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Developed by Intelligent Systems and released by Nintendo for the GameCube in 2004, Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door was the third console-based roleplaying adventure staring everyone's favorite mushroom-eating plumber. Preceded by both Super Mario RPG and Paper Mario and later succeeded by Super Paper Mario for the Wii, this critically acclaimed title is easily one of the best games in the series, rivaled only by the SNES original.
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Graphics & Sound
Visually, Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door won't win any awards for flashy special effects or super detailed, uber-realistic character models. As is typical of most Mario games, the graphics are stylized, in this case featuring mostly flat-looking 2D characters walking around a three-dimensional world. It gives the impression that the characters are made out of paper, hence the game's moniker, and the effect is enhanced by the fact that many bosses appeal to be works of origami. Music and sound effects are pretty much typical for a Mario game, meaning you can expect bouncy sound effects, upbeat but hardly orchestral quality music, and the occasional murmur from Mario serving as the title's only voice acting. It may be a minimalist approach, but it gets the job done nicely.
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On the whole, The Thousand Year Door plays a lot like the original Paper Mario. Battles are turn-based but feature timed button presses and other similar player input mechanisms that can increase damage on offense and reduce it on defense. Enemies are visible on the screen, which means that there are no random battles. The game does contain some platforming elements, as well as badges that the player can equip to add special attacks, boost stats, or provide other similar effects. The game is broken down into multiple chapters, and while most of it features Mario and the companions that join him along the way, there are also short bits starring the abducted Peach as well as Bowser, who is on a rampage trying to find both Mario and the people who kidnapped the princess in his stead.
Of course, there are some notable new additions. Most noteworthy is the addition of different "curses" that will befall Mario, which are actually creative new abilities that allow him to change into a paper airplane, a boat, etc. These are used to solve various puzzles along the way and, given the whole "paper" theme of this series, they fit nicely into the gameplay. Also, some of the chapters feature unique scenarios, such as Mario assuming the role of a professional wrestler or being forced to solve a mystery on board a train. Also, all of the battles take place on a stage, and how well (or poorly) a player performs at combat will result in an audience forming or dispersing. They are essential as Mario will eventually gain powers that can only be recharged through the cheers of those in attendance. The mix of the familiar with these fresh elements works well.
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This time around, Bowser is not the main villain, although there are a few battles between Mario and his old nemesis. Rather, in The Thousand Year Door, Peach is kidnapped by a group called the X-Nauts while on a treasure hunt, and it is up to Mario to find her. To do so, he sails to the island of Rogueport, where he also gets involved in a hunt for seven objects known as the Crystal Stars, which he believes is the key to finding the missing Peach. Along the way, he is joined by several companions, each of whom have their own abilities and their own reasons for tagging along, and in typical RPG fashion the whole thing eventually winds up with the heroes needing to save the world. There are some minor twists along the way, but we're not exactly talking about an M. Night Shyamalan movie here. Regardless, the plot itself is surprisingly good, and the writing strikes a good balance between humor and drama.
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Players can expect to be entertained throughout. The game is lighthearted and never takes itself too seriously, and the humor usually hits its target. Particularly amusing is the way that the game often breaks the forth wall, addressing the player directly. It isn't unique, as other games have done so before, but it works well. The gameplay is fun and fresh throughout, and the "curse" system is a nice addition, playing well off the theme. There are also multiple minigames throughout, a number of side quests available, and the Pit of 100 Trials -- a lengthy dungeon that unlocks late in the game and contains ten groups of ten floors, nine of which feature an enemy to battle and the tenth which contains a treasure -- all of which help to extend playtime. As is the case with most Mario games, The Thousand Year Door delivers when it comes to fun factor.
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If you're a die-hard Mario fan, chances are you already own this game. If you like roleplaying games, you definitely should check it out. After all, it's not like there are a ton of options for RPG fans on the Nintendo GameCube, and this is easily among the cream of the crop. As the more than one-million gamers who have to date purchased the game already know, this is a quality product that will keep you interested and entertained for at least a good 20-25 hours. Plus, thanks to the wonders of backward compatibility, the game is playable on the Nintendo Wii, and better still, it is now available for under $20 used. At that price, Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door is an excellent value.