Review – Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door Remake

RPG: Rock, Paper, Goomba

Overview

Developer Intelligent Systems
Publisher Nintendo
Genre Role-Playing Game
Platforms Nintendo Switch
Release Date May 23, 2024

Every gamer has one: a game that defined your childhood. A game that you loved so much, got so invested in, and spent so much time with that you would not be the gamer you are, or possibly even the person you are, without it. It defined your gaming tastes for years to come, and you still find yourself comparing modern releases to it because it was that much of a benchmark. That game, for me, is Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door. So you can imagine my joy and bewilderment when, out of the blue, Nintendo announced a remake of this classic for the Switch. Released on May 23, 2024, the remake of Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door unfolded again on modern consoles, and boy did I forget how much of a ride this game takes you on.

Content Guide

Violent Content: Various characters make threats to the player. One boss, a dragon, says she will “saute you and gobble you down headfirst.” Enemies use weapons like spears and swords, though there is never any visible damage to Mario or his team. Koopa skeletons are implied to have belonged to real Koopas who have died. The town square of Rogueport prominently features a noose. Early in the game, a character in the background is seen getting beat up by members of a rival gang.

Foul Language: Characters use words like “dang,” “heck,” and “crud.”

Sexual Content: Various female characters flirt with Mario and kiss him on the cheek. Madame Flurrie has an arguably sexualized design, with prominent breasts, and her introduction music takes on a decidedly sultry tone. Vivian is implied to be transgender, stating that it took her a while to realize she was her sisters’ “sister, not their brother.”

Spiritual Content: Various enemies, such as Magikoopas, use magic as attacks. This magic is never anything more explicit than a flash of light. A character named Merlee can put a charm on Mario that offers benefits in battle. A fortune teller uses a crystal ball to give you hints if you’re stuck. Merlon upgrades your partners with a crystal ball. One enemy is described as “The Dark Gatekeeper” and says he will drag Mario to “the netherworld.” A ghost character says that he’s possessed another person to be able to write an email. A boss fight involves demon possession.

Other Negative Elements: A character mentions having a gambling addiction, with no intentions to seek help. Rogueport is filled with thieves who are unapologetic about their crimes. The Pianta Syndicate runs a protection racket against their rival gang the Robbos, and Don Pianta never has a change of heart over his violent ways.

Positive Elements: The game emphasizes the importance of friendship and teamwork, as well as community and generosity. Mario goes out of his way to help anyone he comes across, no matter how insignificant they may seem. Koops goes through a major character arc, going from a self-conscious coward to a confident Koopa. The game also touches on themes of healing from grief, standing up for what’s right, and staying strong in the face of adversity.

Review

The Thousand-Year Door begins with Mario getting a letter from Princess Peach. She’s writing from a town called Rogueport, and she’s got some big news: she’s found a treasure map! Rogueport is rumored to be built on the ruins of an ancient city, and within that ancient city exists a fabulous treasure. Mario sets off for Rogueport to meet her, but by the time he arrives, Peach is gone, and a group of weirdos called the X-Nauts is in town, harassing a young Goomba named Goombella for information about the Crystal Stars. Mario rescues her, learns that the Crystal Stars are the key to finding not only the treasure, but Princess Peach as well, and sets off on a journey to gather all 7 relics from across the land.

I’m not even going to pretend I can be objective about this game. It’s too far ingrained in my psyche for me to be able to step into full “reviewer mode.” My goal is to give you an idea of how the game plays, and what this remake does for the original title.

Gameplay

Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door plays very similarly to its predecessor on the N64. Mario and a partner walk around an overworld, solving puzzles and talking to various characters in order to figure out where to go next on their quest. The overworld is also where you collect items and badges to aid you on your quest.

Mario’s running speed is fine, but just a bit sluggish for some of the longer stretches of walking. You’ll get upgrades later on that speed him up considerably, and trust me, you’ll use them. The game even features some very light platforming in some sections, and it’s surprisingly responsive. It’s a little difficult to discern depth in the 3D space, so some of the sections are needlessly frustrating, but overall, these sections make for a nice diversion from the usual walking back and forth.

As you explore the overworld, you’ll encounter enemies that stand between you and the Crystal Stars. Touching them initiates a battle, and this is the real meat and potatoes of the game. Battles are turn-based: you and your partner have one action each, followed by each member of the enemy team. Battles start out basic, with just a jump and a hammer attack, but as you gain partners and badges, you’ll rack up quite an arsenal. The battles also feature Action Commands, timed button presses that, if successful, will grant you additional damage or reduce incoming damage. Mastering Action Commands is crucial to success.

Despite its basic appearance, The Thousand-Year Door’s battle system is surprisingly robust. Your partners each have different strengths and weaknesses, so as the game progresses, you’ll have to think strategically about which partner you want at which time. The Action Commands keep things engaging constantly, so you’re never just sitting there waiting for an attack to play out. If you’re really feeling confident, you can attempt a Superguard, which not only negates all incoming damage, but damages the opponent instead. The trick is, the timing is incredibly strict, so it may be worth settling for a regular guard and taking a little less damage than normal. The choice is always up to you.

Then there’s the badge system. As you explore, you’ll find a plethora of badges with various effects. Some badges give you special attacks, some give you immunity to status effects, and some do more complicated things, like giving you extra Attack power if your health is low. The badges give the battle system even more depth, allowing you to do specific builds for a run if you really master them. 

While both the battle and badge systems are simple compared to more “grown-up” RPGs, they’re perfect for newcomers to the genre, while still giving more experienced players something to sink their teeth into. I’m baffled at how far you can take these mechanics, and it makes this game one of the most replayable RPGs ever made. The fact that you’re limited by your Badge Points means that you’ve got to be really choosy when selecting your build, even late in the game. Depending on the choices you make, you’ll find new and ingenious ways to take down enemies.

Writing

As an RPG, The Thousand-Year Door depends heavily upon its story and writing, and it shows. This game has some of the best lines and characters in the entire series. A common critique of the more recent Paper Mario games is how they’ve leaned away from the more recognizable characters of past games, and this remake makes that painfully obvious. The game is absolutely brimming with personality, with unique and memorable characters in every chapter. 

The game riffs on the common characters found in Mario games, like Goombas, Koopas, Lakitus, and more, creating one-off versions of them for specific circumstances. You’ll find an elderly, slightly senile Koopa as Kroop, the mayor of Petalburg. You’ll meet a Lakitu cameraman who’s covering the fights at the Glitz Pit. Even the Toad characters are unique, with fun pun names for each of the major players. 

The game touches on some deep subjects for a children’s game, including grief, self-doubt and co-dependence, the folly of greed, and the importance of family. Far from being a simple kiddie romp, The Thousand-Year Door seeks to impact the player emotionally in a way that no other game in the series does, aside from Super Paper Mario.

Remake Differences

The original game just reached its 20th anniversary, and a lot has happened in the gaming space in that time. So what does this remake do to bring The Thousand-Year Door into the 2020s? Well, first off, the art style. The game has been rebuilt from the ground up with a brand-new art direction, and it is gorgeous. The concept of the Paper Mario series has always been that of a pop-up book, but the games never really leaned into that until later in the series, when it became the main selling point. The problem is, those games traded an engaging story for a fun art direction. Here, we get the art style of the later games like Color Splash, while keeping the heart of the original game.

Everything is clearly made of paper, and it’s a blast to explore all the little details the remake team added. Individual blades of grass crumple up when you hit them with your hammer. The ground of the Boggly Woods is made of those black scratch-off papers with rainbow foil underneath. Metal pillars glimmer with aluminum foil. Everything is bright, colorful, and bursting with life. The game really leans into the idea that you’re exploring these mini dioramas, to the point of Mario acting like he’s on the edge of a cliff if you try to walk past the boundaries. It’s not just an invisible wall; this really is a pop-up book.

The music, too, has been entirely redone, and it’s fabulous. I was a bit worried the game would lean too heavy into the jazz inspiration the later games have, and while some of the tracks go that direction, most of the tracks fit the environments even better than the originals. It was such a treat to hear some of my favorite tracks in gaming history redone so well, and it made the emotional beats hit even harder.

The most impressive thing about the music, though, is how there are different arrangements of the main tunes. Every area has its own version of the battle theme, keeping things fresh as you go about your adventure. Rogueport itself has 4 or 5 versions of its theme, and the game swaps between them seamlessly as you explore. Each track is lovingly crafted to fit its environment, and some of the later tracks are legitimately threatening, really nailing the ending. And hey, if you’re not a fan of the new tunes, there’s a badge you can equip to swap over to the old ones whenever you want.

As far as gameplay, there’s not much that’s changed, though I will say I found the game as a whole a little easier. Regular guards were far easier to perform, (though Superguards are still tough as nails) and the stage hazards affected my foes a lot more than they did me. They’ve also added a bit of inertia to the baby Yoshi’s running speed, which threw me off enough to make me miss some glides that I’ve always been able to nail.

There are some smaller quality-of-life improvements, such as a quick-change menu for partners, making swapping back and forth for puzzles a breeze. The game also increases your coin limit from 999, so money management is no longer an issue.

The remake also includes a brand-new character: the Battle Master. He shows up in every major area, and has a bevy of information about the battle system to help new players understand it. If there’s anything, and I mean anything, you don’t understand about the battles, chances are the Battle Master has a tutorial on it. He also gives you the chance to practice any Action Commands you want so you can nail down the timing without wasting your health. He’s entirely optional, which makes him a great quality-of-life upgrade for the remake.

The best thing the remake team has done with the gameplay, though, is the backtrack fixes. The original game is notorious for long, drawn-out sections where you have to retrace your steps for no reason. But every time I got to one of those points in the remake, there was a convenient pipe or spring to make traversal easier. No longer do you have to do the same tedious platforming section 4 times in a row. And if you’re a fan of the original, you’ll know about a particularly egregious segment near the end that was soul-crushingly dull. Without spoiling anything, I’ll just say that this remake fixes that too, while simultaneously making it a breeze to go back and sweep up any Star Pieces or Shine Sprites you missed.

There are even a few pieces of bonus content, like extra boss battles and concept art. So even if you know this game like the back of your hand, there’s still something new to experience on the Switch. My only major complaint with the remake is that the script removed some bits and pieces here that I really enjoyed, like the Bob-ombs in Fahr Outpost speaking in Russian accents. The goal of the remake was to make the script closer to the Japanese version, so it’s understandable, but I miss the Russian Bob-ombs nonetheless.

Conclusion

Far from being a mere upscale, Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door on the Switch is an entirely updated experience, from game engine to finishing touches. It stays faithful to the heart and soul of the original game, while making the entire experience shine with a polish it’s desperately needed since 2004. The remake only makes changes where they’re needed, leaving the rest of the game untouched except for visuals and audio. If you’re new to the series and want to see what older fans keep clamoring for every time a new Paper Mario game is announced, play this one. And if you’re one of those older fans clamoring for a return to form, or just wanting to experience this gem again, play this one. It is the definitive version of one of the best entries in the Mario franchise, and I’m so glad to have it back to play again and again and again.

The Bottom Line

 

Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door is the definitive way to play a genre-defining RPG, with redone visuals and music that nail every beat. For newcomers to the series and old-time fans, it's a must-play.

 

9.5

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Wesley Lantz

Wesley's first memory of video games is playing through Super Mario World with his mom when he was 3 years old. Since then, he's been a classic Nintendo kid, but has branched out to the far lands of PlayStation in recent years. He enjoys the worlds that video games create and share with their audiences, and the way video games bring together collaborators from so many different disciplines like music, visual art, literature, and even philosophy. He is an advocate for excellency in all things, but isn't immune to a few guilty pleasure games, which may or may not include Disney's Party for the GameCube.

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