Traveling Thoughts on Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door (Chapter 4)

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Hey, guys. I’m not dead. Just a little inconvenienced is all.

Chapter 4

Chapter 4, like Chapters 3 and 5, have a lot of nostalgic value to me. Chapter 3 was my childhood favorite. What was Chapter 4? Well, Chapter 4 was the segment of the game that augmented my still-continuing fear and paranoia of dark places. It was also the first time within the game—as a child—that I found myself stuck and couldn’t figure out how to advance the game. It became so much of an issue that I had to look up a guide online. I can’t say for sure, but I think that may have been the first time I’d ever looked up a guide online for how to advance through a game in my lifetime. Ah, sweet memories of wasting time.

Before Chapter 4 begins, Mario and co. are faced with a dilemma: a distinctly-colored warp pipe that leads to the next destination rejects them. It doesn’t just not let the player go down, it lets them go down… only for them to appear right back up at the top after a couple seconds. I never really understood this. What exactly within the pipe is forcing them to travel back up? An enemy? A wall? A pay toll? God? Whatever it is, the player can’t go down it for some reason. Mario and co. go to Professor Frankly for some help, and he advises the player to speak with a denizen of the aforementioned destination, who is hiding somewhere in Rogueport. He’s not hard to find, and you can find him all the way back in the Prologue if you know the game inside-and-out, like I do. Talking to him will reveal that the pipe will not accept you unless you have… your name on you somewhere. Is this a simplified metaphor of illegal immigration? Nah! That’s probably a reach… probably. The denizen writes Mario’s name on him and his partner’s on them, though it doesn’t show nor explain how the other partners get down the pipe.

For the sake of adding an extra objective to arrive to your destination, Chapter 4 isn’t nearly as satisfying as Chapter 3. Chapter 3 had a sort of build-up to it. It introduced characters that the player couldn’t speak to until that part of the game, and gave perspective into their lives and problems. It gave a sense of motivation for the people within the game and had more of an impact when you saw how things played out. You worked for that ticket to Glitzville, and you got to see lives being improved because of your effort. That’s what makes this game memorable. In Chapter 4, you’re limited to playing hide-and-seek with some asshole who tells you that the warp pipe is scared of strangers and you need to identify yourself. What the fuck?

Upon arrival, the player can immediately see the theme for this Chapter: spooky. Twilight Town is a dark place. Only the moon is afloat, and the sun never seems to come up. I suppose Earth doesn’t rotate there? Mario and friends are greeted by another denizen of the town, only to hear a far-away bell ring as the denizen who was just speaking is enveloped in purple smoke and is turned into a pig. In contrast to the first three chapters, Chapter 4 doesn’t wait around. It shows immediately what Mario is tasked with, and talking with the… old town leader, it’s revealed that a monster who lives in a castle far off into the woods has put a curse on the town, and whenever the tower bell rings, one citizen is turned into a pig. Mario agrees to help because he’s Mario and yadda, yadda. We’ve heard this set-up many times before. It even has the same conditioning as Chapter 1 when Mario has to get permission from the town elder to continue on to the next area. Only this time, the bell gets the permission for you. Funny how the bell rings three times within the course of a couple minutes, but nevermore afterwards.

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Chapter 4 is an interesting chapter in the sense that the townspeople are both necessary and unnecessary. You have to go out and save them, obviously, but you aren’t as involved with them as, say, the Punies or the Koopas in Chapter 1. You don’t get that same urgency or really care for the townsfolk and their issues. Instead, the chapter puts them through, er, unspeakable evil in order to hasten the pace of the player. Instead of having the urge to genuinely help your friends, Chapter 4 decides to control you with pity. These people are turning into pigs for God’s sake! Could you even imagine that? Suddenly being forced into a piggy state? Not knowing who was next and when it would happen? There aren’t even any frogs around to form a power couple with! But putting my awful jokes aside, this sense of urgency isn’t a bad thing. I’d argue that it’s a good thing. There’s just one issue that makes it all lackluster: the bell tolls are scripted. After a while, you don’t hear the bell anymore. It just stops. It would be really something if the bell would keep ringing, every so often, throughout the chapter. While you’re grinding for experience or looking around for secrets, the bell would continue to ring, reminding the player that they need to get going, or else everyone will become pigs. Then again, defeating the threat essentially ensures that the curse will be lifted, so it almost defeats the point. It couldn’t hurt, though!

In this chapter, the player gets a new “Cursed” ability. With it, Mario can roll into a little cylinder and travel under little gaps in the ground and what-not. While the ability is pretty situational in itself, like all “Cursed” abilities, it’s also a little useful outside of squeezing through cracks. It’s a little hard to control, but I think it’s faster than the normal running speed. You can swerve through areas and avoid enemies in a snake-like fashion. Of course… you could also just hop on your Yoshi pal and zoom through the area with more control and at a faster speed. But in case you want some variety, this ability should do the trick!

The area outside of Twilight Town is a little barren area followed by a forest called Twilight Trail. The barren area is just that: barren. It has a few enemies in one room, but that’s pretty much it. The unattended ground has a nice red-ish glow that mixes well with the purples and blues of the night sky. The accompanying musical score is also the source of my childhood nightmares blended well with the concept of nothing. No life. Barren. In terms of level structure though, it’s pretty straightforward. Three or four rooms of nothing but a left to right path of near nothing. Maybe a hut or a fallen tree here and there. Some item boxes or whatever else. Not much. After a while, the player will come across a conveniently-placed giant bush, which is obviously not something Flurrie can blow away to reveal a warp pipe. This warp pipe will take the player into the forest section of Twilight Trail.

The forest section, somewhat similarly to the barren section, is exactly that: a forest. It has more of a spooky nature and the darkness surrounding it isn’t exactly isolating, but it blends well with the sky to make it the darkest section of the game (aside from the pitch dark sections of the Creepy Steeple). The track doesn’t change, though, so it feels a little blended with the barren area, which is both good and bad. It also houses enemies called Crazee Dayzees, some of the most annoying enemies in the game so long as the player can’t guard well. Half the time, if you don’t guard against their attacks, they’ll put you to sleep. For a long time. Thankfully, they’re keen on running away, too, so they aren’t completely soul-crushing. No, that honor goes to Amazy Dayzees, even more powerful versions of Crazee Dayzees that pack a wallop. They run away 99% of the time, but if they choose to attack, say goodbye to most, if not all, of your health. On the plus side, if you manage to kill one, you’ll be receiving boss-like experience. The forest hosts a little more variety of puzzles and secrets than the barren area, but not by a lot. While the barren areas was three to four rooms long, the forest area is only three. You can only do so much with three rooms. Thousand-Year Door decided to blow some invisible shit with Flurrie and move a rock in the background because that makes sense.

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After a little while, the player will come upon Creepy Steeple, the tower where the bell (used to) rings and the home of the monster putting the curse on the town. The entirety of the Creepy Steeple, like the Twilight Trail, is underwhelming in size and puzzles. The entirety of Creepy Steeple (not including the bottom of the well) has about seven or eight rooms, with only two kinds of enemies: Boos and Swoopers. The puzzles (if you can even call them that) are pretty dull and uninspired. Hit a switch to move a staircase around… is that it? I think that’s pretty much it. Otherwise, you’re just going from room to room. The only really memorable aspect to the Creepy Steeple is the music. It’s genuinely frightening. Just ask my twelve-year-old self. If not for the dusty cookbook and the Atomic Boo, this place would be entirely uneventful. Speaking of Atomic Boo, remember Boolossus from Luigi’s Mansion? He returns in this game in the form of Atomic Boo. Beating him rewards you with an awesome badge that gives Mario a handicap, such as increasing HP or FP, at the beginning of every battle. His battle is, frankly, more entertaining than the boss battle of the chapter, but still just as easy.

Speaking of the boss, the boss for this chapter is… ???. He doesn’t have a name… yet. It turns out he’s less of a monster and more of a dick than anything. He’s turned everyone into pigs ’cause he was bored. Fuck him. His battle is pretty uneventful, aside from a humorous Tattle entry by Goombella. By the end of the battle, ??? mimics Mario’s appearance and tries to fight Mario by being Mario, right down to his entire moveset. He’s basically just a silhouette of Mario’s figure, shrouded in purple, and it doesn’t do much. By battle’s end, ??? is defeated and drops the Crystal Star from his person. Mario grabs it and the End of Chapter screen rolls along. Mario and co. take the Crystal Star and head out of the Creepy Steeple triumphantly.

And then nothing happens. The player becomes confused. Why isn’t anything happening? What’s going on? When the player presses “A,” the silhouette form of Mario jumps off the ground. Oh… no. Mario’s identity has been taken!

As a kid, this was mind-blowing to me. Mario isn’t Mario? How did ??? do this? But I was controlling Mario by the end of the battle! Was I facing me? Was ??? the one doing the battling behind my controls? What? Huh? Uhh???

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Nevertheless, it’s an interesting concept and a nice transition from the typical point A to point B chapter. Now, we’re dealing with point A to point B, but now Point C came up because Point B wasn’t actually fulfilled so now things are all fucked up. The silhouette of Mario, or Mario in this case, makes his way out of the Creepy Steeple and back to Twilight Town to investigate the situation. This part of the game is somewhat challenging, now that it’s only Mario in battle as opposed to him and a partner. Limited to only one attack per turn means it’s difficult to take on three or more enemies at one time. It may be best to avoid enemies at this time, or try and boost some experience with a handicap for the opponents. One room before arriving in Twilight Town, ???, in Mario’s body, will jump out of the moon(?) and confront Mario and have you guess his name. If you guess it correctly, his powers will weaken and he’ll flee to his steeple. Unfortunately, you can’t guess his name outright, because the screen containing all of the letters… is missing the letter “p.” That’s interesting. After failing, the two will go into battle. Only thing is, none of you can hurt one another. I don’t know why, but it’s just that way. This chapter is fucking weird. You have to run from battle.

In Twilight Town, you come across Vivian, one of the Shadow Sirens, looking for a broken bomb. After finding it, you give it to her and she fucks you. I mean kisses you. And she joins your team. All the rest of your party, and ???, can be found in the home of the old town elder, where you can see the reaction to “Mario’s” new chatty persona. Thus, it begins: backtracking. Oh, yes. You didn’t think the backtracking would end, did you? Oh, no. You’re tasked to go back and forth between the Creepy Steeple and Twilight Town two or three times. Except now you have Vivian as your only partner. I hope you have a lot of badges, because she isn’t the most useful partner for this area. You face ??? again, run from him again, go back to Creepy Steeple, access an area you couldn’t before using Vivian’s ability, face a shit-ton of Buzzy Beetles, uncover a secret room with a conveniently-placed talking parrot who reveals ???’s name, acquire… “the letter ‘p,'” and go all the way back to ??? again, whose name turns out to be Doopliss, as the game highlights it. You enter the name and he begins to flip shit and runs all the way back to the Creepy Steeple! So you have to go all the way back! Again! Kill me!

All of this backtracking, as I’ve said before, feels a lot like padding. The areas leading up to the Creepy Steeple aren’t that vast, but it’s still a chore to go back and forth between eight or nine rooms just to do something you could’ve done long before. The atmosphere of the chapter, which is unsettling and creepy, tends to lose its luster after traveling back and forth between the area and becoming more familiar with its tricks and environment. In a sense, the chapter begins to overextend its welcome by the end, and the once spooky atmosphere just becomes background noise as you develop a mindset of “Gotta go kill Doopliss. For real, this time. Hi, ghosts!” Then again, most adults probably wouldn’t be scared of it in the first place, so who am I to say it’s spooky at all?

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You fight Doopliss in a slightly more challenging boss fight now that he has your partners with him. Pro tip: go after him. Going after your partners means nothing. After it’s ended, Doopliss transforms back into his original form and jumps out of a window, Mario gets his identity back, Vivian joins your team despite being your enemy at one point (she didn’t know the silhouette was Mario because she’s an idiot), and all is saved. The End of Chapter sequence rolls around for the second time as the chapter actually ends. Finally.

This chapter isn’t all bad. I’d argue it’s more good than bad once you first enter Twilight Town. The area is interesting upon first glance and the music is memorable. The townsfolk hardly matter, but their predicament is interesting and the concept of the entire chapter, especially when Doopliss steals Mario’s identity, reeks of creativity. I just don’t really care for how it was executed. In the end, it’s just more backtracking from area to area for padding and the atmosphere could’ve been improved with a few slight adjustments. The chapter goes on for too long and doesn’t feel as big as, say, Petal Meadows or Hooktail Castle. It’s enjoyable to a degree, and the story is wacky fun, but it also bends the rules of reality a bit too much for my tastes. The letter “P”? The warp pipe rejects people without a name on them? Seriously? It also has deplorable amounts of backtracking by chapter’s end, which doesn’t do much for replayability. An alright chapter overall, this one also has bits of wasted potential, too, which makes it all the more disappointing.

With the last little bit, I’ll discuss Vivian’s importance to the chapter. Heh, nevermind. She doesn’t have any. Ho-hum.

(All gameplay screenshots courtesy of PKSparkxx DatHottneSS.)

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