Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door Feels Like We Only Go Backwards

Like stepping into a video game time machine.

Paper Mario screenshot

Playing Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door is like stepping into a video game time machine and setting the dial to 2004. Princess Peach still needs saving, and she’s also discovering how to send emails via computer. Mario still needs to press the guard button at the perfect moment or he’ll perish. The paper-thin characters everywhere fold, roll, and slide like no other game. You fly through drab landscapes and confront hordes of enemies. Just like that, the nostalgia wears off — and you realize you’re trapped in 2004.

After following Mario through Super Mario Odyssey and Paper Mario: The Origami King, and Peach through Princess Peach: Showtime!, Thousand Year Door feels decidedly stuck in the past. Nintendo is bringing Paper Mario to the Switch this week, updating the graphics and music, and adding a few quality of life features (like a faster way to travel to towns). It’s an intriguing relic of the early 2000s — flat, paper-like characters moving through a derelict Roguetown, speaking to crime mice who are on the lam. It’s weirdly regressive to have played all the modern Mario games and see the plumber spin a magical hat across New Donk City, only to revert back to basic jumps and his trusty old hammer in Thousand Year Door.

Princess Peach still needs saving, and she’s also discovering how to send emails via computer.


While Thousand Year Door is billed as an RPG, unlike the big, bold world of Baldur Gate 3 there’s really not much emphasis on player choice — another mark of the early 2000s. Mario is amusingly naive, and he will open up treacherous treasure chests containing spiteful demons ready to curse him with various powers, even if you, as the player, can spot the trap coming from a mile away. Luckily, the power to turn into a paper airplane or a boat still comes in handy, and even the most nefarious villains in Mario games can’t do that much harm. What they can do is set Mario down an arduous, hours-long journey (25 hours of gameplay), through various lands, to collect stars to somehow open the eponymous Thousand Year Door, and save Peach from the clutches of intergalactic foes, and his usual nemesis, Bowser.

I was really looking for something that had the emotional heft of Paper Mario: Origami King. Perhaps that one will always be my favorite, as the spa and Japanese vacation levels gave me much-needed respite during tough stay-at-home years (Origami King was released in July of 2020). Many reviewers of Origami King disliked the puzzle combat elements, I prefer those over Thousand Year Door’s challenging emphasis on perfect dodges and action buttons. It’s possible that my reaction to Thousand Year Door is underwhelming because the GameCube version drew a devoted fan base that constantly sings its praises.

You can dress Mario up as Wario.


Even if this Nintendo Switch port of Thousand Year Door hasn’t aged particularly gracefully, and the core premise of saving a damsel in distress feels tired and played out, there’s still plenty to enjoy inside of this rare Mario RPG. The writing is full of weird gems, like a fiendish dragon tempting Mario to smell her feet, and the cheeky dialogue option to tell an elderly bug that you love him. GameCube fans will delight in a badge you can equip to hear the original soundtrack, or an overly expensive badge that lets you dress Mario up as the more antagonistic Wario. Some of the graphics, particularly the shadows and lights dancing in a dragon’s castle or by colorful trees infested with friendly critters, truly do feel like an advancement.

As much I saw flaws in Thousand Year Door, I also reveled in nostalgia. Mario giving the player a congratulatory thumbs up always feels like a well-earned pat on the head. Comments from a 2004 interview with the former, now deceased Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata are still being circulated this week and making headlines. As he foresaw, console sales are dwindling, and minute improvements to graphics are less than exciting to gamers. Yet Mario Kart still tops the sales charts. In some ways, Nintendo is still the king of making video games, and a Mario game never misses. It’s hard to when you contain every hallmark of fun.

Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door launches on the Nintendo Switch on May 23, 2024.

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