Genre : Adventure/RPG
Release Date: October 11, 2004
Buy 'PAPER MARIO: The Thousand-Year Door': GameCube
“Hey, man, what if we did a sequel to Super Mario RPG where Mario was, like, made out of… paper?”
“…Hiroshi, have you been mixing your medications again?”
Granted, the entire Mario series, to the casual observer, appears to be the result of a number of truly talented game designers experimenting with heroic doses of potent hallucinogens. I’m pretty sure everyone’s had that moment where they tried to explain Super Mario Brothers’ story to their mom and realized how damned weird the whole thing is, if they hadn’t realized it already.
The Paper Mario games take that to the next level. You’re still a misplaced plumber who’s somehow fallen into the role of the protector of the often-kidnapped Princess Peach, who’s one of a very few other humans in a kingdom comprised of turtles and mushrooms, but this time, the action takes place in what’s essentially a well-animated diorama. Characters aren’t animated so much as they jump from one state to another, you can see them flip when they turn around, and when you enter a building, the wall falls down like the side of an opened box.
In The Thousand-Year Door, a letter from Princess Peach brings Mario to the town of Rogueport, a distant harbor inhabited by sailors and thieves. She’s sent him a Magical Map which purports to lead to an unimaginable treasure, but when Mario arrives, he finds the map points to the location of an ancient and mystical door. The door is sealed by the power of the magical Crystal Stars, but is said to open once every thousand years.
Mario, with the help of a local Goomba scholar named Professor Frankly and the amateur archeologist Goombella, sets out to find the Stars and the truth about the Thousand-Year Door. At the same time, Princess Peach is missing, Bowser is on his way to Rogueport, Luigi is off on an adventure of his own, and the mysterious X-Nauts are trying to find the Crystal Stars before Mario can.
The first thing you may notice about Paper Mario 2, beyond the hallucinogenic glory of its premise, is that it’s a love song to the Mario series. Virtually every species from the past games makes an appearance in one way or another, from simple Goombas and Koopa Troopas to the island-dwelling Piantas from Super Mario Sunshine, here recast as the members of a Mafia-esque crime syndicate. Shyguys lurk in the back alleys of Rogueport, you’re constantly one step behind a female Mouser, and you’ll encounter Bob-Ombs as both allies and enemies. The end-of-battle music is a remix of the victory theme from Super Mario World, there’s a slot-machine gimmick during battles that’s identical to the 1UP games from Super Mario Brothers 3, Bowser’s the star of a minigame that recasts him as the hero of the original SMB, and Mario wields an arsenal of his weapons from a multitude of past games. Paper Mario 2 simultaneously celebrates and expands the Mario universe, making the entirety of it a richer and more interesting place; I’d go so far as to say that every long-running series could stand to have an action-RPG like this one, just for the sake of adding depth to their settings.
If you played the first Paper Mario, you’ll find that the second game’s much like it, right down to the nearly identical opening. With the added power of the GameCube, everything’s much clearer and smoother, with clean lines instead of the N64’s habitual fuzziness. The music’s a combination of remixed old tunes with new, surprisingly catchy tracks, and the sound effects have gone from muted to vibrant. There’s no voice acting – which is just fine, thank you – except for Mario’s usual monosyllabic grunts and yells, but everything else sounds just fine.
When you’re adventuring on the “overworld,” so to speak, Mario and his current companion are walking around on an essentially 2D plain. Here, the gameplay’s divided between simple platforming and circumventing obstacles using either Mario’s abilities or those of his partners. Your allies each have a unique ability which they can contribute to the task at hand; for example, Koops, a shy Koopa Troopa, can fire himself forward to trigger switches, while Flurrie, a former diva and wind spirit, can exhale a fierce wind that’ll blow away obstacles or smaller enemies.
Mario starts off with a hammer and his usual jumping ability. With some exploration and luck, you can learn a ground-pounding Spin Jump like that in Super Mario Sunshine, two powerful hammer upgrades, and a series of “curses” that’ll allow Mario to take advantage of his papery state. One lets you turn Mario sideways to slip through narrow openings, while another gives Mario the power to fold himself up into a paper airplane and take off from specially marked tiles. As is the usual case with this sort of thing, the puzzles that these abilities allow you to solve will start off easily, then mix up the pace so you’re eventually forced to use all of your available talents to proceed.
The only real problem with this style of play comes later on, when the platforming starts to get tricky; it’s easy to miss a few of the harder jumps by misjudging where you’re standing on the 2D plain. Remember how hard it was to make a jump in Double Dragon? The same problem applies here.
Most locations are full of enemies, who show up on the overworld as small patrolling mobs. When they see Mario, they’ll leap to the attack; if they nail you from behind, they’ll gain the advantage, while Mario can get the first hit in if he jumps on or hammers a mob.
When combat starts, the action shifts to a stage, complete with a cheering audience. Mario and his buddy can use a variety of special moves, both the ones they learn on their own and ones Mario can learn by equipping special Badges. Basic attacks are “free,” but special moves cost Flower Points to use.
At the same time, you can earn Star Power by playing to the audience. Every character-specific ability basically amounts to its own minigame, whether it involves button-mashing, solving a quick puzzle, or hitting buttons in a specific or timed sequence. If you do well at these minigames, you’ll either hit harder or the active character will perform a crowd-pleasing Stylish Move, thus increasing your Star Power.
When you start the game, Mario can only use his Star Power in one way, to activate the health- and Flower Point-replenishing Sweet Treat minigame. Whenever you find a Crystal Star, you’ll get another unit of Star Power, and learn another way in which you can spend it. These range from defensive moves like Power Lift, which’ll improve your offense and defense if you can manage to solve a puzzle, to offensive techniques such as Art Attack, which’ll damage an enemy every time you manage to draw a circle around it.
Combat in Paper Mario 2, then, winds up being a way to leverage how many ways you’ve got to win against how many enemies are in the area. There aren’t any “random encounters,” per se; instead, there are a set number of mobs that patrol each location, and once they’re gone, they’re gone. Several items and techniques can wipe out a group of enemies by themselves, but at the same time, some characters have abilities that can backfire on you. You’ve got to watch the screen and do your best to work with each move, which means you’re a far more active participant in combat than you are in most other RPGs.
Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door is genuinely a lot of fun. I suspect liberties were taken with the translation, which has quite a few laugh-out-loud funny moments as well as a few self-parodying plot twists (everyone involved has gotten really blasé about Peach’s habit of getting kidnapped, and Bowser would run off with the show if not for his relatively small amount of screen time), but it’s all for the best.
The only weaknesses Paper Mario 2 has, really, is that it tends to drag at times; many levels depend largely on frequent backtracking, especially in Chapter Four when you’re constantly running back and forth along Twilight Trail. The platforming’s also a bit irritating at times, and there are a number of items that I don’t think you’re meant to find without the official strategy guide. (Many Star Pieces, for example, will only be found if you’re obsessive enough to go back to virtually every room in the game once you’ve learned the Spin Jump.)
Even with that, Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door is simple enough for kids to enjoy, while challenging and funny enough that adults will get a kick out of it. It’s great for newbies to the Mario games, while it’s got plenty of nostalgic humor for older gamers. It’s one of the best Nintendo games in a while.
Score : 8.9/10