Paper Mario: The Fifteen-Year Roar
The Paper Mario series folds in upon itself
The Paper Mario series is a bastion of Weird Nintendo goodness. Weird Nintendo, of course, being that risk-taking, formula-averse side of the company that brings us stuff like the Wario Land games. The RPG-cum-puzzle-cum-adventure-cum-platformer Paper Marios, however, are on another level. Many have criticised the direction the series went in, with the 3DS titles Paper Mario: Sticker Star and Paper Mario: Color Splash receiving accusations of an aesthetic homogenization. While it’s true that the breadth of creatures and characters is notably reduced in these instalments, I think it’s unfair to extend that to the gameplay, which I found enthralling in its relentless focus on exploration.
That said, with Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door turning 15 today, I can see why people have found themselves disappointed with subsequent entries. This Gamecube stunner is an expansive thing and thoroughly diverse in both tone and aesthetic. Indeed, the opening town (with its gallows front and central) feels like a far cry from anything you’d ever have seen in a Mariogame beforehand. Additionally, every chapter takes place in a totally different and wholly unique environment; you’ll ascend a large hollow tree filled with swarms of Pikmin-like creatures, solve a whodunit on a train ala Agatha Christie and perhaps most memorably, battle for your life in the Glitz Pit – a laugh-out-loud pro wrestling pastiche.
Personally, I found that the meat-and-potatoes RPG gameplay didn’t match the invention and creativity on display in almost every other aspect of the game. For many, this is not the case, and it’s the later entries that don’t cut the mustard in their pursuit of compelling moment-to-moment gameplay over witty exchanges of dialogue. The very next game in the series – Wii’s Super Paper Mario - over-egged the pudding to fascinating effect, presenting such an unusual world full of bizarre, almost anti-fun challenges that it registered as a near-Lynchian take on Super Mario and his pals.
I'm shocked that the game has never seen a re-release; it's ripe for another go-around and I'd definitely buy an HD version on Switch. It's entirely speculation, but I wonder if the transgender character, Vivian, is one of the reasons for Nintendo's reticience to reissue the title - the original localisation omitted that aspect of Vivian's identity, a decision that certainly would not go down well in 2019.
Paper Mario, thanks to its constant evolution, is a divisive series by design. But everyone can agree that there’s something to appreciate about The Thousand-Year Door.