Review: Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door for Nintendo Switch

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After the commercial success of Paper Mario: The Origami King (2020), which has since become the second best-selling game in the franchise (following closely behind Super Paper Mario), the Nintendo Switch is now seeing the release of another Paper Mario game, and it’s one you might already be familiar with. Despite selling less than two million copies, Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door has received quite the cult-following since it first released for the GameCube in 2004, and is widely considered to be the pinnacle of the series due to its deeper narrative and engaging turn-based RPG combat system. Paper Mario has taken quite a different direction over the years, with many losing hope of it ever returning to its peak, so it was a very welcomed surprise when Nintendo announced a remake of The Thousand-Year Door. With excitement in the fan-community growing as we’re just a few days away from launch, does the game still hold up nearly 20 years later and is there enough new content to justify its existence?

Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door takes place in the sea town of Rogueport, built on top of an ancient city that was forced underground by a great catastrophe long prior. After receiving a mysterious treasure map and a letter from Princess Peach requesting assistance, Mario travels to Rogueport only to find that she’s nowhere to be found. This is where you meet your first party member, Goombella, a young college student who offers Mario help in finding the treasure that her professor, Professor Frankly, has coincidentally been researching, and hopefully finding out Peach’s unfortunate whereabouts along the way. After meeting with Professor Frankly, he tells the tale of the “Thousand-Year Door,” a locked entryway beneath Rogueport which is said to hold the treasure Mario seeks, and can only be opened once obtaining seven “Crystal Stars.”

That pretty much sums up the prologue, but there are still eight chapters to follow, which took me around 25 hours to complete and still left with lots to do. Gathering the Crystal Stars, opening the Thousand-Year Door, and finding Princess Peach is the basis of your adventure, but the story is full of so many twists and turns that are better discovered by playing the game for yourself, so I will only be using vague terms when referring to plot elements going forward. After defeating the final boss of each chapter and nabbing the Crystal Star as Mario, there are two subsections of gameplay where you take the perspective of Peach and Bowser. These are short yet crucial parts to the overarching story that slowly unfolds as you progress.

Peach hasn’t been kidnapped by Bowser like you may have expected, but rather by an organization of X-Nauts that are desperate to find the Crystal Stars for their own nefarious purposes. While captured, Peach meets the X-Nauts’ supercomputer known as TEC that starts to develop feelings for her that it isn’t programmed to and doesn’t quite understand. Meanwhile, Bowser is also determined to find the Crystal Stars for himself after he is informed by his minions that not only is Mario after them due to a promised treasure, but Princess Peach has been kidnapped by someone other than him.

Most of the story of The Thousand-Year Door is told through text-based dialogue and interacting with personality-filled NPCs. Every chapter is set in a different location/environment with a unique set of characters that has their own side-plot, some of which will even end up joining your party. Oftentimes with RPGs, I’ll focus on the task and skip most of the dialogue, but here, I genuinely wanted to talk with every NPC that I came across due to their well-written, comedic, and sometimes even emotional commentary. I never thought a Mario game would make me genuinely tear up, but when it deals with topics such as love, sacrifice, acceptance, and even death (albeit in a lighthearted Nintendo way), it’s easy to get invested in the narrative.

Vivian, one of the many characters that you’ll meet in the game, had a unique backstory in the original Japanese release that was entirely absent from the English translation. Fortunately, in the Nintendo Switch remake, Vivian is now confirmed to be a transgender woman, even in the localization. While it’s not stated outright, it’s very directly implied when she says things like “it took me a while to realize I was their sister…not their brother” when referring to her siblings. She later goes on to say “Mario is the only person who’s ever been kind to me,” and though it doesn’t get much deeper than that, having a game set in the Mario universe that isn’t afraid to dabble with more serious subjects is part of what makes The Thousand-Year Door so special.

While exploration and character interaction are a big part of the overall gameplay experience, there is so much more to TTYD than just the linear story. Rogueport acts as the hub-world for Mario to travel to new areas, take on side-quests, visit shops to purchase items using the coins you’ve collected, and so much more. When taking on new areas, there are environment related puzzles to solve, Shine Sprites to find that can be used to increase the rank of your party members, as well as Star Pieces to purchase badges that provide Mario with passive abilities when equipped. Some sub-areas can’t be accessed without a certain gameplay mechanic or a party member that will later be unlocked later while progressing through the main campaign, so keep that in mind if something that you come across seems suspiciously impossible to reach.

There are plenty of enemies walking around any given area (outside of the hub-world) that you can engage in battle with, and you’ll earn Star Points (which are basically experience points) for every battle won. After earning a total of 100 Star Points, Mario will level up, allowing you to permanently increase either your max HP (Heart Points), FP (Flower Points), or BP (Badge Points). HP is pretty self-explanatory, as it’s the amount of health you have and equates to how much damage can be taken in battle, FP is required to use “Power Smash” moves, which are more powerful than standard moves, and BP determines how many badges that you can have equipped at once. HP and FP can be replenished by either using specific items, leveling up, sleeping at an INN, or hitting a recovery block that are often available prior to a difficult area, though it costs coins to use.

As with every good turn-based RPG, the combat system in The Thousand-Year Door is complex under the hood for those who hardcore enough yet easy to understand for the common gamer. In the overworld, if you strike an enemy with your hammer before they get to you, the battle initiates and you get the advantage of attacking first. Once you select an action/attack for both Mario and your party member, it’s the turn of the enemies’ team, and you go back and forth until one of you loses all of your HP. Although you can swap between party members mid-battle (which counts as a turn) only one of them can be used at any given time. Well-timed button presses are key when both attacking and dodging attacks, as it can increase/reduce the amount of damage that’s given/taken. Doing this successfully will also help increase your Star Power, allowing you to use special moves that are unlocked with each Crystal Star that you obtain. Different enemies are more susceptible to different types of attacks; for example, only Mario’s jump attacks can reach an opponent that’s floating, while his hammer attacks are better suited for those that are grounded. The abilities of your party members also play a big role in helping to secure a victory.

As mentioned in our preview, newly added content that’s exclusive to the Switch remake includes a fully remixed soundtrack (as well as unique new battle themes for each area), an art gallery, sound gallery, a quick wheel to conveniently swap between party members, and a more easy to navigate menu UI, but something I didn’t mention before is that there is now a warp zone that allows you to fast travel to the areas of each chapter via a warp pipe after the respective chapter is completed. This prevents the excessive backtracking that was required in the original (especially in Chapter 6), and while some backtracking is still present and can feel a bit excessive at times, it’s definitely a major improvement and a much appreciated addition.

Many have pointed out since the release of the initial gameplay trailer that Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door runs at 30fps as opposed to the 60fps on GameCube. Nintendo obviously opted for high-end graphics, lighting, and textures rather than performance, and although it only happens rarely, the framerate even drops below 30fps when there are lots of assets on screen. While the game indeed has an absolutely incredible art-direction and gorgeous visuals, some kind of performance mode like in Fire Emblem Warriors (this is the only first-party Switch example I can think of) would have been nice to see, even if the lower framerate didn’t personally bother me too much due to the papercraft aesthetic and slow-paced movement. 

Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door for Nintendo Switch improves upon the GameCube classic in almost every way; not just with its impressive graphical overhaul, but with plenty of quality-of-life changes and additional content too. As long as you can handle some occasional backtracking and a reduced frame-rate of 30fps, this is undoubtedly the ultimate Paper Mario RPG experience. Mario games usually put the narrative to the wayside to focus on having fun and engaging gameplay, but The Thousand-Year Door manages to do both and succeeds at it in such a way that still hasn’t been topped 20 years later. Don’t miss out on what all the fuss is about when Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door launches for Switch on 23 May 2024.


A copy of Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door for review purposes was provided by Nintendo UK.


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