‘Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door’ review: doesn’t fold under pressure

Nintendo recaptures the overwhelming charm of its 2004 classic, but there's still room for improvement

“I  can’t believe I’m kidnapped again,” grumbles Princess Peach as she languishes in yet another prison cell. “Everyone must be worried sick. Again”. Like our full-time damsel in distress, the déjà vu is boundless in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, a remake of Nintendo’s iconic 2004 role-playing game (RPG) of the same name.

In this 2D paper cut-out adventure, Princess Peach has been snatched by the villainous X-Nauts, a bunch of baddies who are on the hunt for Crystal Stars – rare artifacts that can open the titular Thousand-Year Door and uncover whatever mysteries lie behind it. This leaves our favourite plumber with two jobs: rescue Peach, and find the Crystal Stars before the X-Nauts do.

It’s a familiar story, but stands out by being one of Nintendo’s funniest games to date. Witty, irreverent writing means every character gets to shine. When series villain Bowser is informed of Mario’s treasure hunt, he rages – “Are you going to call me every time that guy blows his nose? Sheesh!” – before a timid lackey reminds him of blood pressure troubles. Even goodie two-shoes Mario gets in on the fun, thanks to RPG-style dialogue choices. When a cornered forest spirit decides Mario isn’t a bully, you can agree or say “Guess again, nerd” – and by the way we’ve gleefully recounted the dialogue, you can probably guess which option we picked.

Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door. Credit: Nintendo.
Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door. Credit: Nintendo.


Unfortunately, Mario still can’t talk his way out of problems, which means there’s enough Goomba-stomping to go around. This should be the most exciting part of TTYD, but it’s the dullest. In each fight, Mario’s party and their enemies are transported to a theatrical stage where an eager audience cry out for violence. It’s turn-based with a few twists, as just like last year’s Super Mario RPG remake, there are real-time elements like hitting buttons at the right time to maximise your damage or block incoming attacks. Like anything in showbiz, what can go wrong, will: stage lights can plummet from the ceiling to damage both sides indiscriminately, rowdy Shy Guys will throw projectiles from the crowd, and cardboard backdrops occasionally fall and squash unlucky fighters.

It’s a creative premise, but battles are too simplistic to enjoy. Collectable badges can be found to empower Mario, and enemies can be immune to specific attacks, but that’s the extent of The Thousand-Year Door’s tactical depth. Meanwhile, limited moves and repetitive enemies leave most encounters feeling like a chore. It’s a solid introduction to the genre (particularly for younger audiences), but anyone who’s played other turn-based titles like Fire Emblem or Octopath Traveler will likely find the formula lacking.

Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door. Credit: Nintendo.
Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door. Credit: Nintendo.


Yet beyond these tedious tussles, there’s a lot to love. The central town of Rogueport is delightfully seedy, and having areas open up as you unlock new abilities – such as folding Mario into a paper plane or completely flat sheet – makes re-treading old areas worthwhile. Other locations thrive more on their characters: a notable shout-out goes to the Glitz Pit, a Raging Bull-meets-WWE arena where Mario dishes out pain (and trash-talk) under the pseudonym The Great Gonzales.

However, there are still some areas that feel under-served by the remake. Although some of the original game’s backtracking has been trimmed, there are still far too many times when you’ll re-tread familiar scenery for no justifiable reason. This is doubly frustrating on the occasions when areas are repopulated with baddies you’ve just beat, as it means double the fighting. This is improved later in the game as Mario can one-shot enemies who are significantly lower level than him, but the backtracking itself remains an issue.

It says a lot, then, that you’ll sit through these issues and still fall in love with The Thousand-Year Door. With laugh-out-loud writing and arresting origami visuals, there’s irresistible charm in every papery pore. Although it’s been 20 years since the game originally launched, little has changed: Princess Peach is still being kidnapped, Bowser’s still Bowser-ing, and this is still Mario’s liveliest adventure to date.


Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door launches on May 23 for Nintendo Switch. 


Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door’s is irresistible for nostalgic gamers and Mushroom Kingdom newcomers alike. Though its combat and recycled areas leave something to be desired, two decades have done little to dull this game’s charisma.


  • Thoroughly charming art style
  • Hilarious writing
  • A lively slice of life in Mario’s world


  • Combat feels like a chore
  • Too much backtracking

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