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Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door Preview – Mario Goes Wild

It’s always sunny in Rogueport

It’s been less than six months since we got our hands on the colourful and beautifully composed Super Mario RPG remake. What started as the first foray into whacking Mario and co into the gameplay and narrative mould of roleplaying games popular of the SNES era has spawned the series into several flavours of RPG spin-offs in the years since. One such series is Paper Mario, debuting on the Nintendo 64 back in 2000. A late-gen title that turned the Mario universe into an appropriately paper-thin analogue of its 2D namesake that was followed up by the beloved Gamecube classic in The Thousand-Year Door. And hoo boy, it is a joyous privilege (as somebody who has never indulged more than a couple hours in the spin-off’s latter entries) to experience The Thousand-Year Door for the first time some 20 years after release. If you’ve even moderately enjoyed anything starring the scarlet plumber and have a taste for turn-based number thumping, you’re probably familiar with and excited about this rerelease. Heck, it’s worth getting excited even if you only casually indulge in turn-based RPGs. I can’t speak for those in the room who have played the original, but having embarked on the first six hours so far, I am thrilled to say that there is lightning in this bottle that is sure to leave a thousand-year impression on the medium.

Executing your turn-based attacks typically involves a rhythmic mini-game

Typical of virtually all games featuring Mario, there’s zero plot baggage here to prevent curious newcomers to the title. Not too unlike the standard Mario narrative, Princess Peach has been kidnapped it seems but this time, instead of Bowser’s involvement, a new villainous company known as the X-Nauts is responsible. Kicking off proceedings, the popular princess has mailed Mario an invitation to her supposed location along with a mysterious map said to lead to crystals and something to do with a thousand-year door. 

The Thousand-Year Door pushes the envelope for what could be considered an allowable satire of Nintendo’s sacrosanct money-making mascot

Mario leaves his green bro to be spat out at Rogueport, the location of this door and Peach’s last known whereabouts. This is a harbour town filled with goombas and bob-ombs in eye patches and striped bandanas playing piratical miscreants. Rather than kicking us into a typical Mario backdrop denoted by mushrooms or plain-Jane biome types, The Thousand-Year Door begins with something of a thematic departure by depositing us in a town beset by petty crime and makes for a fun inversion of the otherwise benign interactions with Mushroom Kingdom folk of other Mario titles.

The mouse said this after it swindled me out of a 100 gold “investment”

Rogueport serves as the game’s hub location and is as much a character as its criminal denizens. The writing here is hilariously irreverent. Between seeking out leads for the crystals and the amusing critical path stories they entail, players can spend a good amount of time in this little diorama town taking on side quests and getting to know the local rabble. Those side quests are refreshingly called “troubles” and have the game’s proverbial tongue properly bulging through its cheeks as you help track down the ne’er-do-wells who are compromising local goombas with credit card fraud or feed a (mouthless) bob-omb who is too busy with dreams of crime to take a meal with its family. Just top-shelf silly shit that is supremely fun to dive into. Other characters are a joy to stumble upon outside of troubles and the main quest, such as Ian Foomus, “the infamous info mouse.” All these shady characters start to corrupt our family-friendly protagonist, emphasised for me when he cornered a creature in a sewer and called it a “nerd” before threatening to kick its head in. He’s in his ruthless plumber era and the game isn’t afraid to remind us that he’s a proven, cold-blooded goomba-killing machine painted in reaper’s red. The Thousand-Year Door pushes the envelope for what could be considered an allowable satire of Nintendo’s sacrosanct money-making mascot.

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Laying the surprise smackdown on enemies in the world gives an advantage when combat begins

The 2.5D traversal had me squealing as I roamed the opening port. When entering buildings, the camera-facing exterior walls fall forward like cardboard or are peeled as a sticker as Mario enters the front door. As the player can move freely between the fore and background, using your paper-thin body to shuffle between the thin details of an environment often reveals consumable items, star shards to spend on powers, or easter eggs. Even before Mario unlocks abilities that further expand how he utilises his paper form such as flying as a paper plane or sidling through hairline cracks in the world, the diorama environment subverts expectations regarding 2D interactions and feels surprisingly ahead of the curve that LittleBigPlanet later came to represent.

Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door releases on Nintendo Switch on May 23, 2024

Previewed on Nintendo Switch // Preview code supplied by publisher

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Written By Nathan Hennessy

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