Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door (2004)
Paper Mar: TTYD is a sequel in style and gameplay to the original Paper Mario. The graphics are better (but everything is still paper), the controls are smoother, and the locations are even more varied and interesting than ever. Besides the staple Mario cast, it features a unique cast of distinct and quirky characters. It really feels like a Paper Mario 2.0, and I think it is an improvement in almost every way. Besides the whole paper world thing, the main gimmick of this game is that fights are now done on a stage, where you can gain or lose audience appeal and even receive help (or hindrance) from audience members. If you have enough appeal, you can cast certain spells. It plays on the fact that the whole world knows Mario, and it makes it a fun part of the story.
This game doesn’t take place in the Mushroom Kingdom, and instead is centered around a town named Rogueport. It is a seedy but very busy city, and always has plenty of shady activity going on. Mario goes there to meet Princess Peach, who found a treasure map and wants to hunt for the treasure. When he gets there, he finds out that she is missing (who could have seen this coming!). Anyways, you end up searching the surrounding areas for 7 crystal stars so that you can open a gigantic red door beneath Rogueport that is fabled to have the treasure behind it, and hasn’t been opened for 1000 years. Now, this plot has many things in common with Paper Mario, but varies on the main villain, the true purpose of the crystal stars, and what the nature of the treasure is. It has kind of a twist climax, and some really bizarre antagonists (a weird technology focused group called the X-nauts who are also gathering stars).
Once again you can play as Peach between acts, as she attempts to communicate with Mario through sentient computer (who falls in love with her) while also exploring the base she is trapped in, trying to discover the villain’s plans. She has to do things like dance, mix potions to become invisible, and dress up like guards to get around. These parts are fun and usually pretty short. Something that is new, however, are Bowser sections. Bowser pursues Mario the entire game, but is really just comedy relief, barring him ambushing you with a boss fight right after you just finished a tough one. Anyways, in Bowser sections, you play as him on classic Mario Bros. stages, but he smashes through them quite easily by eating meat and becoming huge. These sections are pretty amusing, but not there for a challenge, just as a fun thing for people who appreciate the callbacks to old Mario games.
The writing is probably better in this game, with companions having more interesting things to say and more significance to the plot. The people (or things) you talk to are often brilliantly done bits of witty writing, including evil chests that “curse” you with new paper-based powers, grizzled Russian Bob-ombs, Pianta mobsters, and a rich, smooth-talking pirate wannabe. Even if they aren’t important, everyone gets a pretty clearly-defined character. The writing on the plot is also better this time, as I mentioned above, it managed to pull a few unexpected reveals out and come to a satisfying conclusion. The music in this game is still top-notch, and the settings are probably even more fantastic.
The combat in this game is basically the same as in Paper Mario, with the addition of the stage and audience mentioned above. It’s a pretty dynamic setting for a turn-based system. One of my favorite changes, though, is the addition of superguard, which is the ability to block all damage from an attack (and probably hurt the enemy too) if you time it just right. Beyond that, there’s lots of new badges and abilities to experiment with, and many new enemies with new attacks too. I managed to figure out a setup of badges that broke this system really easily, letting me jump for upwards of 15 damage per turn.
Every chapter in this game is well-contained and internally consistent, and each one has a very specific flavor, and tries to shake up the norm. My favorite chapter has a section where a doppelganger ghost literally steals Mario’s identity, and runs off with his friends. There’s also a chapter where you get shipwrecked while looking for treasure and end up making friends with the spirit of a long-dead pirate captain. There’s even a part where you go to the moon. There’s a ton of side-quests in this game, and plenty of optional areas to visit, too. Honestly, the only chapter I didn’t like was the one where you solve a mystery on a train, because I felt like it dragged on way too long. It’s just about the only part of the entire game I don’t like.
So that’s pretty much it. Paper Mario TTYD is just a much better, more polished, more original version of Paper Mario. There’s more new ideas, more options, just…more. It’s definitely one of my favorite games, and it had the right mix of silly and serious for me. The combat is strategic and quick, and the writing is much improved. I just really like what they did with this game. That’s why I felt so…betrayed, for lack of a better word, by the latest game in this series, Super Paper Mario. I’ll get into that next week. Thanks for reading.