Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door

A standout title in the Mario franchise and the RPG genre…

“Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door,” developed by Intelligent Systems and published by Nintendo, is the second installment in the beloved Paper Mario series. Released for the Nintendo GameCube in 2004, this game is often hailed as one of the finest RPGs of its generation. Combining turn-based combat with platforming elements, a witty narrative, and a unique paper-based art style, “The Thousand-Year Door” offers a rich, engaging experience that has stood the test of time. This review will delve into the game’s story, gameplay mechanics, visuals, and legacy, providing a comprehensive look at what makes it a standout title in the Paper Mario series and the RPG genre as a whole.

Story and Characters

The story of “Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door” begins with Mario receiving a mysterious treasure map from Princess Peach. This map leads him to the town of Rogueport, a hub of seedy characters and hidden secrets, where he discovers that Peach has been kidnapped (again) by a nefarious group called the X-Nauts. The central plot revolves around Mario’s quest to find the seven Crystal Stars, which will unlock the legendary Thousand-Year Door and, presumably, lead to Peach’s rescue.

What sets the narrative apart is its charm and humor. The game is filled with clever writing, witty dialogue, and a cast of memorable characters, each with their unique quirks and backstories. Mario is joined by several companions, including Goombella, a sassy Goomba; Koops, a timid Koopa Troopa; and Vivian, a shadow siren with a heart of gold. Each character brings their own abilities to the table, both in combat and in solving puzzles, enriching the gameplay experience.

The story also delves into darker themes and more complex narratives than typical Mario games. The history of Rogueport, the lore of the Thousand-Year Door, and the motivations of the villains are surprisingly deep, providing a compelling backdrop to Mario’s adventure.

Gameplay Mechanics

Combat System

At its core, “The Thousand-Year Door” is a turn-based RPG, but it distinguishes itself with its interactive combat system. Battles require timing and strategy, with players executing commands with precision to deal maximum damage. For instance, pressing the button at the right moment during an attack can increase its potency, while well-timed defense moves can reduce incoming damage.

Each companion in Mario’s party has unique moves and abilities that can be upgraded as they level up, adding layers of strategy. Mario can also use badges to gain new abilities or enhance existing ones. These badges can be equipped and unequipped, allowing players to customize Mario’s abilities to suit their play style or to counter specific enemies.

The audience mechanic adds another layer of depth to battles. Spectators in the audience can throw items or support Mario, and maintaining their interest by performing well can provide various benefits. This mechanic creates a sense of dynamism and engagement that keeps battles from becoming monotonous.

Exploration and Puzzles

Outside of combat, “The Thousand-Year Door” offers a blend of platforming and puzzle-solving. The game’s environments are designed with a paper aesthetic, and Mario can use this to his advantage. He can turn sideways to slip through narrow gaps, fold into a paper airplane to glide across distances, or roll into a tube to navigate small spaces. These paper abilities are essential for solving puzzles and accessing new areas.

The game’s world is divided into distinct chapters, each with its own unique setting and challenges. From the haunted Twilight Town to the bustling Glitzville, each area is packed with secrets to uncover, NPCs to interact with, and side quests to complete. The variety in locations and the clever design of puzzles keep the exploration engaging throughout the game.

Visuals and Sound

The visual style of “The Thousand-Year Door” is one of its most distinctive features. The paper-thin character designs and diorama-like environments create a unique and charming aesthetic. Despite the limitations of the GameCube hardware, the game’s art style has aged remarkably well, maintaining its appeal even years after its release.

The animation is fluid, and the use of paper as a visual and gameplay element is consistently creative. Whether it’s Mario folding into a boat to sail across water or enemies crumpling when defeated, the game constantly finds new ways to leverage its paper theme.

The sound design and music also deserve praise. Composed by Yoshito Hirano and Yuka Tsujiyoko, the soundtrack is memorable and perfectly complements the game’s whimsical and adventurous tone. From the jaunty tunes of Rogueport to the eerie melodies of the Creepy Steeple, each track enhances the atmosphere of its respective area.

Legacy and Impact

“Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door” has left a lasting impact on both the Paper Mario series and the RPG genre as a whole. Its blend of humor, engaging gameplay, and unique art style has earned it a dedicated fanbase and critical acclaim. Many consider it the high point of the Paper Mario series, and it set a standard for future games to aspire to.

The game’s influence can be seen in subsequent entries in the series, though none have quite recaptured the same magic. Titles like “Super Paper Mario” and “Paper Mario: Color Splash” experimented with different mechanics and styles, but fans often return to “The Thousand-Year Door” for its perfect balance of RPG elements and platforming.

Critically, the game received high praise for its creativity, depth, and polish. Reviewers highlighted its engaging story, charming characters, and innovative gameplay. It holds a high score on Metacritic, reflecting its universal acclaim and the fond memories it evokes in those who played it during its original release.


Despite its many strengths, “The Thousand-Year Door” is not without its criticisms. Some players find the backtracking required in certain quests to be tedious. Additionally, while the game’s difficulty is generally well-balanced, some sections can feel disproportionately challenging, especially for younger or less experienced players.

The game’s reliance on timing for combat can also be a double-edged sword. While it adds depth and engagement, it can be frustrating for players who struggle with precise timing, potentially making battles more difficult than they need to be.


“Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door” is a masterpiece of game design, blending RPG mechanics with platforming elements in a way that feels fresh and engaging. Its story, characters, and humor make it a standout title in the Mario franchise and the RPG genre. The unique paper aesthetic and interactive combat system set it apart from other games, and its lasting impact on the series is undeniable.

Whether you’re a long-time fan of the Paper Mario series or new to the franchise, “The Thousand-Year Door” is a must-play. It offers a rich, rewarding experience that combines charm, depth, and creativity in a way few games can match. As we look back on this classic title, it’s clear that “Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door” remains a shining example of what makes video games such a beloved medium for storytelling and adventure.