Coming out towards the end of the N64's life Paper Mario was missed out by a fair number of people yet it was touted as one of the best games for the system. After the SNES team-up with Squaresoft, Mario donned his RPG hat on again and turned paper thin in his new adventure. For those people who turn to eBay and don't fancy paying £50 for the much sought after game then help is at hand. The Thousand Year Door brings back Mario to his papery goodness.
As ever Princess Peach has been kidnapped. The girl just cannot stay out of trouble for more than five minutes and you'd think by now she'd have a swarm of Secret Service agents around her at all times instead of Toadsworth but it seems she doesn't learn. Off on a little journey around the world they make a quick stop at Rougeport, a seedy little town full of undesirables, Peach thinks this is the perfect place to give the old Toad the slip. Alas, she is soon kidnapped and enlists Mario's help (again) to save her. Mario, being as under the thumb as he is, is quick to help but it soon transpires there is more to her kidnapping than is soon thought. Underneath Rougeport are the remains of a once marvellous city and the Thousand Year Door which contains an ancient evil. To open the door seven Crystal Stars must be collected. As ever it seems some evil and bumbling organization wants to open the door and release the evil so its up to Mario to try and nab the Stars before they do and rescue Peach as well.
Upon first playing The Thousand Year Door people who have played the first Paper Mario may not think much has changed. The graphics are spruced up but still look essentially the same. The battle system is nearly identical and also borrows from Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga. You also have a buddy following you around and aiding you when you need a hand. However there are some subtle little changes that do differ from the original and although not drastic the fact is that the original was good enough anyway so there was no need to change a winning formula. Progress through the game is simple. Divided into seven chapters it is up to you to find the Crystal Star and beat the boss of each chapter. As a nice little touch you can also play as Peach and Bowser who has a great set of levels based on the Super Mario Brothers games of old.
Although there are a number of different areas each one manages to play differently to the last. In one area you could be guiding small creatures Pikmin style through a giant tree, or you could see yourself a rising star in the boxing ring and then you can try your hand as an amateur detective in an Agatha-Christie inspired chapter. It is testamount to good game design that you never feel like you are repeating yourself over and over in each area just to progress and each chapter challenge is extremely fun to play through. Areas will need Mario and his chum to solve little puzzles and battle enemies to move on. Sometimes puzzles are only solved by using Mario and his paper skills, with you being able to fold yourself into a aeroplane or a boat and make yourself paper thin to fall through cracks. These abilities mean that some clever set ups can be used during the game, starting off simple and becoming more complex, the puzzles are never really going to cause headaches but are, for the most part, nicely thought out and challenging. Exploration is also vital to sniff out hidden areas and sometimes rely on Mario's conventions of leaping from platform to platform or hitting familiar-looking switches.
Battles remain largely unchanged. You and your partner fight against the enemies taking it in turns to do so. While it is simple on the surface the system has hidden depths. You can perform normal attacks such as whacking an enemy with a hammer or jumping on their heads. Using Flower Points means you can use more powerful attacks that Mario or his partner at the time may have. Many of these moves for Mario are gained by equipping badges you find in your travels, they are wide ranging and can mean that you can jump on enemies with spikes on their heads to whacking enemies with the hammer with far more force. Partner's special attacks are learnt via a simple 'levelling up' achieved by collecting Shine Sprites. As for levelling up, Mario levels up each time he collects 100 Stars (gained in battle) and he can level up Health, Flower Points and Badge Points. Obviously the more health and Flower Points he has the fitter and better equipped he is to dish out special moves. Badge points is where the hidden strategy comes into play as these not only give Mario special moves but can also help with his and the partners defence, attack power and dodging skills and with only a limited number of points and so many badges you'll have to find the right balance. A big change to the battle system is where you battle. This time battles take place on stage in front of an audience. It is up to you to pull of moves well in order to please the audience and they may just help you out by throwing some useful items. They also add up your Star Power, this is a metre that lets you pull off some of the biggest attacks in the game so if you want to survive later battles you need to get the audience on your side and keep the metre filling up.
The whole physical process of battling is a lot of fun and always involves you as a player to be aware all the time. Attacking can be a simple press of the A button but sometimes to do bigger moves you will need to use a combination of buttons to achieve maximum result. To further please the audience you have you need to make your moves not only hit the mark but make them look good. If you pull off moves well a slot machine type function is triggered, line up two matching symbols and you a machine will appear which can help fill up your health, Flower Points and more. Pressing the A button at the right time after an attack could learn you a Stylish move wowing the crowd. Yet it isn't just attacking that keeps your fingers busy. Pressing A just before an enemy attacks lessens the damage and pressing B can even make them damage themselves though it is harder to pull off. You will also need to watch out for any audience members throwing unwanted objects at you. Although it sounds hectic written down, when playing you will soon settle into the rhythm and pulling off all the moves with style and confidence.
If you want a break from the main quest then you can also solve a long list of 'troubles' people have. Posted in a building at Rougeport Mario can accept a trouble ranging from delivering some ingredients to trying to find a Toad that is hiding and get a reward. Sometimes it's just coins, other times it can be a rare badge. These side-quests are little more than a find and deliver type of challenge and not everyone will bother with them but completists will want to try and solve them all if only for those rare badges. If helping people isn't your thing just stop off at the arcade in Rougeport and you can try your hand at three mini-games (though you actually will need to help people to gain access to them) these games test your skill with Mario's paper abilities and while they aren't truly amazing are a nice diversion. With these added little escapades you can spend quite a bit of time on the game with around 30-40 hours depending how much you want to play which is a very nice length and the fact it never goes stale or boring makes the time fly.
The games quirky and beautiful looks makes the game a visual treat. Although not a big transition from the original game the game manages to use the extra power of the GameCube well. The graphics are sharp, crisp and bright throughout every single world you visit. Each area is as good as the last and filled to the brim with little touches to create a vibrant world to travel through. The paper-book styling are presented in a 2.5D world. Looking 'behind' flat walls or stairs reveal various treats, hitting blocks makes the background rip to reveal a new area or platforms. Characterisation is strong in the game. Your buddies are varied not only in terms of moves but personality. Also all around the game there are references to the catalogue of games Mario has starred in, with many familiar faces cropping up. Techinically the game is sound with no clipping and next to no load times to interrupt the play.
As with many first-party titles there is no speech at all for characters. There is an awful lot of text to the game and it would have been nice for some speech but luckily the text itself is interesting. The dialogue is often amusing, with little in-jokes about past Mario games and the rather odd fascination everybody has with Mario and his moustache. Of course there are more than a few memorable tunes in the game, though more would have been nice.
There are very few drawbacks of the game. The story does take a while to get going and you may groan at the fact Peach is kidnapped again but a few more hours play soon gets the game going. Also sometimes you will find yourself backtracking a few times to progress. Not everybody's idea of fun but throughout most of the time backtracking routes are small and if you do need to go further there is always a shortcut at hand to cut down on any frustration.
The Thousand Year Door is probably one of the finest titles on the GameCube and a more than worthy successor to the original game. If you like your RPGs then you have to give this a try and don't be fooled by its basic looking exterior. It's a shame that it probably won't appeal to more than just the army of Nintendo fans out there. But if you want something different than another Need For Speed or GTA then give this game a try. It has bags more charm, is far more fun and much more rewarding than any half-baked ideas that are on the market now. Open the door and play one of the best games of 2004.
[9 out of 10]
PAPER MARIO: THE THOUSAND YEAR DOOR IS
Masses of fun
Lovely to look at
PAPER MARIO: THE THOUSAND YEAR DOOR IS NOT
As simple as it looks
Over in a flash
The 2nd paper mario game the first was originally released on the N64 and the 3rd on the wii. Personally this is my favourite of the three.
Although the graphics and box art look childish this is one of those cases were it is suitable and enjoyable to all ages.
The games plot once again sees princess peach being captured by an evil nemises, however this time its not Bowser it seems to be a group of evil aliens who are after the secret stars which after all are gathered under the city of the games focus releases an unspeakable danger from the thousand year door.
This game is really great because it runs somewhat like a story book with chapters which determine your next area of secret star location. You also get to play as Bowser through what looks like the original super mario brothers game which is short but fun experience every time mario gets a star off an end of stage boss, you also get to play as princess peach at the aliens layer and discover valuable information you must send back to mario.
The controls for this game are really easy to use, it is really easy to switch partners in the RPG part of the game, and access which items or weapons you want to use.
Each battle is turned into a stage and the more stars you collect the more magical powers you can use, this is powered up by the audience which varies depending on what area you are in. So as well as attacking you have to press buttons in the right time or order in order to appeal to the crowd.
You also gain star points for every battle you win and after you gain 100 star points you can choose to level up on health, flower points(special moves) or badge points, badges lets mario use new attacks or resistance to poison or sleep.
This game is really a joy to play and is really quite addictive, the music and visuals encourage you to play on.