Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door Review

Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door Review

Back And Forward

The Mario brand of RPGs represents some of my favorite adventures in the genre. The comedic tone, inviting art, and active battle systems have always been highlights for me. However, Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door was a personal blind spot. I played prior and subsequent Mario RPGs but skipped this one when it was originally released in 2004. At that time, I was not yet employed at Game Informer. With Nintendo remastering this acclaimed RPG for Switch, I welcomed the chance to finally play it. I am impressed by how improved the visuals and music are two decades later and found that, for the most part, the comedy holds up. I now fully appreciate and understand The Thousand-Year Door’s reputation as a classic, but it is not without its 20-year-old headaches. It arguably presents the first signs that the series would be less interested in being an RPG in the coming years and would ultimately suffer as a result.

Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door characters in a colorful game setting
Image Credit: Dexerto

Visuals and Presentation

The Thousand-Year Door has always been an attractive game. Nintendo excels at prioritizing evergreen art styles over fidelity, and Paper Mario is a poster child of that approach. The unique paper-cutout aesthetic gives the game a timeless quality, making it stand out even among contemporary titles. For the Switch version, lighting effects are the primary improvement, and they make a huge difference – the game looks fantastic and modern throughout. The new lighting enhances the vibrant colors and intricate details of the world, bringing new life to the characters and environments.

The remastered version also benefits from enhanced textures and character models. Mario and his companions look sharper, and the various locales they explore are more detailed and immersive. The improvements are subtle yet impactful, ensuring that the game feels fresh while maintaining its nostalgic charm. Beyond the look of the game, a number of small changes (like faster partner switching and shortcut keys) help smooth out the experience and generally remove annoying hurdles.

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Gameplay and Mechanics

Combat remains enjoyable without much need for modernization. I am a sucker for timed-button pressing in any RPG, and I welcome it here. The action commands add an engaging layer of interactivity to battles, requiring players to stay alert and precise. Successfully executing these commands can turn the tide of battle, adding a rewarding sense of mastery.

However, I was surprised to see that the execution prompts exist throughout the whole game. I assumed they would disappear after the tutorials and was annoyed to learn they never leave. Although necessary and tactically useful, the special abilities are time-consuming, and I would dread having to engage them. That feeling extended to the partners as well, and I used the ones whose attacks could be executed the fastest, even if they didn’t do the most damage.

The badge system, which allows players to customize Mario’s abilities and stats, remains one of the game’s standout features. Collecting and equipping badges provides a sense of progression and strategic depth. Players can tailor Mario’s skill set to suit their playstyle, whether that means focusing on powerful attacks, defensive maneuvers, or unique abilities. This level of customization adds replay value, as experimenting with different badge combinations can lead to varied gameplay experiences.

Adventure Elements and Story

Over time, the Mario RPG series has wavered between being an adventure game and an RPG, and it is here that the Paper branch of the tree started growing more in the adventure direction. Subsequent games, like 2020’s The Origami King, completely drop leveling mechanics, which is a mistake. I love having a sense of progression and enjoyed it here even if I felt like I was going back in time to see its final hurrah.

Where the adventure game mechanics work is in the game’s worlds and characters. It is a breath of fresh air to see wholly new characters in a Mario game, especially on the occasions when they feel out of place with the Mario aesthetic. The inhabitants of Rogueport and its surrounding areas are quirky and memorable, each contributing to the game’s rich tapestry of humor and personality. I looked forward to seeing every new location and the unique characters that lived there, and I was never disappointed.

The story of The Thousand-Year Door is another highlight. It follows Mario on a quest to collect seven Crystal Stars, which will unlock the titular Thousand-Year Door and reveal a long-lost treasure. Along the way, Mario is joined by a diverse cast of partners, each with their own backstory and abilities. The narrative is filled with twists and turns, keeping players engaged throughout the journey.

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Backtracking and Pacing Issues

However, further on that desire to be as much an adventure game as an RPG that Paper Mario has always struggled to reconcile, The Thousand-Year Door has too much backtracking. Nearly every location in the game involves going to the end of an area to acquire an item, taking it back to someone, and then going back to where you were and redoing every fight on the way. With limited options for fast travel, the process was often tedious.

The repetitive nature of backtracking can hinder the overall pacing of the game. Certain chapters feel padded out by the need to revisit previous locations, which can disrupt the narrative flow. While exploring the richly designed environments is enjoyable, the constant retracing of steps can become a chore. Implementing more fast travel options or streamlining certain quests could have alleviated this issue and maintained a smoother gameplay experience.

Non-Mario Sequences

The sequences where you are not playing as Mario are similarly unexciting. Peach has fun dialogue with an AI struggling to understand emotions and enjoyable puzzles to solve, but if Bowser had been entirely excised from the game, I don’t think I would have noticed or cared. His minor payoff at the end was not worth checking in with him between every chapter.

Peach’s segments offer a nice change of pace with their light-hearted puzzles and charming interactions. However, they lack the depth and engagement of Mario’s adventures. Bowser’s segments, on the other hand, feel more like filler content. While they provide a few humorous moments, they don’t contribute significantly to the overall story or gameplay experience.


For all the annoyances of repeating areas and slow (but engaging) combat, The Thousand-Year Door is now a series highlight. It marks the first instance of where I didn’t want a Mario RPG to go (I generally prefer the Mario & Luigi direction), but the constant fourth-wall breaking, myriad colorful and unique characters, and its willingness to just be weird all lead to a joyful journey. The game’s humor, from pun-filled dialogue to clever visual gags, remains sharp and entertaining.

The remastered version on Switch ensures that a new generation of players can experience this classic title. The visual and quality-of-life improvements make it accessible and enjoyable for modern audiences, while retaining the charm that endeared it to fans two decades ago. I am grateful that this shined-up version of the GameCube classic I missed is finally available on a contemporary platform.

FAQs About Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door

Q: What platforms is the remastered version of Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door available on?

A: The remastered version of Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door is available on the Nintendo Switch.

Q: How does the remastered version of Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door differ from the original?

A: The remastered version features improved visuals and music, enhanced lighting effects, faster partner switching, and shortcut keys to smooth out the gameplay experience.

Q: Does the remastered version retain the original game’s humor and art style?

A: Yes, the remastered version retains the original game’s humor and art style, which have held up well over the years.

Q: Is there a sense of progression in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door?

A: Yes, Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door retains the RPG mechanics, including leveling up, which provides a sense of progression throughout the game.

Q: What are some of the drawbacks of Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door?

A: Some drawbacks include excessive backtracking, repetitive combat sequences, and the time-consuming nature of special abilities.

Q: Are there any new characters in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door?

A: Yes, the game features wholly new characters that add to the charm and uniqueness of the Mario universe.

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Q: Does Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door have adventure game elements?

A: Yes, the game blends RPG mechanics with adventure game elements, including puzzle-solving and exploration.

Q: Are there any sequences where you don’t play as Mario in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door?

A: Yes, there are sequences where you play as other characters like Peach and Bowser, although these sections are less exciting compared to playing as Mario.

Q: What makes Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door a series highlight?

A: The game’s humor, unique characters, fourth-wall breaking moments, and engaging combat system make it a standout entry in the series.

Q: Should I play the remastered version of Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door if I missed the original?

A: Yes, the remastered version is an excellent opportunity to experience the classic game with modern enhancements and is highly recommended for both new players and fans of the original.

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