Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door review – the best Mario RPG

Paper Mario's GameCube classic is still the best Mario RPG.
Nintendo

By modern Mario stands, Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door is weird. Sure, the world is filled with Goombas, Yoshis, Toads, and Bob-ombs, but many of them have unique names and outfits. Super Mario Sunshine’s Pianta race is present, but they’re a shady group of mobsters running the local parlor, speaking in stereotypical New York mob lingo. Yoshis have mohawks, wear jackets and jeans, and talk about how rough the hub of Rogueport can be. You get robbed quite early in your adventure. There’s a noose hanging in the middle of the town square. This is a different Mario game.

It’s almost surreal seeing such a well-realised Mario universe with an edge like this. Many characters don’t know who Mario or Princess Peach are, and Goombas down a dark alleyway will brag about being on the run after a string of robberies. Another Goomba is good at “getting rid of things,” which is heavily implied to be corpses, but you unload on him a laundry list of, well, dirty underwear. I could go on, but the main takeaway is this: every Toad and Goomba you encounter in this world in the towns and hub is memorable and unique. It’s not just another enemy to stomp or a nameless character to spout a single, repetitive line of dialogue. They’re named characters, and when you’re told to “Talk to Podley” you’ll know which of the dozens of named NPCs that is.

It’s all backed up by some of the funniest writing present in any Nintendo game – there are plenty of paper puns, and Paper Mario’s rotund and cutesy appearance clashes beautifully with every NPC describing him as “grizzled” and “manly.” But this is an RPG, and it’d all be for nothing if the hours of battling you’ll go through isn’t engaging.

Each area and character is memorable.
Each area and character is memorable. / Nintendo

I love small numbers. Playing modern RPGs, it’s sometimes hard for me to appreciate the difference between an attack doing 6,000 damage and 7,000 damage when the enemy has 800k HP. Sure, I’m getting stronger, but it’s difficult to appreciate how much it actually matters. Paper Mario has basic attacks that output one – that’s 1 – damage, and you can increase that to two with a contextual input. It’s balanced, of course – early enemies will only have around four HP – but when you use an item or ability to double your attack power, suddenly you can take a foe out in a single hit instead of two. Likewise, a permanent attack buff will add one damage to each of your attacks, so that two damage can transform into four with the contextual input. When you start by doing one damage, every increase of one feels like a magnitudinal improvement.

That’s the important thing to keep in mind when you see the seemingly simple battles in Paper Mario. It’s a turn-based combat system where Mario and a partner can perform a single move each per turn (usually), and it’s usually either a jump or a swing of a hammer for Mario. There are elemental affinities and such, but it’s pushed to the background. Your main focus will be jumping on flying enemies to take them out of the air, and using your hammer to take out enemies that have spiked shells and heads. It’s incredibly simple to take in, until you come up against flying enemies with spikes, at which point you’ll need to spend Flower Points (FP) on Special Moves.

You will eventually earn a badge allowing you to defeat weak enemies in the field instead of starting a battle, and smart play will allow you to take out most fights in a single turn – maybe two – so it’s doesn’t wear you down too much. That brings us onto badges, which are similar to Materia in Final Fantasy 7. Each badge takes up Badge Points to equip, and you can earn more Badge Points when leveling up. Some badges offer access to Special Moves or passive buffs, while some will provide outright increases to your attack power, while costing more Badge Points. Badges are essential for taking tough foes out quickly.

Few Mario games have this kind of personality.
Few Mario games have this kind of personality. / Nintendo

You can find badges everywhere in the world. There are hidden items in almost every area – the optional partner Ms. Mowz can help you find them – and you can also complete optional side quests, called Troubles, for a variety of rewards. New Troubles become available between each chapter in Rogueport, and they force you to navigate the world and talk to familiar NPCs to continue their questlines. Sure, you reinstated the true champion of the Glitz Pit, but did you go back and challenge him yourself?

There is a room accessible from Rogueport that allows you to use Warp Pipes to access every other town in the game quickly, which is the only form of Fast Travel the game provides, but even that doesn’t make clearing through all of the Troubles simple. They’re not difficult in themselves, but you can only collect one at a time from the building in Rogueport, then you must usually talk to the quest giver that might be in a different town, find the thing they want (possibly at the end of a previously completed dungeon), and then walk all the way back to them, before going to pick up another Trouble. 

Troubles do an amazing job of making the world feel more complex and alive, asking you to remember and revisit characters, seeing how they know one another, but they’re tedious to complete. The ability to pick up multiple Troubles at once would completely solve this.

Who could possibly resist?
Who could possibly resist? / Nintendo

And after hours upon hours of playing Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door for the first time since the original GameCube release, that’s really the only flaw I could find. It’s brilliant, but a little slow-paced at times. The characters and areas are memorable, the combat is simple but satisfying, and this Nintendo Switch remake looks like a true papercraft world. This is the best Paper Mario game, and the best Mario RPG ever made.

Score: 9/10

Platform: Nintendo Switch


Published
Dave Aubrey

DAVE AUBREY

GLHF Deputy Editor. Nintendo fan. Rapper. Pretty good at video games.