Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door – Switch Review

June 3, 2024

As the Switch nears the presumed end of its life, Nintendo seem to be keen on making it the one-stop destination for every variation of Mario’s RPG ventures. Not only is Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga available on its GBA service, not only did we get a remake recently of the lauded classic Super Mario RPG, but hot off its heels we also now have a remake of the simlarly-structured Paper Mario sequel from the Gamecube, Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door. Remembered as likely the best of the Paper Mario series, its welcome to have it playable for a wider audience on a relatively modern console, as this remake keeps everything that made the original work while adding some nice-to-have quality of life improvements.

Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door takes places over eight chapters, following Mario’s efforts to save Princess Peach from the villanous ‘X-Nauts’, who have kidnapped her as part of a plot to unlock the ‘Thousand Year Door’ beneath the town of Rogueport. What this boils down to is a series of episodic adventures as Mario chases after the seven Crystal Stars, needed to unlock the door.

These adventures are funny, charming, and above all unique compared to the rest of the Mario franchise, expanding Mario’s world in neat ways. There’s a fairly standard episode featuring Mario storming a castle to battle a dragon to open things, but before long you’re leading hordes of diminutive bugs like Pikmin, fighting in an arena, or battling pirates.

The real treat among all this though is the paper world that all of this takes place in. The development team obviously took delight in figuring out all the ways they could play with the 2 dimensional world of Paper Mario, along with the (then) more powerful processing of the Gamecube. Special enemies are often depicted as clever works of paper-craft, areas of the map can be flipped or torn away like stickers, and Mario himself gains ‘cursed’ abilities as the game progresses which play with the paper aesthetic. Mario becomes able to fold himself up into a paper airplane, paper boat or roll into a tube, all of which are used to progress past certain blocks to exploration.

Combat is a familiar mix of turn-based gameplay and timed actions, with Mario often forming your most versatile damage dealer, able to both jump on enemies and smash them with his hammer, and supporting characters filling out your party one-at-a-time with unique abilities, such as informing on enemies’ status or even blowing them away out of the field. Uniquely, combat takes place on a stage, viewed by an increasing audience which reacts more positively to better performance from you, filling your ‘star’ meter unlocking even more unique abilities. Amusingly, audience members can even throw support items or harmful weapons at you, forcing you to occasionally duck into the audience yourself to take out a heckler.

While combat is easy enough for all ages to engage with, it can also sometimes feel like an impediment to the main progression of the game, solving puzzles in the overworld and chatting with its many characters. The Thousand Year Door never feels too grindy, but the way combat is integrated does sometimes make it feel like an RPG of its time. However, the overworld puzzles and exploration are always interesting and clever enough to more than make up for their constant interruption, including some amusing interludes with both a controllable Princess Peach and a furious Bowser, upset his usual status as Peach-kidnapper and main villain has been usurped for this entry.

That said, there are still plenty of improvements that this Switch version brings to the table. For one, switching between supporting characters is made much easier with a character-select wheel in the overworld, often needed as you use each’s unique abilities to gather items or unlock pathways. A new fast travel room makes moving around the game’s world much simpler than it used to be. Graphics have been updated and expanded into widescreen, with revamped music (although the original soundtrack can be activated with a special badge). While the game still looks great, it should be noted it does run at a lower frame-rate than the GameCube original, which removes some of its buttery-smooth impressiveness, especially when it displayed hundreds of 2-D sprites at the same time. Some dialogue changes have also been made to clarify and restore the original intention behind the game’s translation as well.

Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door is an incredibly adorable adventure, largely due to its creative use of its paper-thin premise that subsequent games (Origami King aside perhaps) have not utilised quite as well. It’s the game people think of when you mention Paper Mario, and this remake updates the visuals, music and quality-of-life improvements in such a way as to make it the definitive way to play a classic RPG.

This review is based on code provided by the publisher for Nintendo Switch.

Positives:

-Charming, funny story that expands Mario's world in unique ways
-Cute array of paper abilities that play with the Paper Mario concept
-Simple RPG mechanics, that are easy to grasp for all ages

Negatives:

-Frame-rate downgraded from the original release

Overall Score: