The most iconic name in video game history returns in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door. Your story begins with the Princess being captured, leaving only a map behind to help Mario find hidden Stars (sound familiar?) in hopes of locating Princess Peach and finding a hidden treasure. However, this time, it is not the King of the Koopas, Bowser, behind the abduction of our beloved damsel in distress. It is a new group of villains, knows as the X-naughts.
In this sequel to the N64 classic, Mario is once again a flat sheet of paper running in a pop-up book world. This go-around, Mario actually benefits from his anorexic state by turning himself into a paper airplane, rolling up into a ball, or turning sideways to slide through cracks in walls. The stylized look of the artist remains, but now the key to success is taking full advantage of your 2-D body.
The fighting system is similar to most turn-based fighting games but it has a few welcome additions. The biggest difference in Paper Mario is the player and audience participation during battles. That’s right, audience! When you are engaged in combat, you and your teammate are taken to a stage to fight anywhere from one to six enemies in front of an audience. Depending on how you perform, the audience can either be your fans or hecklers. If you perform well, the crowd will multiply and cheer you on. However, if you perform badly, your crowd will dwindle, disappear entirely, or throw objects at you out of boredom. The audience is a key feature in the battle system. A positive response from the crowd allows you to build up special move points much more quickly. Along with the audience participation, Paper Mario gets the actual player more involved in the fights by using a system that allows you to hit opponents with double damage, reduced damage, or counter attacks by clicking a button at the precise moment. All attacks from Mario and his friends have different methods of using the controller. Standard turn-based fighting games can quickly become repetitive, so this is a nice feature to incorporate because it keeps the player more involved.
The graphics are beautiful as with most Mario Brothers games. The cartoonist book style view is bright and crisp. The artist blends depth shading tricks into the characters and scenery, giving a 3-D appearance in a 2-D world. I actually hate to call it graphics though because this is really more about art. That may scare some people off, but it really is a joy to view this game.
Controlling Mario is easy and responsive. Non-combat movement like platform jumping and puzzle solving are easily executed. Navigating through inventory and combat options are also simple. Several turn-based RPGs suffer from bad controls outside of fighting, but Paper Mario uses a very basic movement scheme and near perfect camera angles. I had no trouble keeping track of Mario throughout the entire game.
The best aspect in Paper Mario for me is the subtle humor throughout the game. For example, people treat the kidnapping of Princess Peach as an every day occurrence. Even Peach doesn’t seem too distraught about the situation. The appearance of Bowser at the beginning of Chapter 2 is truly funny. A disturbing infatuation with the Princess is revealed, and you get an amusing take on Bowser’s view of Mario. Upon the realization that Princess Peach had been kidnapped by someone other than himself, Bowser almost has a nervous breakdown. “I’ve got to kidnap the princess from the kidnappers”. It is clear throughout the entire game they have no problem poking fun at themselves.
I did have some issues in the game. On some occasions, it is difficult to place Mario directly across a certain object, or directly underneath something. It can be hard to judge your precise location because of the paper thin, 2-D environment. Another issue that kept the game from receiving a better score is the lack of replay value. Once you finish the game, which is an estimated 30+ hour endeavor, I see no reason to play it again. The story is very light, and you only have a few choices of partners throughout the game. The game keeps you on a linear path, so once you beat the game, you have seen it all. I would also like to add that even though Paper Mario emphasizes the comedic aspect of the Princess being kidnapped again, which is funny, it’s starving for originality. Keep in mind, too, that this is a sequel, so even the 2-D paper-like environment has been done before.
Basically, Paper Mario is a great addition to the franchise. The RPG element is a good addition to the GameCube and Mario franchise, and the comedy throughout the game is great. This game is made for Mario fans. You will laugh throughout the game if you catch all the subtle jokes within the text. It isn’t exactly revolutionary, but there are some key moments in the game that just had me grinning from ear to ear, so I can’t help but recommend this game to fans. Just keep one thing in mind. Do not buy this game if you are looking for a really deep story line. This is simply a good RPG that is, more than anything, a tribute to the history of Mario.