Game Description: Paper Mario: Thousand Year Door is a full-blown role-playing game starring a classic 2D character! Time passes and pages turn, leading Mario to turn back to his paper form as he faces a new threat. Crawl through classic-style dungeons as you explore a number of levels, all taking you to different worlds and time periods. Every new chapter is a new adventure as you help Mario collect the Seven Star Stone jewels he needs!
It's like a waltz, really. "One two three, one two three," I count as the mustached man hops from one robotic arm to the other. Sparks with numbers in them fly and I feel the rhythm underneath. Swiftly, yet so beautifully it seems almost choreographed, our hero kicks the robot in the chest. "GREAT!" proclaims an announcer without a voice. The crowd roars, and I'm not sure if I've just won a boss fight or performed The Nutcracker Suite. But whatever just happened, I like it. A lot.
Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door feels familiar, like a favorite pair of jeans does. Immediately I recognized its combat system, a mixture of wait-your-turn strategy and thumb aerobics seen in the original Paper Mario and Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga. And the game's premise would give even the most casual Mario fan déjà vu: Princess Peach summons Mario to show him a fun-looking treasure map and gets kidnapped before he arrives. Yes, I've seen these things before, and yes, I still paid full price for this game. Do I regret it? Heck, no.
Like many good sequels, this new Paper Mario builds on what the original did right and fixes (most of) its problems. I really like the Nintendo 64's Paper Mario; nevertheless I've always wished its developers had done more with the game's paper theme. Sure, it's cute when Mario floats into bed like the plastic bag from American Beauty. But couldn't he use those floating skills to fly across gaps? Can't he slide under doors, Flat Stanley-style?
Somehow the folks at Intelligent Systems have answered my prayers. This time around, Mario learns all kinds of paper powers on his journey. He can fold into a paper airplane; wedge between small cracks; roll up into a paper tube. Abilities like these make for some challenging puzzles, and encourage players to re-explore areas they've already visited. When Mario learns how turn himself into a boat, for instance, he can sail on previously impassable rivers.
But this sequel doesn't just give Mario new papery skills. It also gives him his own audience. Battles take place on a stage, and everyone from Bob-Ombs to Pirahna Plants comes to watch. As Mario wows the crowd with fancy moves—especially ones that elicit praise like "Nice!" or "Wonderful!"—he fills up a bit of his Star Power meter. Star Power is what Mario uses to unlock the might of the Crystal Stars, which are mysterious objects guarded by monsters. Each Crystal Star that Mario collects gives him a spectacular skill: destroying all enemies with one blow, let's say, or toppling them with an earthquake.
I had a great time playing Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door. However, the game isn't perfect. Some of its quests had me running back and forth between the same two or three places. In Keelhaul Key, a man named Flavio wanted me to find one Admiral Bobbery. But Bobbery wouldn't come with me until I gave him a certain item. So I went back to Flavio, who had the item in question but wouldn't let me have it until I'd found another item to give him instead. In the immortal words of Charlie Brown, "AAAAAAUUUUUGGGH!"
I'm also of two minds about the cutscenes. Whenever Mario finds a Crystal Star, his story breaks for a little scene with Princess Peach. We find her in an undisclosed location, sneaking around to find out about her captors' plans. The player and a strange suitor help Peach uncover bits of information to send back to Mario via e-mail. (Not even the Mushroom Kingdom can escape the techno-invasion, it seems). On the one hand, I like how the Princess's scenes paint her as more than just a damsel in distress. She's brave, compassionate, and a vital aid to Mario's mission. But on the other hand—the trigger-happy one with the thumb posed tremulously over the "Start" button—I am too impatient for this. I've just beaten a boss and opened up a whole new world; I want to get back to the game now. These scenes (and those featuring someone whose identity I won't spoil) do indeed give the minor characters in Mario's story more depth. But they do so by putting the main story on hold just as it's getting exciting.
Still, these problems can't dampen my enthusiasm for Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door. It's a surprisingly deep adventure, one that, even after beating the final boss, has left me with so much to do. It's cleverly written and humorous. ("Great. Just great," grumbles Bowser after almost kidnapping a life-sized poster of the Princess. "Now I look like the huge, mighty king of GUYS WHO TALK TO POSTERS!"). Its battles are strangely beautiful. Most of all, Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door is the most fun I've had spending 50 hours—and 50 dollars—in a long, long time.
Tera has done a great job with her evaluation of Paper Mario, and I find myself in agreement with nearly everything she said. Paper Mario really is a great game, and the only area that I think I would like to reiterate is that I felt Intelligent Systems overdid it a bit on the backtracking.
Tera's example about being stuck on a desert island while searching for that one specific thing was a good one, but it was also just one of many. I finished the entire game in about 35 hours, and if the unnecessary backtracking had been removed, I bet I would have been done at least five or maybe even ten earlier. I don't mean to rag on it since it's practically impossible to find any RPG that doesn't pad its playtime with a lot of extraneous work designed to bloat the clock, but for a game that strips away a lot of nonessential things, it was a little disappointing to find myself actually conscious and aware of time being wasted as I was playing the game.
The most intense example of this is near the end of the game. Mario finds himself in search of one specific townsperson who happens to not be home. The game can't progress without finding this person, and I had to ask a ton of random townspeople until I got vague clues and actually revisited every single town in a giant time-wasting circle. Naturally, the person in question ends up meeting Mario at the very place where I started. I found myself getting very frustrated at this point, since it was obviously thrown in to eat up more hours before letting me continue on to the endgame. It's the most tedious, trying bit of searching I've done since the insanely distasteful last leg of Metroid Prime 2: Echoes, and I didn't enjoy it one bit.
Besides the running around (and three or four completely unintuitive I'm-a-stuck points) the game is pretty golden. The combat engine is just as fun and engaging as it was in the original Paper Mario, and I'm definitely a fan of the bright, colorful world drawn here. Tera was right in saying that being a piece of paper is more fully exploited this time around, and it was neat to see. Mario folding himself into a paper airplane, or rolling himself into a small tube were nice touches.
The game also has an interesting mix of RPG elements and some platform action carried over from the days before Mario took up golf, tennis, karting, painting, and getting lost in time.kartkart . There weren't very many areas where this was really explored, but they occurred with greater frequency towards the end and I enjoyed them very much. It just goes to show that some things never get old, and watching an Italian plumber leap from the top of a green pipe onto a floating platform is one of them. I also have to give major respect for the thing that Tera chose not to mention: the small parody sequences of the original Super Mario Brothers with Bowser crashing through platforms on his way to the green goal flag at the end of each level. There weren't nearly enough of these and they were far too short, but I enjoyed every second of them.
Despite my complaints about padding its length, Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door is a top-tier game that won't disappoint anyone in search of lighthearted RPG adventure. Intelligent Systems proves once again that they have complete mastery of their subject…although I still wonder why Luigi is kept pigeonholed as comic relief, instead of actively joining Mario the way he did in the GBA's Superstar Saga. Oh well, maybe next time...
According to ESRB, this game contains: Mild Cartoon Violence
Parents have almost nothing to worry about with this game. Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door has no gore and no bad language. Bowser's lackey Kammy Koopa does say, "I was shaking what my momma gave me!" at one point, but that's the most offensive content I saw. Also, the game requires a lot of reading and very young children may have trouble keeping up.
RPG fans will find a lighthearted send-up of genre conventions while platformer fans can test their reflexes during combat and jump to their hearts' content.
Deaf and Hard of Hearing gamers should have very little trouble playing this game. Early on Mario needs an item that makes a certain noise to defeat a boss, but players can draw on context clues to use it. (I used it quite by accident). Other than this problem, there are no significant auditory cues. Comments during battles (e.g. "Nice!") are written out and the story is told in text.