Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door Review

X-nauts mark the spot.
Paper Mario The Thousand Year Door Switch header

It’s always sad to see great games receding back into the mists of time, whether they’re all-time greats trapped on defunct consoles and operating systems, or smaller indie titles under the sheer weight of modern game releases. At least some of these games are given the opportunity to leap back to the forefront and relevance, and thankfully it means that Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door is back to be enjoyed by a brand new generation.

Through the Nintendo Switch’s life, Nintendo has been far from consistent in how it’s treated the GameCube. After largely ignoring it for the first few years, there’s then been emulator-based ports, enhanced HD ports, and full remakes. Thankfully, Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door is getting the full works, a ground-up rebuild of the game in a new engine, making one of, if not the best entry in this beloved series available to play on the latest Nintendo hardware.

Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door typifies the kind of individuality that the earlier games in the series were able to cultivate. Sure, there’ Goombas, Koopas and Toads all over the shop, but they’re joined by new and original characters and creatures throughout. From the small secretive critters known as Punies, to the X-nauts, the Three Shadows and beyond, they stand out when compared to later games – The Origami King, for example, felt like it was almost entirely Toads wearing different hats. Having this breadth of characters also helps to feed into a script that’s wonderfully humorous and quirky throughout.

Paper Mario TTYD Rogueport

There’s also a darker twist to the world you’re exploring. The Thousand-Year Door opens with Paper Mario summoned to Rogueport, a town which is as rough as you could imagine for a Mario game, from the graffiti and background gang encounters, to the fact that there’s a literal hanging frame right in the middle of the town square! There’s massive shifts in the visual design of the places you visit, when comparing Rogueport to the charming village of Petalburg, and then the utterly distinctive Boggly Woods with its colourful floor pattern contrasting with black tree trunks, white foliage and grey creatures.

The whole game has been remade with a crafted appearance that’s more in keeping with the last few entries in the series. You can see card edges and folds in so many objects and through the scenery, while Mario and other characters have the appearance of thick card stock – Card Mario isn’t quite as catchy, though – and the battle scene in particular now feels like a pop-up diorama, still with the theatre curtains and audience members watching on.

Paper Mario TTYD Boggly Woods

The one jarring element of this makeover for me remains the shiny and reflective floor, which doesn’t feel in keeping with the rest of the art style – it makes sense for a metal floor, sure, but less so for grass or woods. It’s the one effect that I’d like to have been used more sparingly, but it’s a small quibble when we have the loveliness of dynamic lights, or the floor in Boggly Woods going from a static colour gradient to a colour-shifting iridescence.

Another important factor for a Paper Mario game is the combat, and here we get to go back to the good old turn-based with timed actions from the original. This is an RPG of small numbers, with health measured in the tens, damage dealt in the single digits, and with one partner character at a time. It’s a refreshing simplification after the more puzzle-like combat of the most recent game, Paper Mario: The Original King, or the cards system from the 2010s. Thanks to the widescreen view, the UI has been made less cluttered, and all of the attack button timings have refreshed graphical elements.

Paper Mario TTYD combat

There’s also a relatively minimalist character progression system. Every 100 Star Points earned in battle lets you level up and increase health points, flower points (for special attacks), or badge points. It’s the latter one that is generally more important to get, as everything beyond your core abilities and items you earn (like better boots for jumping) depends on applying badges.

The more badge points you have, the more badges you can apply, which will either buff you or your allies in combat, add new attacks… or make your attacks sounds different. You’ll want to try and explore every nook and cranny to find Star Pieces, which is one way that you can buy more badges, find chests that can net you extra badges, or just use regular coins at certain shops.

Paper Mario Thousand-Year cutscene

Really the main foible of The Thousand-Year Door was and is the amount of backtracking that can be involved in some areas and chapters. You can feel it seeping into the game fairly early on as you go hither and tither, and it’s maybe made a little more noticeable by how broken up some areas are into separate rooms and through various pipes. This remakes quality of life improvements feel more subtle than certain other remasters, but there are still plenty of good improvements. The Warp Pipe room is overhauled to make switching regions quicker and easier to access, you can nudge Goombella for advice with a single button press, switch partner characters without dipping into menus, and there’s some more helper characters sprinkled through the world for those that need them.

Summary
Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door is a wonderful remake of a GameCube classic. Now in a modern game engine, but with all the quirkiness and charm of the original story and characters, and with a return to the original Paper Mario combat style, it's great for Mario RPG fans and newcomers alike.
Good
  • A great remake in Paper Mario's modern papercraft style
  • The original combat style holds up
  • Great characters and humour
  • Subtle but welcome quality of life tweaks
Bad
  • Could have done more to target backtracking
  • The floors feel a bit too shiny to me
9
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