Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door Retail Hands-On

We delve deep into the impressive GameCube sequel to Paper Mario.

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We were fortunate to get our hands on a retail version of Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door a few days before it hits store shelves, and since then we have eagerly been putting the game through the paces. The Intelligent Systems-developed title is a sequel to 2001's Paper Mario for the Nintendo 64, but it also has a lot in common with last year's outstanding Game Boy Advance game Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga. Like its predecessors, this new Paper Mario is a full-fledged role-playing game, featuring a lengthy quest, a cool turn-based combat system, tons of charm, and a truly inspired visual style. That is to say, we're definitely liking what we've played so far.

Mario and company set out on an epic and colorful adventure in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, a first-rate Nintendo title.
Mario and company set out on an epic and colorful adventure in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, a first-rate Nintendo title.

Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door revolves around Mario's quest to (wait for it) rescue Princess Peach. Peach is quite self-conscious of her propensity for getting kidnapped, but Mario, bless his heart, hasn't grown cynical about having to keep rescuing the damsel in distress after all these years. He gladly sets off to help, and as it turns out, his long adventure will require him to locate seven different crystal stars that can be used to unlock an ancient treasure beneath the seamy city of Rogueport. Mario will end up traveling to a wide variety of locales, and he will meet up with some unlikely companions along the way. There are two main types of gameplay here: the exploration out in the field, which takes the form of a side-scrolling platform puzzle game, and the turn-based combat system.

The game's title refers to the fact that the entire presentation of Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door looks like something out of a pop-up book, what with all the hand-drawn, paper-thin characters running around. It's a wonderful-looking game, and it looks even better in motion than it does in still images, so be sure to take a look at all our videos to see it for yourself. The side-scrolling platforming bits of the game are quite well done and involve a lot of exploration and some light but interesting puzzle solving. Mario will get to use his well-practiced jumping ability and his trusty hammer to reach some faraway places.

Combat in Paper Mario is frequent but entertaining and fun to watch.
Combat in Paper Mario is frequent but entertaining and fun to watch.

He'll also get to take advantage of the fact that he's made of paper in this game. He'll gain abilities, such as turning into a paper airplane (allowing him to glide across vast chasms), or turning to the side so he can slip through narrow spaces such as jail bars. The sequences in which Mario gains his new powers are actually quite hilarious. He happens upon these insidious black-colored chests in which a powerful demon first cajoles Mario into freeing it, and then the demon "curses" Mario with an important new ability.

The English-language localization of Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door is excellent, though Nintendo fans would probably expect no less. Games like Mario & Luigi, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, and Animal Crossing all took a similar approach, in that they did not feature any spoken voice-over, but their text dialogue was terrifically written and presented. The characters in the game exude tons of charm and personality.

Mario's comrades in the game include Goombella, a smart yet slightly ditzy goomba girl who can look up important facts on Mario's colorful foes, as well as fill him in on the various locations that he'll visit; Koops, a down-on-his-luck koopa who's on a quest for vengeance on account of his missing father; and Flurrie, a plus-sized wind spirit who used to have a great singing career. Any one of these characters (once you find them) may help Mario during combat, and they have unique abilities outside of combat, too. But let's talk more about the combat.

Excellent dialogue and a charming visual style help reinforce Paper Mario's high quality.
Excellent dialogue and a charming visual style help reinforce Paper Mario's high quality.

Like its predecessors, Paper Mario 2 features a turn-based combat system that offers a keen combination of action and strategy. By timing button presses and other controller actions, you'll be able to maximize damage against your foes and minimize damage to yourself. It's fairly easy to get the timing down, but having to frequently interact with the combat scenes still helps make them engaging. Furthermore, you'll be trying to work the crowd as you fight, as each battle is set before an audience of dozens, and the crowd might either help or hinder you depending on how you're doing. Certain special moves are possible only when you've won enough favor from the crowd, but in addition to those, Mario and his allies may execute certain powerful techniques that can help turn the tide of a fight. Mario's foes include some usual suspects like goombas and koopa troopas, but also some unusual and never-before-seen creatures that would be more than happy to spoil the day. Fortunately, Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door isn't exactly a punishing game, and though the combat is fairly frequent, it's also quite fun and rarely nerve-racking.

Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door features an impressive presentation and a likable storyline that's suitable for all ages. The game has some obvious depth to it, including a significantly sized adventure that'll last you for several dozen hours. We're not all the way through it as of yet, but we are excited to keep playing. We'll bring you a full review of the game early next week, leading up to its release.

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