over water. It’s really cute, and I love the creature within the chest makes like he’s giving you some dramatically awesome power (which I guess they really are, since it allows you to access hidden secrets and continue further in the storyline). Your team’s abilities combined with Mario’s adds a very Legend of Zelda flavor to this game, which I entirely appreciate.
Despite being a Mario game, the story dives into some pretty deep themes, including revenge, death, identify theft (literally), crime, conspiracies, and possession. It’s a tale worth following to the letter, with wonderful accompanying dialogue and relevant NPC conversations. This is the type of story and fleshed out character / world development I wish I could see in every Super Mario Bros. game, even though I know it may not always be feasible. We even get to experience some interludes between the completion of each chapter, focusing on the plight of the kidnapped Princess and her struggles to deal with her situation, and Bowser, who attempts to tag along with Mario’s quest and scoop up the Crystal Stars for himself (though failing miserably and hilariously most of the way).
Paper Mario: Thousand Year Door is, in short, a terrific game. I literally have no complaints, and love everything about it (I may be a bit biased, but if I said I didn’t like something, I would be lying). I fervently wish that Nintendo would start posting GameCube games on the Virtual Console, and that Thousand Year Door is one of the first. I’ve talked to some of you that STILL haven’t been able to play this game, which is a shame! If you liked Super Mario RPG, this is really the sequel you were waiting for. It’s unfortunate that later Paper Mario games have, in my humble opinion, failed to match the quality of Thousand Year Door, even though they’ve been admittedly decent attempts by Intelligent Systems. I hope to see another game of similar caliber someday. Come on, Nintendo! You can do it!
This review was prepared for Review a Great Game Day (#RAGGD), a splendid event hosted by 1MoreCastle over at ReviewaGreatGameDay.com.