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Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door review - flat-out fantastic

We’ve been dreaming of this Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door remake for years now, and we’re glad to report it’s no disappointment.

Custom image for Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door review with Mario and the gang on stage

Our Verdict

Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door is a lovingly crafted remake that brings all the fun of the original while including some helpful quality-of-life updates that do away with tedious traveling. There’s a reason this game is a fan favorite, and this enhanced version lives up to all the expectations.

While I couldn’t be much happier that Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door is finally coming to Nintendo Switch, the prospect of reviewing the game is pretty daunting. Not only do countless Mario fans hold this game closer to their hearts than any other from the series, but remakes are hard enough to review in their own right. Still, I signed up for the job, and darn it, I intend to do it well. So, let’s get into it.

First, though, a little context, Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door first arrived on GameCube in 2004, with Nintendo teaming up with developer Intelligent Systems for the original and this remake. Combining RPG mechanics, hilarious dialogue that really pushes the envelope for a Mario game, and a fantastic game world to explore that blends ideas from the Super Mario series with new material, it instantly became a fan favorite.

In terms of the plot, Paper Mario: TTYD sticks to the classic Mario formula by sending our mustachioed protagonist on a quest to save Princess Peach, but there is a bit of a twist. Bowser isn’t her captor. Instead, she finds herself in the lair of Sir Grodus and his cronies after finding a magical map in Rogueport, this game’s hub world city. Fortunately, she manages to send this map to Mario, who promptly investigates.

On arriving in Rogueport, Mario bumps into Goombella, who in turn leads him to Professor Frankly. From there, the good professor points you in the direction of the game’s namesake, The Thousand-Year Door. You find it, but guess what? This is a Mario game, so it’s time to get star-hunting, with Mario requiring seven Crystal Stars to open the door and discover the treasure inside. Unfortunately, Sir Grodus and his X-Nauts catch onto this plan pretty quickly, and the race begins to track down the legendary artifacts.

Screenshot for Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door review with Punies discussing Mario's appearance

If there’s one thing I love about this game’s narrative, it’s the pacing. The way it introduces new characters, enemies, and weapons keeps you engaged throughout. It’s something the Paper Mario series hasn’t quite been able to recreate since. Time just flies by, and before you know it, the final chapter is upon you, despite the adventure feeling like it’s just begun.

Much of the joy of Paper Mario: TTYD is in its cast of chaotic characters. Even if you’ve not played the game before, you’d probably recognize a few of them. There’s Goombella, a Goomba academic and your first partner, Koops, a down-on-his-luck Koopa searching for his father, and, of course, Madame Flurrie, the wind spirit diva, to mention a few. While the way the partner system works doesn’t give the gang much opportunity to develop a dynamic, the game nudges you into swapping partners regularly, so there isn’t anyone you feel you like don’t know by the time the credits roll.

Each partner has their strengths in battle, and by slowly collecting Shine Sprites, you can level them up alongside Mario himself to unleash their true potential. I’m a Koops-man through and through, there’s something about that miserable little Koopa I can’t help but relate to, but you can take on enemies with whoever you most connect with. There are a couple of sections that require certain partners, but for the most part, it’s your call.

Screenshot for Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door review with Mario standing in front of the door with Goombella and the professor

The world design of Paper Mario: TTYD is fantastic, too. I’d forgotten how much it embraced some of the design aspects from Super Mario Sunshine, like Shine Sprites and Piantas. It’s nice to see them once again, given that Nintendo has essentially asked us to forget about the game outside of a couple of Mario Kart tracks over the years and its place in the Super Mario 3D All-Stars collection.

In glorious HD, this game looks wonderful. The sprites are cleaner, the battle stages are more colorful and have a visible depth, and exploration is a treat with each location benefitting from a visual glow-up. I’m glad that Intelligent Systems decided against trying to reinvent the wheel with Paper Mario TTYD’s visuals. It looked great then, and with the benefit of 20 years of technological advancement, it looks better than ever.

Screenshot for Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door review with Mario talking to a couple by the sea

An integral part of the world of Paper Mario: TTYD that I had forgotten how much I loved is the puzzles. This game is full of them. It activates the brain a little more than classic platforming, especially if you’ve forgotten the solutions in the 20 years since the original. It’s intelligent game design from Intelligent Systems, as you should expect, and all these years later you can see its influence in games like Bug Fables: The Everlasting Sapling and Born of Bread.

I can’t forget to mention the Bowser intermissions, which bring a bit of a respite if you ever feel a bit of puzzle-solving fatigue. There’s nothing like barrelling through a copycat Super Mario platforming level as the big bad himself, smashing obstacles and helpless Goombas out of the way. These levels never really offer much of a challenge, even in the late game, but it’s a fun inclusion that lends to the overall experience.

Screenshot for Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door review showing a Bowser intermission level

An engaging world, charming puzzles, and great characters are all well and good, but this is an RPG, and RPGs rely on battle mechanics that give your brain that little tingle. Paper Mario: TTYD hits the nail on the head with its combat. The action command mechanic keeps you more involved than the usual rock-paper-scissors approach of a turn-based battle system and missing a button cue can be the difference between beating a boss and taking it from the top.

For those who don’t know, Paper Mario: TTYD makes the meta move of literally staging all of its battles. When you take on an enemy, Mario takes to the stage in front of a crowd. You can either appeal directly to the crowd or impress them with your moves to gain star power, which you then use to pull off special moves. Every time you find a Crystal Star, you get a new special move, and using these souped-up attacks or buffs becomes incredibly important as you proceed on your adventure. Ultimately, it’s a well-rounded battle system that never really gets old.

Badges further add to the battle system, acting similarly to materia in Final Fantasy XII. You equip Mario with a selection of badges, giving him access to some game-changing moves and effects. The further into the game you go, the more strategic you have to be with your badges, and there are some that can turn a boss fight on its head and hand the advantage to our plumbing pal.

Screenshot for Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door review showing the build-up to the fight with Hooktail

Boss battles are especially captivating, from your first sizeable encounters against a giant Blooper in the Rogueport Sewers and Hooktail soon after to the late-game bosses that really put you to the test. That isn’t to mention the mid-game Glitz Pit gauntlet, my highlight of the whole game, that forces you to endure 19 battles with win conditions that rely on you experimenting with your tactics. By the time you emerge from the Glitz Pit, you should be ready for whatever lies ahead.

If, at this point, you’re reading this review and asking “That’s all great, but what’s new?”, don’t worry, I’m getting to it. If you’re the type that likes to go into these remakes without any inkling of what to expect in terms of new content, it’s time to stop reading now. Okay, that was your warning, so let’s-a-go.

When it comes to quality-of-life improvements, this remake finds the perfect balance of introducing some new and helpful ideas without sullying the memories of the original. For a start, the new hints system is fantastic, especially if, like me, you were still struggling to tie your shoelaces the last time you played. With a simple click of the ZL button, you get a hint from Goombella on where to go next. She doesn’t even need to be your partner at the time, just hit the button, get your hint, and carry on your merry way.

Screenshot for Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door review with Mario looking at the third star on the adventure on the belt of a boss

Backtracking is also easier with a new fast-travel system in the Rogueport Sewers. This is especially useful when you’re solving troubles, this game’s version of side quests, giving you an easy way of revisiting locations like Petal Meadows, Boggly Woods, and beyond. You can also switch partners quickly now thanks to the partner ring, which just takes a click of the left shoulder button to open. It’s a streamlining that fans of the original game are sure to appreciate. There’s more new content to discover, but it’s exciting stuff, so we’ll leave it to you to come across that in your own playthrough.

As was the case with last year’s Super Mario RPG remake, you get the option to swap out the remastered soundtrack for the original music pretty early on. Just pick up the Nostalgic Tunes badge in Rogueport, and those sweet retro melodies are all yours. There’s also another little change in Pianta Parlor, with the slot machines giving way to a tile-matching puzzle. Gambling isn’t cool, kids.

Screenshot for Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door review showing the Nostalgic Tunes badge in a shop

It’s worth mentioning that the game runs like a dream on Switch. That’s hardly a surprise given it’s a remake of a 20-year-old game on hardware that’s now over seven years old, and Intelligent Systems has a lot of Switch experience under its belt. Simply put, don’t expect any performance issues.

Before round-up, I have to say, I’ve not played many remakes that feel as fresh as this. I don’t know if it’s something about the tongue-in-cheek dialogue, my disappointment with recent Paper Mario outings, or a combination of those things and more, but this game doesn’t feel like a remake of something from 2004. It goes to show that truly great game design is timeless, and here we have a perfect example of that.

All-in-all, Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door is a joy. It’s fundamentally a more playable version of the original game, with helpful additions tearing away the tedium and turning this adventure into a streamlined experience with a vivid new lick of paint. Whether you grew up with Koops, Goombella, and the rest of the crew, or you’ve never played a Paper Mario game before, I can’t recommend this one enough.

Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door arrives on Switch on May 23, 2024. If you want more thoughts on the latest Nintendo Switch titles, check out our Moonglow Bay Switch review, Princess Peach: Showtime! review, and South Park Snow Day Switch review.