The Definitive 50 GameCube Games: #19 Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door

The series so far: The Definitive 50 GameCube Games.

Paper Mario for the N64 was one of that system’s best games, and certainly its best RPG. Of course, that’s not saying much considering the dire lack of role-playing titles on the platform. Third parties stepped up their RPG game for the Cube, and so did Nintendo. Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door is a sequel that expands, evolves, and improves upon its predecessor in almost every way.

Thousand-Year Door begins with Mario headed to the pirate-infested island town of Rogueport after receiving a letter from Princess Peach promising a treasure hunt. Once he arrives, Mario discovers things are not so simple, the princess has gone missing yet again and there’s a mysterious new group in town known as the X-Nauts causing trouble.

Rogueport conceals a secret hidden in the ruins it is built upon, the Thousand-Year Door, which supposedly contains a treasure for whoever can get it open. Mario is quickly caught up in a mission to find the seven Crystal Stars needed to open the door and hopefully track down Princess Peach in the process.

Players generally command Mario himself throughout the game, but he is helped along by an especially charming cast of allies. This time around, the great plumber is joined by such grand warriors as a goomba in a miner’s hat, a koopa troopa in a jogging suit, a salty sea bob-omb, and a pair of sexy lady ghosts. Sadly, Mario’s brother Luigi is left out of the main cast yet again. He does make regular appearances however, chiming in with stories from his adventures in the Waffle Kingdom.

As Mario’s quest “unfolds,” some time is given to check in on Peach and a frustrated Bowser, with both being playable at points. These side chapters offer a break from the action, as well as time for the kinds of comedic moments Mario RPGs are so well known for.

The game weaves a ridiculous tale that includes trips to such exotic locales as the ornate Great Boggly Tree, the chilling Creepy Steeple, and even the sweat-soaked wrestling ring Glitz Pit.

Thousand-Year Door’s graphics are a beautiful mix of finely assembled 2-dimensional objects and 3-dimensional environments. The combination allows for endless sight gags and absurdity. A massive ship for example, can change direction simply by being peeled off the dock and flipped, revealing its paper-thin construction. Mario himself is also quite malleable, possessing abilities like folding into a paper airplane, folding into a boat, rolling into a paper tube, and turning sideways for super skinny-ness.

Of course, the famously fun and highly interactive battles of all the Mario RPGs return in Thousand Year Door. Players engage creatively designed enemies, often taken from Mario lore, on a stage that provides a perfect venue for showing off mad strategic decisions as well as timed hits and blocks that are wholly off the chain.