On July 22, 2004 in Japan, Nintendo and Intelligent Systems released a follow-up to the cult hit N64 game Paper Mario. The game, titled Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door in the West, would take the concept established by its predecessor — a 2.5D RPG with a paper aesthetic — and expand on it, utilizing new mechanics and more content thanks to the GameCube’s technical prowess. Despite not being quite as well received critically as the first game, it was still a hit, earning top billing among many fans of the franchise.
I remember first playing Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door at my cousin’s house. I’d briefly played the original, but this was a full-out experience for me. I didn’t get all that far; I think I only managed to beat the second boss, but what I played satisfied me immensely. Not only was this an RPG that I could actually pick up and play, something I couldn’t say for many other RPGs at the time, but its paper gimmick made me gleeful all the while. It was tapping into my inner child, something my 14-year-old self wasn’t expecting. It was merely a shame that I didn’t progress further until a year or so later, when I rented the game from my then-local Blockbuster.
What’s made Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door endure, at least in my mind, is that it keeps its premise creative without overthinking it. Later sequels would eventually fall victim to that trap, but for now it was about as expansive an RPG that a game titled “Paper Mario” could be. If you wanted to turn into a paper airplane and fly around, you could do that. If you wanted to turn into a boat, you could do that too. Even basic gimmicks like turning sideways or curling up and rolling around, both ideas I wouldn’t have thought of on my own, are accounted for with Mario, and they’re a lot of fun.
The paper legacy
Of course, the game definitely had a sense of humor as well. Everything from the constant quips of the side characters, to the frequent fourth-wall breaks, to even mocking Mario’s short attention span all made the game as funny as it was fun. And given that the story itself was, pardon the pun, paper-thin, that added touch of comedy helped keep everything engaging. It also made the game’s characters memorable.
But I think the true testament to the game’s success is its fandom to this day. Future Paper Mario entries would become increasingly divisive, but this earlier entry is still pretty fondly remembered even now. It’s one of the GameCube’s most celebrated games, arguably one of its best RPGs, and is frequently caught in the crossfire with its predecessor in the debate over the best entry in the franchise. Personally, I happen to like the original slightly more, but I’d bear no grudges if someone made the case for this being the superior game.
What do you think about Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door? Is it a masterpiece on par with or better than its predecessor, or is it overhyped? Let us know in the comments.