Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door Review

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The magic of Mario-themed RPGs is nothing short of universally acclaimed. Aside from the roots of the Paper Mario franchise, the Mario & Luigi RPG franchise still chugs along without skipping a beat. Nintendo has that special spark with RPG games rivaling those made by Square Enix, though for different reasons altogether. Despite the differences, both have provided decades of enjoyment and verbal wit when it comes to the nitty-gritty of RPG fervor. What may perhaps be the shining beacon of passion for the genre comes in the form of Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, the most beloved title in the Paper Mario series and the game all other Paper Mario games are compared to. It was among my most cherished and nostalgic games of my childhood; with twelve years between then and now, the magic of my own nostalgia has worn off and the game’s true value comes to light. Or more appropriately, the door is opened slightly further than ever before.

What has become a staple of the Paper Mario franchise over anything else is the level of commitment to making the dialogue as colorful and impressionable as possible. The amount of detail to running gags, quirky characters, flipping the script, and even some meta humor is more than heart-warming. Within Thousand-Year Door, the dialogue takes center stage in each and every chapter like a doting mother. The story is driven by dialogue, by characters’ expectations and motivations. There’s a noticeable force among every conversation, whether it be an integral aspect to moving the plot forward or even side characters with no point of existing whatsoever. There’s a love put forth that extends beyond the coding and technical jargon of making a game. There’s a harnessing of spirit and strength to ensure the player feels attached to every aspect of every snippet of the game. It helps improve the memorability of the areas, the characters, and what to reminisce going back upon replays. While not always funny, it has humor for a variety of different people, while sprinkling the clichés of other well-known RPGs with unabashed vigor.

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With dialogue driving the plot, it becomes wholly apparent that dialogue can only do so much to drive the plot forward in different ways. Should one pay attention, the chapters being played out subsequently one after another have a noticeable familiarity to them that speaks volumes. While the characters and dialogue remain consistently sporadic enough to entertain, the situations are formulaic and don’t require a lot of effort to think up. A huge indicator of this is the extreme number of fetch quests and backtracking the player has to do in order to advance. It creates an emotional slog of probable cause, simulating the walls between the player and the end of the maze as a single straight line with minor hedges inhibiting progress. This issue isn’t so apparent that one would feel as though every chapter is exactly alike, but it happens enough to entertain the idea.

As I’ve noted a few times within my Traveling Thoughts of the series, Thousand-Year Door, despite being a Gamecube title released over ten years ago, rivals that of games released only a couple years ago in simplistic charm and vibrancy. Art direction is a major factor in the quality of the game, with a number of different skins and costumes to differentiate individual characters. While many are familiar with the original design of Toad, within the borders of Thousand-Year Door, there are a number of different kinds of Toads ranging from colors, costumes, and even hair styles. Not only Toad, but many different creatures and species within the Mushroom Kingdom return with their own private wardrobes, including (but not limited to) Goombas, Koopas, Piantas, and Bob-ombs. Even so, the number of new creatures present accentuates the feeling of being outside the range of the Mushroom Kingdom. Even said new creatures are given a variety of different versions—to the point where some may question the level of effort in creating more species. If nothing else, one might only need to look at the box cover and be enticed to at least try it out.

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Despite all of the different factors to characters, dialogue, and settings, there’s a mundaneness in long stretches of playtime. Much to the chagrin of the charm of the dialogue and character count, the amount of traveling from place to place leaves much to the imagination. The player spends a good portion of their time walking back and forth from place to place, encountering enemies and little side-puzzles to keep them busy in the meantime—with only little of this changing as the chapter count increases. If one doesn’t have a specific way to keep themselves entertained and the dialogue doesn’t do much for them, they won’t find much fun outside of battles. The puzzles, while occasionally challenging, are pretty complacent. The level of effort put into the environment of each room doesn’t exude that same energy as the wordplay of the environments’ denizens. It almost feels like a big, empty room on occasion, depending on the situation. The interactivity one can do outside battles through the use of the Jump and Hammer abilities give a little shine to an otherwise darkened sanctuary, though not by much.

Inside of battles is a different story altogether. The battle system to Thousand-Year Door is simplistic at best, but immensely entertaining and satisfying when the player can bend their abilities to their whim. The number of items one can use can really turn the tide of battle, while also taking advantage of certain strengths such as high defenses or airborne threats. The number of different things one can do are within a certain scope, but can be expanded upon through use of badges, which allow Mario and his partners to do a variety of different attacks and benefits to the party. The inclusion of an audience that occasionally interferes with the battle is also a hilariously inconvenient way of loosening up battles. Whether they be for or against you, it’s almost random how things can turn out during long bouts. It’s an extremely addicting aspect to what could be aggravating in other RPG games, as I find myself clamoring for battle at almost all times. Every little bit of experience points are nice, but it’s decimating the opponents without a second thought that gets me going. The little things in life.

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There’s a fine line between making fun of clichés by inclusion and simply furthering the clichés by inclusion. In terms of quantity and quality, quantity is a much more heavy factor in this case, with a number of different familiar elements to the genre making cameos within Thousand-Year Door‘s story. One will likely grow tired of the “Old people are cranky and hard of hearing” jokes that litter throughout the story, as well as the bad guy blasting off again. One would also likely be appalled by the ending sequences. It weighs down an already exuberant story with something most are already familiar with—or will be with time, assuming they still play video games afterwards. It adds to the monotony to every chapter despite being different enough to be differentiated.

At the end of the day, does Thousand-Year Door really add anything to the Mario universe? Does it give the impression of a favorably canon storyline worth going through? Altogether, I think so. There’s a lot of charm to the game that many hold dear, and with good reason. It’s an established and test-proven formula that works for a lot of people while injecting just enough Nintendo magic to boost it further than others. Even so, the game is simplistic in its approach to progression and storytelling, and is ultimately much more similar to others within the genre than it lets on—good and bad. If I were to cement its status with a single word, I would choose “effort,” as the game puts a tremendous amount of effort into making everything great about the game as great as possible. Unfortunately, effort can only do so much when leaning on basics and stereotypes as a crutch, leaving the game with a lot less substance gameplay-wise than I remember from my youth.

Final Score: 6.5/10

The rating for this title and more can be found on MyVideoGameList.

(All gameplay screenshots for this review and every individual piece courtesy of PlayingWithMahWiiMojozgothwood9PKSparkxx DatHottneSSchuggaaconroyNamiNami, and Yoshiller.)

Traveling Thoughts on Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door (The Trouble Center)

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We’ve reached our final stop within my Traveling Thoughts series on Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door. It’s been a long trip that’s spanned more than half a year, but it’s time for the thoughts on this series to come to a close. For the final entry, I will be looking at one of the most prominent sources of side quests within the game: the Trouble Center.

The way it works is that a certain character will come in and fill out on a message board a job they want someone to complete for them. The building is located on the east side of Rogueport—the building just after Gus’s guarding post—and is open to the player after the Prologue. Upon completing a chapter, three or four new troubles will be available to complete. These jobs usually consist of people needing help with finding a specific item or meeting someone for them. These odd jobs aren’t really enthralling in and of themselves, but it’s the characters that give a bit of flavor to the jobs being given.

I was always fond of doing these troubles as a kid. It allowed me to go back and establish more of the characters I had met in previous chapters, and gives them more of a reason to be present in the game’s universe. It was nice to revisit the memories I had of previous chapters and get more of a taste of the personalities present. Plus, I liked knowing that I was doing everything the game was offering. Call it the task manager inside me.

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As an adult, I’m not as immersed in the story and characters as I once was, but still acknowledge that it’s an enticing part of doing these troubles. Unfortunately, these positive feelings are overshadowed by the main problem with the Trouble Center: repetition. Remember from previous posts how much I adore fetch quests? Well, most troubles are just that. I’d say at least half of all the troubles that are available to you throughout the game will require the player to retrieve a specific item(s) for a character posting the trouble. There is very little variety in what the player is required to do with these troubles, and the payoff usually isn’t worth it. I only wish there was more incorporated with what to do with these troubles than what’s offered here.

Something I hadn’t noticed as a kid is the time is takes to travel between all these troubles. The blue pipes below Rogueport help a tad to alleviate this, but it still has quite a bit of moving, especially later on. I remember a particular trouble where the player is asked to meet with a certain character, and then that character asks you to meet another character, and again, and again. I despised the wild goose chase with General White, and I don’t much care for this mailman-type side quest, either. I guess the traveling comes with the territory.

The rewards for these troubles vary tremendously, unlike the manner in which one has to take to complete them. Sometimes the player will receive coins, items, badges, and even an additional character. Ms. Mowz, the “mysterious” badge thief, will become a partner of Mario’s upon completing her trouble, under the guise of “???.” Seeing as she’s an optional partner, her abilities aren’t exactly appealing, but for the relatively inconvenient means it takes to solve her trouble, a whole new partner is a pretty sweet deal. Aside from her, other rewards include an upgrade to the Zess T’s cooking abilities and some cards that allow access to games within the gambling parlor on the west side of Rogueport. Ultimately, rewards aren’t always worth the trouble, but some can be worth looking into.

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I just wish the troubles would provide the reward on the bulletin board so I’d know what the trouble is worth.

They’re a nice little distraction from the main quest, but I’d hardly call them something worth looking into. Many would enjoy going back to previous chapters and talking with the people afterwards to see what’s changed and what’s been going on since Mario’s visit. However, those not so invested with the characters and story will likely be bothered by these constant, monotonous trips back to these areas only to explore other areas due to fetch quests for a measly thirty coins or so. I think it’d be better in my case to only employ the troubles that give you more than just coins or require more than running back and forth. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy my time doing these troubles, but I felt the enjoyment could’ve been heightened tremendously with a little more creativity.

I’d like to thank all of you who read through to the end. I’ve been a little slow about updating these, but I put a lot of effort into them. I hope you enjoyed them as much as I enjoyed writing them (most of the time).

(All gameplay screenshots courtesy of Yoshiller.)

Traveling Thoughts on Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door (Chapter 8)

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And so we come to the point in the game where the fun and games are over. The story becomes remarkably grim and not a lot is given to the player in terms of what to expect. It’s time to incorporate the title of the game into the game itself; Mario and co. will now step through the Thousand-Year Door.

It goes without saying that after the events of the seventh chapter, Mario and co. have collected all of the Crystal Stars available. The only issue is how to get back to the surface. Running along the halls of the X-Naut Fortress, the player now has access to TEC’s room, where Mario can speak with the weakened supercomputer. With his, ahem, dying words, he tells Mario to give Princess Peach his regards as he activates the self-destruct sequence to send the base sky-hi—er… space-high? Worry not, there’s no race against time as TEC gives Mario all the time necessary to travel to a teleporter in an isolated room in the lower-region of the base. The player is transported to a building in Rogueport’s sewers, where leaving the building will trigger a meeting with Professor Frankly, who explains that he saw a suspicious figure go through the Thousand-Year Door with Princess Peach. With this new development, Mario is forced to open the Door himself and rescue Peach before anything happens to her.

If you’re asking yourself how the Thousand-Year Door can open without the Crystal Stars, you’re a smart student and deserve an A. More on that later.

Going through the Door will reveal a nicely-decorated opening room, complete with shades of purple and gold to provoke a sense of uneasiness and regality. I’ll be honest: going through the Door for the first time, I thought I would step into the pits of Hell or something. Instead, I’m treated to a slightly spooky grand gala of a fortress. Make no mistake, the Palace of Shadow, as it is referred to, is no hotel stay. Of every area in the game, this area gives the player ample opportunity to use everything they’ve learned prior into a collection of different puzzles, challenges, and meager annoyances. On top of that, different styles of enemies already encountered. Ain’t that a peach?

As frustrating as I make it sound, this area is actually the most fun I’ve had throughout the game. It can be frustrating, absolutely, but nothing along the lines of brutal difficulty that games from the NES era are known for. The challenge in this particular area is in terms of patience and trial and error. There are a lot of instances and obstacles that have subtle hints as to what to do with them—whether familiar or not—that the Palace of Shadow use to hinder the progress of the player. These include a (long) memory game, multiple instances of using your cursed abilities, and a tower full of vague puzzles. The volume of things to do in each room compared to areas in prior chapters increases exponentially, giving more of a bang for your buck in terms of interactivity. Personally, I’m just glad there aren’t a million fetch quests.

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What there are a million of, though, are bosses. And by a million, I mean five. Five bosses in the span of one chapter. You fight Gloomtail, the brother of Hooktail and the Shadow Queen’s personal pet. The Shadow Sirens (with the inclusion of Doopliss). Grodus, leader of the X-Nauts. Bowser and Kammy Koopa. And finally, the Shadow Queen herself. If you took it upon yourself to grind a little as the game went on, these bosses shouldn’t be much of a problem, with the exception of the Shadow Queen. However, you fight Bowser and Kammy immediately after Grodus, so that’s a minor inconvenience. Among the five (eight if you count every character), the least difficult is probably the Shadow Sirens, as the room you face them in has a HP/FP restorer and a Save Block, so one can ready themselves should they be expecting it (Or maybe not). Gloomtail is triggered upon entering a single room with little indication that he’s there, while the game gives every indication to show that Grodus/Bowser and the Shadow Queen are within a room’s notice. Pro tip: bring a lot of restoring items and spam a lot of Special Moves.

Aesthetically, the Palace of Shadow is pretty. Pretty forgettable. It’s the token “dark fortress” of any standard royal-like final boss. It doesn’t give a whole lot in terms of what any of the areas really mean for the palace as a whole, serving simply as a challenging gateway for Mario to tread through. I sometimes ponder whether the Queen goes into these rooms and wonders why there are switches to floating cubes in the corner. It’s dark, it’s deserted (aside from enemies), and it’s spooky, with a regal flair. The track that accompanies it isn’t much better. I can applaud a high-paced, stylized remix of various Super Mario classics into an ominous foray of noise, but it doesn’t really do much for me. Two versions of the track appear throughout the palace, but neither give me that sense of dread that the area probably does with its mosaic of testing grounds.

There is but one area within the palace I can applaud: the area mentioned briefly above with the tower of vague puzzles. Outside the tower is a peaceful, serene area with water streaming along the outsides and a park-like center with a variety of different structures and busts. There is no music accompanying this room, giving a sense that the area is a place of rest and relaxation, where those within can think peacefully and relieve themselves of their troubles. The color is very stark compared to the rest of the area; different shades of gray and light blue bombard the area with its presence, with a brown wall in the background implicating the depth of the palace. It is an area like this, inside a harrowing place like the Palace of Shadows, that makes its inclusion so mysterious and intriguing. The tower itself is even more mysterious. So mysterious that its entire purpose seems to be incredibly abrupt. Even so, the tower is probably spookier than the entirety of the palace. The accompanying track is like a soft whisper to the ear, with different noises popping up in wisp-like trances to throw off the rhythm and create a new one altogether. A pale blue waits upon each wall within the tower, with eerie hints guiding Mario through a variety of puzzles that reward him with pieces to progress him forward. It’s genuinely awe-strucking, in a weird sort of way.

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The fight with Gloomtail is a coincidence, but the Shadow Sirens reveal that the Professor Frankly Mario had talked to was Doopliss in disguise, tricking Mario into opening the Thousand-Year Door for them so that they could get inside. Good on you for paying attention, Mario. Encountering Grodus reveals that while initially he wanted Mario gone after the first Crystal Star, over time he began to let Mario do his dirty work for him, collecting all the Crystal Stars so that he wouldn’t have to waste the resources to do so himself. This is kind of half-assed, but hey, we need more plot twists. Bowser’s appearance is a joke, instigated by his antics in his side-quests throughout the game. Because of his intrusion, Grodus is able to sneak off with Princess Peach into the Shadow Queen’s… resting room, probably? It serves as her resting place and there are a lot of candles surrounding it. It is here where the game goes full RPG.

Ready for a shit-ton of explanation? No? Then why are you still reading this? Grodus’s ultimate plan was to use Princess Peach as a vessel for the Shadow Queen to be revived in a physical form. Grodus assumed the Shadow Queen would be so thankful for this that she’d be willing to serve him. He was wrong, of course, and the moment Grodus tries to order her around, the Shadow Queen “kills” him. (He doesn’t actually die because E rating.) It is then revealed that Beldam, the eldest sister and leader of the Shadow Sirens, was the one who started everyone on the wild goose chase for the Crystal Stars, telling Grodus about their power and even being the one to sell the map to Princess Peach at the start of the game. With all this talking out of the way, the Shadow Queen imprints herself onto Princess Peach and turns her into this blackened, evil form of herself, where the Shadow Queen has complete control. Once this happens, a (long) cutscene shows the world around Rogueport being shrouded in darkness, with the denizens looking on in confusion. Afterwards, the Shadow Queen offers a job to Mario to serve as her underling. Fun fact: the player can say yes, which triggers a game over screen. With the obvious answer being no, the final fight commences.

The player is not supposed to win in this segment of the battle, so all you’re required to do is damage her all you can and not die. During the battle, she turns back to her original form, which makes her immune to all of Mario’s attacks. Assuming the player doesn’t die, this drags on for some amount of turns when another (long) cutscene occurs. It shows Mario on the edge of defeat, WHEN SUDDENLY! The Crystal Stars start glowing and sparkling! They spin around Mario and shoot to the respective locations where Mario found them! The friends Mario made along the way speak into the Crystal Stars and give encouragement to Mario and co. in their greatest battle yet! The power! THE POWER OF EMOTIONS PREVAIL!!! This development causes the Shadow Queen to lose control of Princess Peach but for a moment, where she wishes Mario to take the last of her “power” so that he may be able to defeat the Shadow Queen once and for all! Completely rejuvenated by her last wish, Mario is riled up and ready to rumble—the power of friendship on his side!

Kill me.

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Mario can now damage the Shadow Queen, but believe me, this bitch is one tough nut to crack. One will likely be using quite a few healing items and maybe a few Life Shrooms in order to finish the battle. It took me quite a while of fulfilling my FP and SP to be able to get her health down at a consistent rate. Her attacks are relatively hard to avoid and can do a lot of damage. She can even poison you, confuse you, or absorb your health, which makes the battle all the more tedious. Pro tip: General Bobbery’s Bob-ombast move is a wonderful way to shoo away the Queen’s hands prior to her attacks. Just be sure to have a lot of FP generators with you.

Once the Shadow Queen has been defeated, she screams and cries “impossible,” like all of them do. She’s whisked away back into her tomb where she will stay forever(?). Princess Peach regains consciousness and the Shadow Sirens run away. Mario and co. leave the palace and a bright and sunny day awaits them outside. They say their farewells to the partners that accompanied them and the friends that they made as they sail back to the Mushroom Kingdom, where everything is normal once again. The player even gets a letter from Goombella telling them what everyone’s been up to after they’ve left. But that’s a post for another blogger. The game is done as far as I’m concerned.

Chapter Eight is the big finale, the granddaddy of them all. Aside from the incredibly cheesy ending sequences, the chapter is a fairly good one. Lots to do, a load of fun challenges (accompanied by a few annoying ones) and the story takes a few too many twists to be ignored. It’s a good way to send out the game with a lot of positive impressions, though one would likely believe this more from an emotional standpoint. It does what it must and more, providing good closure for everyone who cared for it. What else could one ask for?

I have one more post to document on this game (it’s not the Pit of 100 Trials) before doing the full review, then I’ll move on to my next subject for Traveling Thoughts soon after. Thanks for reading up until now and for those who continue to read over yonder!

(All gameplay screenshots courtesy of NamiNami.)

Traveling Thoughts on Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door (The Badge System)

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Something I’ve been alluding to throughout most of my previous entries of Traveling Thoughts is the use of the badge system. But what exactly are badges, and what do they do? Well, come with me, and you’ll be, in a world of pure imagination.

Badges are something akin to stickers in Super Smash Bros. Brawl. They’re collectible doodads that Mario and co. can use to upgrade their character, though most prominently for use in battle. Badges can range from health regenerators to alternate attacks to silly sound effects, and even familiar-colored uniforms for Mario to wear. Badges are either given to you or hidden within small chests or crevices hidden from sight. There’s even a badge shop (pictured above) and a badge vendor (both above and below ground in Rogueport) for the player to purchase from. Badges are pretty prevalent throughout the game, though most of the rarer, more useful badges can only be acquired through determined combing.

Mario is given his first badge from Professor Frankly after first discovering the Thousand-year Door. The “Power Smash” ability is essentially a powered up version of the regular Hammer attack. It serves as a good trial badge for up and coming players to use without getting into the more sophisticated attack badges later on. The best part is that the Power Smash badge is useful at any stage of the game, serving as an upgraded boost to the normal attack with a relatively low BP cost. And speaking of BP, that’s another important thing in need of discussing.

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BP stands for “Badge Points.” Badge Points are what is necessary to use certain attack badges, such as the Power Smash. Using them in battle requires FP, as discussed in a previous entry, while having those abilities to begin with requires BP. Mario starts with three BP, and with every level up, Mario is given the option to upgrade his BP count by three points. While I tend to put more importance to FP, I believe BP is always suggested to upgrade when players are starting out the game. Throughout the first few chapters, many different badges and enemies will be thrown at the player that require different ways of effective damaging. I always strategize for this inevitable buffet of baddies by upgrading my BP count so that I have a comfortable number of attacks to prepare myself with. This emphasis on BP also requires my already heightened emphasis on upgrading FP, which is what’s typically required to use all of these different moves. It’s always a toss-up for beginners to the game, though, as HP is obviously a standard necessity for higher leveled enemies. It’s nice to stay balanced with your stats, but as someone who’s played this game many times over, it’s easy for me to get carried away with the numerous badges at my disposal.

Bringing up my experience with the game, there are plenty of badges that could provide handy assistance within battles, but there are a lot of badges I tend to ignore. I’m usually taken with attack badges and randomizer effects during the start of each battle, along with immunity badges such as Spike Shield, which allows you to Jump on spiky enemies. Badges such as HP Up, Close Call, or Power Plus aren’t badges I usually hold onto, whether it be too costing towards my BP count or I want to conserve my BP count for other badges. I would definitely recommend trying out all sorts of different badges, but there are some (especially earlier on in the game) that are more geared towards coddling beginners than anything.

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My stubbornness aside, badges make the game immensely better. It makes the battle system a lot more varied, and gives the player multiple ways to take on enemies and manipulate their weak points. It simultaneously makes Mario stronger while he continues on with his journey, despite the dismissal of the standard statistical system that most RPGs abide by. To some degree, badges are what replaces this statistical system, providing upgrades and different moves for Mario to wield. More than that, badges make the world of Thousand-Year Door more prosperous to explore. Badges are typically hidden from sight, requiring the player to take advantage of their abilities and pay attention to their surroundings. Badges are found in all sorts of different ways, so the player has to think outside the box for various ones. It makes running around areas all the more enjoyable and rewarding, especially since there’s no random encounter effect to slow down the pacing.

Among my favorite of the collectible badges include Lucky Start, which gives Mario a random status effect at the beginning of each battle. Fire Drive, which is a deadly add-on to the Hammer attack which lets Mario knock a fireball into all grounded enemies, while also burning them. The aforementioned Spike Shield. And of course, the L and W Emblems, because who doesn’t want to dress as Wario or Luigi? Combining the two emblems will even give you a Waluigi skin, which I think greatly suits the style of the game.

If there’s one thing about the badge system that I thought could have been improved upon was the badges accessible to Mario’s partners. Okay, perhaps asking for that would make the party a little too OP, but think of the possibilities! Varied movesets to both Mario’s attacks and individual partners? That would be spectacular. Perhaps a badge could make the Yoshi’s egg toss attack have an elemental effect? A badge to make Vivian’s Veil move last two turns instead of one? Bobbery’s Bomb Squad attack throw four mini-bombs instead of three? Or detonate them faster? Koops’s Shell Shield be different colors?! Well, the last one is kind of dumb, but I’d wear it. Why not? From what’s available in-game, the only badges associated with Mario’s partners are labeled with a “P” at the end of a badge’s title. Most of these badges are statistical upgrades, such as Power Plus or Defense Plus, which are nice and all, but it all seems so limited. I only wish they showed a little more care towards the characters that join Mario’s quest.

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As integral as the badge system is to the game, it’s no wonder why it has so many benefits to the game as it does. Not only does it make the game more fun, but more memorable as well. Even useless badges such as the W and L Emblems and the sound effects can add a little to the memorability of the game. After all, it’s hard to forget Hooktail’s weakness after playing through the game only once. It makes the game more rewarding for exploring, for checking up on the shops with badges available. It makes the battles more unique and more capable. It gives the sense that Mario is getting stronger as he goes along, without the level number really meaning anything stat-wise. It’s by far the most memorable and enjoyable aspect of the game in my eyes, and I always double-check every area and every vendor for more badges to uncover. If one doesn’t like a badge, they could always sell it for profit anyway. It’s a win-win!

(All gameplay screenshots courtesy of PKSparkxx DatHottneSS.)

Traveling Thoughts on Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door (Chapter 7)

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Chapter 7

Almost there… Almost there…

Up to this point, you’ve seen me complain about fetch quests, backtracking, padding, and rushed (or otherwise unexplained) character motivations throughout the chapters. Chapter 7 is no different. However, Chapter 7 is split up into two completely different sections that offer different varieties of gameplay. Kind of like… most other chapters. This game isn’t very original at its core.

Mario and co. have just retrieved the sixth Crystal Star from the Poshley Sanctum. After arriving back at Rogueport, Mario receives a message from Princess Peach detailing her present location, which she had discovered through help of her computer companion, TEC. She, along with the X-Naut base, is on the moon! Knowing this, Mario returns to the Thousand-Year Door and reveals the location of the last Crystal Star; lo and behold, it’s on the moon. With little idea as to how one could even reach the moon, Professor Frankly suggests a trip to Fahr Outpost, a small, wintry military base home to many retired general bob-ombs. There’s just one issue: the path to the warp pipe leading to Fahr Outpost is blocked off by a gray block, a block one can’t break with the Super Hammer.

In order to acquire the Ultra Hammer, one must take advantage of the Ultra Boots in a somewhat unorthodox way. The location of the Ultra Hammer is actually in plain sight, within the center room of Rogueport, on top of a wooden tower next to the inn. Walking underneath the tower and using the Ultra Boots to launch Mario into the chest’s underside will bounce it off of the tower and onto the ground, where Mario can open it. Congratulations! You now have the Ultra Hammer. Proceed with your quest, oh, adventurous player. No garbage excuse like a name on your pants will stop you from proceeding with the second-to-last chapter.

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It’s a short detour from the main storyline, but acquiring the Ultra Hammer is hardly a pace-breaker, especially if you know where it is. I usually have it before getting the location of the seventh Crystal Star. It doesn’t have the same appeal as jumping through social hoops to gain a ticket for a ride or anything, but it goes along with the isolation feel of the chapter, which I’ll get into in following paragraphs.

The region prior to Fahr Outpost is a desolate, chilling environment covered in snow and the occasional broken-down building structures and trees. Structure-wise, it’s similar to Chapter 1 and the area prior to Petalburg, only this area is shorter (two rooms instead of three). Also similar to Chapter 1 is the level of importance to these rooms, which offer very little in terms of storyline importance, and without many secrets, either. It’s another straightforward, left to right path filled with environmentally-altered enemies you’ve already faced before that serves as an irritating trial ground before arriving at the target area. It’s annoying, and the fact that you have to go back and forth through this area multiple times throughout the chapter only makes it worse, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Reaching Fahr Outpost, Mario will be greeted with a large bunker and a suspiciously large, empty plot of space in the middle of the room. Trying to access the bunker is unavailable, so unless one fancies themselves a social butterfly, there is little point to the room. Going into the next room will offer a little more to the eye, with a shop, inn, various other homes, and a statue of a cannon near the right of the room. It’s almost like foreshadowing. A green bob-omb with a sick mustache is the person Mario wants to talk to, but there’s a catch: this bob-omb, as is tradition, apparently, will not speak of anything related to the secrets of the outpost unless he’s speaking to another bob-omb. If only you had a partner that was a bob-omb with an even sicker mustache. Hrmm.

Going back to the point I made about isolationism, this sense of tradition among the bob-omb residents is another strong indicator of such. The snowy atmosphere and the lack of any strong population of people is one thing, but the fear of outside information being used for perceived evil deeds is the kind of thing to drive that sense of “us against everyone” mentality of the outpost. Also, icing on the cake, “Fahr Outpost.” Fahr. Far. Outpost. Out. Far out. Get it? The area is far and away, and out of reach of most of the civilization? The bob-ombs present also speak with a slight Russian accent, so one could also think the area indicative of Siberia and other portions of northern Russia, which is, obviously, cold, snowy, and away from most of the civilization. The music is a nice reflection of this, too. An atmospheric track full of wind-like whispers and a formulaic coating of beeps and boops, perfectly designed to instill a feeling of an empty wonderland of nothing. Oh, how majestic.

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Funny story: when I was younger, I actually had to look up a guide to progress at this point. I wasted so much time going back and forth between areas, trying to wrap my brain around what I was supposed to do (I never used Goombella for hints, either). It’s funny how stupid I can be sometimes. It doesn’t highlight it, but it may as well have highlighted when the bob-omb said only to other bob-ombs. For whatever reason, I completely forgot Bobbery was with me at the time. Guess I don’t really see him as a bob-omb as much as I see him as an explosive old goomba… or something.

With Bobbery at your side, the green bob-omb will let you in on the outpost’s secret: it has a giant cannon within it that can launch people as far as, say, the moon. However, like always, there’s a catch: they do not have permission to use it, nor do they have someone who can operate it. The target then becomes

F E T C H  Q U E S T S

Great. So, Mario and co. are tasked in finding two bob-ombs: General White, a white bob-omb the player could find earlier on in Chapter 1, and Goldbob, the rich, gold bob-omb with whom you could interact with in chapters 3 and 6. It’s kind of cool to be able to have recurring characters actually be important to the progression of the game, while also giving more insight to their past lives, but what isn’t cool is getting to them. Goldbob isn’t so much of a hassle. He’s located in Poshley Heights where you last saw him at the end of Chapter 6, though speaking to him, he’ll only give you permission if you can show him how much you’re willing to sacrifice for it (Give him all your coins. He’ll give them right back). It’s General White who’s the problem, and by far the worst part of this chapter. You remember him from Chapter 1, so you go to Petalburg to try and find him, only to find out he’s not there anymore. Talking to the first Koopa you meet in town will tell you he left to some other place. So you go there, only to find he’s not there. Someone else will direct you where to go next. This goes on for what feels like an eternity, until you’re finally given the indication that he went back to Fahr Outpost. All that traveling around just to end up back where you started. Isn’t that fun? Isn’t that just an immersive, all-around good time? Doesn’t that not make you want to commit murder? Don’t you love fetch quests??? Pro tip: there’s an underground path underneath Rogueport leading to these blue warp pipes that automatically take you to central sections of various places, such as Petalburg and The Great Tree. Use them.

Once you’ve traversed the path leading to Fahr Outpost for the third time, General White will be inside one of the buildings near the cannon statue sleeping. You need him awake, so what is the most logical thing to do in this situation?

A) Yell his name.
B) Nudge him awake.
C) Hammer ‘A’ to jump on him like a monkey on the bed.
D) Wait for him to wake up.

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If you guessed C), you would be correct. D) also would’ve been an acceptable answer, as you’ll have to wait for him to wake up as you continue to stomp on his face. It’s amazing how normal bob-ombs are taken out in a couple of jumps from Mario in battle, yet White can take as many as ten to fifteen bounces. He must be coated in diamonds. When he finally wakes up, you tell him about the cannon and he jumps at the chance to use it again. So, without a moment’s notice, a looooong cutscene plays that has the bob-ombs of the town setting up for something, positioning Mario in the center of the large plot of empty space in the first room. The ground collapses in, then an enormous cannon comes soaring out of the ground, with White and other bob-ombs going into the previously unavailable bunker and handling the coordination of the cannon. Before rattling on any longer, the cannon is fired and Mario and co. are blasted off, unharmed and without any space gear, onto the moon. That’s convenient.

The moon is an interesting place for the game. Not just in concept, but in its structure. The gravity is lower, so movement is dramatically cut and jumping is dramatically boosted. There are a lot of, get this, environmentally-altered enemies you’ve faced in the past on the moon—most of ’em Clefts, a few of them Yux. The moon consists of four or five rooms, but doesn’t have a dead end. The area simply loops past the last room. Seeing as the moon is small, it would obviously circle around, but four or five rooms? That’s a pretty small moon. Upon the third (I believe) room, Mario can see a fortress in the distance. Destroying a specific rock with Bobbery will reveal a warp pipe that will lead directly to the entrance of the fortress. I would be more inclined to talk about the moon, but the moon is entirely pointless. It is, again, basically a trial area before getting into the real dungeon or target area of the chapter. However, it’s cool to sort of understand how drastically far you are from any collection of population (not counting those inside the fortress). Another point for isolation. The music for the moon is literally almost nothing.

The fortress, revealed to Mario and co. (but obvious to the audience) is the X-Naut base, where Peach has been kept captive. The base is already somewhat familiar to the player due to the Peach sidequests after each chapter. However, there are many other rooms and crevices to the facility that are new enough to the player to make it a little more aggravating interesting. Before stating anything else, the music accompanying the base is great. Very upbeat, fast-paced, and a little hypnotic in its coordination. I never once get tired of this track, and it might be my favorite of the entire game, so it gives me an enlightened boost whenever I step foot into the base. It has a sort of “epic” atmosphere that’s been built up to the point where the player feels as though this is finally the time to strike the X-Naut team at its… base. Only thing is, it’s kind of repetitive, which is also symbolic of the base.

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As a dungeon, the X-Naut base is so-so. It has a nice variety of puzzles and even returns the quiz show Thwomp in a robotic form, but there’s a lot of backtracking that irritates me. Lots of conditions set before progressing further, such as collecting key cards or secret codes. It’s also fairly short. About as long as one would take to finish the dungeon in Chapter 5, which I noted was notoriously short. It has a lot more to do than previous dungeons, but it all feels somewhat familiar when all’s said and done. And quick. This is also shown with the boss of the chapter: Lord Crump, in a beefed up version of his Chapter 2 robo-suit, aptly named Magnus Von Grapple 2.0. Thinking about it now, this chapter seems to take inspiration from a lot of previous chapters. The quiz show Thwomp, the boss being the same as Chapter 2’s, the straightforward trial area before Fahr Outpost and the X-Naut base. This chapter seems to take inspiration from previous chapters, almost like the development team was running out of ideas, or wanted to bring things back as a reference. I’m going with the former, but I’m pessimistic by nature.

Magnus Von Grapple 2.0 is much harder than he was in Chapter 2. He’s got more tricks up his sleeve, along with a death move that can damage Mario and co. like the dickens. Healing items and special moves are recommended for this boss, along with some upgraded partners. I didn’t die on this boss, personally, but I can see why people could struggle with this boss (like my younger brother). He’s got quite a bit of health to him, along with special moves that can take down your HP like nothing. It’s a challenging test for a chapter that only tested your persistence, usually. An overall fun fight. With Crump defeated, Mario acquires the last Crystal Star as the “End of Chapter” sequence plays without any funny business afterwards.

I like the sense of loneliness present in the chapter, along with the playfulness of reality in regards to visiting the moon and playing around with General White’s face, but getting to that point is a massive pain. It’s the most blatant use of backtracking and fetch quests for fuck all’s sake the game has incorporated yet, and thankfully its last. It befuddles the beginning sections as something to dread, especially when dealing with the Puffs and Piranha Plants in your way to Fahr Outpost. It breaks the pace and adds more whitened misery to the already depressive scenery. Beyond, though, is an even-keeled adventure of throwbacks to previous chapters and a myriad of puzzles and new scenery. As a whole, the chapter is one of the better ones, but not much for its creativity, rather for its basics. It gives more to do rather than follow a central theme, like most of the other chapters. I appreciate it for not trying to outdo itself, but aside from the dreariness of the outpost and the distant feeling of outer space, it doesn’t have a lot of memorability to it. That sort of pizzazz that makes it stick out from the others. It’s certainly better than other chapters by design, but it doesn’t have that same passion for flair. The only real moment of that was with the cannon cutscene. And what a cutscene it was.

(All gameplay screenshots courtesy of chuggaaconroy.)

Traveling Thoughts on Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door (Princess Peach and Bowser Segments)

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I didn’t forget about this.

At the end of each chapter, the narrative turns from the viewpoint of Mario and co. to Princess Peach, and then Bowser, in that order. These alterations don’t take too much time away from playing as Mario, but they’re fun little variety bonuses for completing each chapter. Call it the dessert for finishing the main course, which you had to complete a fetch quest for. Jokes aside, there is some minimal importance to these little side missions.

Setting them in their natural order, taking control of Princess Peach has you placed within the X-Naut base, where they are holding her captive for an unknown purpose. Even before the focus falls upon Peach, it typically gives some insight to the X-Naut base of operations, including the strategies and insight of their leader: Grodus, who looks like he has a magic 8 ball for a head. It also foreshadows some events to come when the attention turns back to Mario, such as Grodus sending the Shadow Sirens after Mario before Chapter 2. Most of it is basically the same old, same old; Grodus is informed that Mario has another Crystal Star and he gets pissed and tells his soldiers to stop being shit.

Once in control of Peach, the duration of most of her segments has her walking along hallways and talking to TEC, the base’s main supercomputer, who conveniently falls in love with Peach upon first sight. I’m not joking. As the chapters go along, TEC becomes more and more “human” in the sense that it learns through Peach about the concept of “love,” and all the emotions that go along with it. One should probably question how this is possible for a computer, but this is Super Mario Bros. and not a college class in Logic. As this love for Peach continues, TEC reveals more and more about her situation and the intention the X-Nauts have with her captivity. But it’s not like it knows everything, and even enlists Peach to aid its curiosity. This, in turn, has Peach traveling around the X-Naut base disguising herself as a normal X-Naut, or turning invisible, to deceive others and collecting information.

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In terms of actually playing as Peach, her gameplay is very limited. The most the player can do is move and interact with people or objects. In some cases, the player hardly does anything more than just talk with TEC. Peach’s segments are very dialogue-heavy and contain important foreshadowing and inside information about the enemy intentions because of it. On a personal note, I enjoyed Peach segments for that purpose, but I can’t say I enjoy playing as her. She can’t even jump. You just move and press “A.” I enjoy the chapter where you play with potions and make her invisible, but other than that, they’re pretty much a visual novel.

At least you can watch her shower.

Then, there are the Bowser segments. These parts of the game don’t typically take as long as Peach segments and aren’t as dialogue-heavy, but they’re more comedic in nature and one is actually given a nice array of control over Bowser. The narrative of Bowser’s focus is typically his goal of collecting the Crystal Stars before Mario can and/or finding out where Peach is so he can steal her for himself. The humorous part is that after every chapter, Bowser is shown in the area preceding the chapter that Mario had just completed, making him always one-step behind. He is accompanied along his travels by Kammy Koopa, an old Magikoopa who rides around on a broomstick—one who is constantly subjected to the same “old person” jokes that this game seems to be so fond of. She doesn’t serve much a point other than to serve as a counselor for Bowser, whether that means talking him into a calm state or being his punching bag.

Much like the Peach segments play out a certain way, the Bowser segments play out a certain way, too. Bowser comes onto a scene, interacts with those around him, and then he either fails in a humorous way or stumbles upon the news that he’s too late to get the Crystal Star or whatever. Ensue laughs (or groans), end scene. There’s not much point to his segments aside from perhaps showing what characters from previous chapters are up to after Mario has visited them. That and humor. Well, this game’s version of it. I feel it’s hit or miss. Doesn’t do much for the repetitive nature of the jokes that surround him, but it does feel fun blowing fire at things around you, even if they (unfortunately) don’t react accordingly.

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The saving grace to Bowser segments are the short little homages to Super Mario Bros., which has Bowser running through edited courses from the original game in a 2D side-scrolling fashion. While they are criminally short, they also serve as a fun distraction to the typical play style of the RPG-themed Mario segments. And by criminally short, I mean you can complete them in under a minute. I’m not exaggerating. The first stage given to you after Chapter 2 can have you go from start to finish in about twenty-five seconds. It’s disappointing, but it retains the value of fun you would expect from typical Mario games. Better yet, Bowser can collect his own “mushrooms” through meat on a bone to grow larger and larger still. Collect more than one and Bowser will grow to a massive size and become invincible, completing destroying every enemy and obstacle in his path. It’s shit like this that makes me appreciate this game.

There’s not much else to really say about them. Peach’s segments give information to the player about the situation and foreshadows future events, while also developing a computer with a thing for blonde chicks, but gives little in terms of excitement through gameplay. Bowser’s segments are the complete opposite, with little to no importance based around the plot of his actions, but are an enjoyable treat to play through. These sections of the game won’t take a large chunk of gametime off the total, but they have their merits. I wish Peach had more to do, while I wish Bowser had more of a point, while expanding upon the side-scrolling action that he made his own. But alas, I can only dream of the perfect Paper Mario game. Here in reality, that perception has long been shown to be dead with each passing year.

(All gameplay screenshots courtesy of PKSparkxx DatHottneSS.)

Traveling Thoughts on Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door (Chapter 6)

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Chapter 6

There’s a stark competition within my household upon the topic of what the best chapter is within this game. Before recently, I would have cited Chapter 3 as my favorite, while two of my younger siblings would have cited the chapter being discussed today: Chapter 6. To this day, they have a firm belief that this, of all chapters, trumps the others easily. Playing it again, I still don’t think so, but there are definitely aspects to it to be admired.

The beginning to this chapter, like many chapters after Chapter 2, requires the player to satisfy a condition before even setting foot within the area the chapter takes place in. This time—perhaps because they felt they needed to re-visit the Pianta Mafia—Mario once again has to obtain a ticket from Don Pianta in order to board the Excess Express, a fancy train that leads into Poshley Heights, the location of the next Crystal Star. Meeting up with the Don will lead the player into a chain of, you guessed it, fetch quests in order to advance further in the game. I would mention more about the topic of concern with this story arc, but I feel it’s ultimately unnecessary. Just know that it involves Frankie and Francesca and a lot of B-tapping. After receiving the ticket from Don Pianta, Mario can then ride in the Excess Express, triggering the beginning of the chapter.

Being on the train is where things start to become more entertaining. It requires the player to explore and talk to the denizens within the train in order to advance the story. Eventually, the player will meet up with a penguin character who fancies himself a detective. You all know where this is headed, right? Exploring further will transition into a chain of events that will serve as the lead focus of the chapter: mystery-solving. Ah! I forgot to mention, but before boarding the train, a cut scene plays showing Mario and whichever partner the player has out at that point discussing the Crystal Star being at Poshley Heights. Upon its mentioning, Beldam will rise up from the ground and thank them for revealing the star’s location as she fades away. Shortly after boarding the train, Mario will receive a note from “someone” foretelling a “sticky, yummy, gooey mess” to come upon all the passengers of the train. With all that in mind, the mystery comes to play and the race against time to Poshley Heights begins.

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I actually quite like this chapter for the activities incorporated into it. These activities? Backtracking and fetch quests. But wait! I’ve been complaining about these things almost all the way through my Traveling Thoughts, haven’t I? I have, me, but here’s the difference with this chapter: its design allows for these things to become less of a chore and more challenging through the prospect of problem-solving. In most chapters, one simply knew exactly what to do and went from one place to another without any sort of interaction with characters or any sort of playful distraction. The beauty of Chapter 6 is that it’s ambiguous. It doesn’t give you objectives to follow with clear-cut instructions. That’s where the mystery plays in; it encourages exploration, character interaction, and (minor) critical thinking skills. The environment is not just a background to look off, it’s necessary in order to figure out the mysteries that arise on board the train. Best of all, the train’s length is four rooms—five counting an area that’s blocked off for a majority of the chapter, so the backtracking doesn’t feel so obstructive. It’s quick, it’s painless, and there’re no enemies to fight. These things that become so petty and repetitive in previous chapters are suddenly a strength in Chapter 6.

Fortunately, this isn’t all the chapter has to offer. You didn’t think the chapter would only resort to this, did you? Halfway through the trek to Poshley Heights, the Excess Express makes an emergency stop at Riverside Station after discovering that someone had raised the drawbridge leading onward. Mario and co. are forced to explore the inside of the station and find the switch to lower the bridge. As a kid, I hated this part of the chapter. I wanted to continue the intrigue of the mystery inside the train, and I felt this was a break in the pace of all that. As an adult, I quite like this part. It gives a little variety and compensates the player for the lack of overall battling within the chapter. The puzzles inside the station are also not all one-dimensional. Some are tricky and require precise timing, while others need (admittedly simple) thinking skills. The Riverside Station is where Mario acquires the Ultra Boots, which allow the player to spring up to high places and grab hold of gutter pipes along the ceiling to traverse alternate paths within a room. In battle, they’re stronger than the Super Boots… though I don’t personally use them much.

The Riverside Station is almost like a mini-dungeon for the chapter. It’s not quite as big as dungeons in previous chapters, but with the combination of the train and Poshley Heights near the end, it makes up to be a decently-sized chapter. I recall as a kid thinking that running through the station dragged on forever, but it’s actually surprisingly quick. I also enjoy the labyrinth-like design it has near its base floors. It gives a sense of effort put into the design and structure of the station, when they could’ve just had it be a couple rooms from left to right. The overall appeal to the place is something I’ve grown fond of, with an abandoned station with sandy-yellow and brown heaps of architecture with a soundtrack mirroring its almost mystical emptiness. The selection of Pokeys and orange-hued Puffs outside (and sometimes inside) the station’s interior was a lovely touch… if they weren’t a pain to fight without wasting too much FP. I really liked the change of pace the chapter took in making the stop here. If it were a mystery all the way through without any chance of using the battle system, it may not have been as memorable—negative or otherwise.

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Once Mario and co. find the switch to lower the drawbridge, they discover a small collection of black clover-like creatures swarming around it. Mario makes use of his hammer to bat the things away before an automated cutscene plays showing the creatures retreating outside the boundaries of the station. Mario lowers the bridge and the Excess Express goes on its merry way. The next morning, something odd happens: no one is inside their rooms. No one is working their posts. Exploring the entirety of the train, only its conductor remains, and talking to him triggers a drastic turn of events: the clover-like creatures swarm the train like flies on a rotting corpse. Running to the caboose of the train reveals the creatures have invaded the inside of the train and captured various train passengers. Making use of the Ultra Boots, Mario and co. escape onto the roof of the train where a large collection of creatures are gathered. Hammering away and progressing near the front of the train will reveal a swarm of creatures transforming into a large, squid-like creature with all of the train passengers within its clutches. Thus, the boss battle of Chapter 6 begins.

I will give the “Smorg,” as its name is revealed, credit: he’s one tough asshole. This boss battle, had I not been unbelievably lucky with my Super Guards, would’ve taken a lot out of me. His attacks cause massive amounts of damage and the condition required to actually damage the beast takes massive amounts of FP. I found myself struggling near the beginning trying to find the most effective way of damaging its core, but I ended up wasting a lot of FP in the process, forcing me to use more FP-replenishing items than need be, which also cost me some turns. Thankfully, I also had some high-range attack items that helped ease my strategy, but they ran out quickly. The boss battle is a long one. I would put it on-par with the battle against Cortez from the last chapter, though it assumes less forms overall. It’s a great challenge considering the rest of the chapter, assuming you know what you were doing, was irritating, but easily capable.

Defeating the Smorg will have it disintegrate and fall off the train. With all the passengers safe, the Excess Express makes a safe stop at Poshley Heights. However, the chapter isn’t over just yet. Mario and co. must explore the entirety of Poshley Heights (aka go to the farthest room to the right) until they come across a sturdy museum with a lock on its door. With no way in, Mario is conflicted with how to proceed when their penguin detective friend reveals himself to be the owner of the museum. He unlocks the door and upon arrival, find the Shadow Sirens and Doopliss of all people taking the Crystal Star off a pedestal at the end of the room. But worry not! The penguin reveals that that Crystal Star was a fake! A red herring! And the location to the real Crystal Star was hidden in a secret location. With that in mind, it was up to Mario to find that secret, as the penguin wasn’t willing to tell him… for whatever reason.

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The secret location is basically taking advantage of the Ultra Boots’ ability and the museum’s large height to scale its walls and find a switch. Flipping the switch reveals a warp pipe that leads to the inside of a painting which leads to the inside of another museum. Now we’re throwing back to Super Mario 64 here! Inside the painting’s museum reveals a misty, almost spooky recreation of the museum Mario was just in, except this place has a large gathering of Dark Boos, purple and more powerful Boo enemies. There are two ways that players can go about this. They can either:

  • Defeat all the Boos and farm for experience, then get the Crystal Star located at the end of the room.
  • Skip all the Boos and go straight for the Crystal Star.

I like that they give you a choice. While I personally enjoy battling and grinding, I could understand the frustration of someone who hates that kind of thing having to face twelve or so Boos before getting to the end of the chapter. In any case, retrieving the Crystal Star will end the chapter… almost. The game requires the player to exit the painting’s museum before it transitions into the next scene. I’m not really sure why they chose to have that happen, but it does regardless.

While the tone of my writing may lead one into thinking that I had no issue with this chapter, there’s actually one major criticism I have for it that I intentionally saved until just now. Chapter 6 is incredibly short. Keep in mind that it doesn’t have to be short, but I’ve played this game many times in the past. I know everything that I have to do to progress the story. With the inclusion of the events leading up to boarding the Excess Express, exploring Riverside Station, facing the Smorg, and running around the museum at the end, this chapter took me about an hour and a half to complete fully. Keep in mind, I talked a lot to people, too. I didn’t just go from start to finish without smelling any roses. I took the time to explore and interact with people. From all that, only an hour and a half passed? That’s so little! Thinking back on it, there isn’t actually a lot to do inside the Excess Express. You solve maybe four or five mysteries inside it, and assuming you know what you’re doing, each mystery can be wrapped up within 2-8 minutes. I enjoy the comedy and the intrigue of character interaction and the variety of characters present and their reactions to all of it, but it’s so short-lived unless the player takes the time to talk to each passenger a hundred times within a day. This chapter has a sort of abruptness by its ending that is ironically fitting for how fast the chapter flies by. I’m not sure if it’s the shortest chapter in the game, but it’s definitely one of them.

With all that’s been said and done, I’m not quite sure I can admit that this chapter is better than Chapter 3. It certainly has less irritating qualities to it, but Chapter 3 had more meat on its bone. It’s hard to choose, really. Putting that aside, Chapter 6 is absolutely one of the better chapters in the game, and one well appreciated after the back-and-forth indecisiveness that Chapter 5 provided. It didn’t have the appeal of a new character or have much innovation to the game’s formula, but Chapter 6 provided a “flurrie” of entertainment… while it lasted.

(All gameplay screenshots courtesy of PKSparkxx DatHottneSS.)

Traveling Thoughts on Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door (Chapter 5)

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Chapter 5

This is the part of the game where my nostalgia tends to wear out. This chapter is as far as I made it before I had to return the then-rented game back to the local Family Video. Playing it now as a 22-year-old, this chapter is… pretty unenjoyable, despite getting what was once my favorite partner in the game. It doesn’t reach the concept of feeling like a pirate or sailing to much of a degree, and a good majority of the chapter is, ugh, fetch quests and backtracking. The only real shining moment is the very end of the chapter. Yeah. The very end of the chapter is the best part. Great time we’re in for today.

The chapter begins with Mario and co. trying to figure out how to get to a deserted (and rumored to be haunted) island to retrieve the next Crystal Star. This requires the player to go into the Inn located in Rogueport to speak to a flamboyant, ego-maniacal creature named Flavio, who has a sudden thirst for adventure and, ahem, romance. He agrees to provide Mario with a ship and crew, but prior to departing, he tasks Mario with retrieving a navigator, which then requires the player to take advantage of their new ability to roll down a chimney into a house on the east side of Rogueport. This leads to all sorts of back and forth and diving deep into the past life of a rogue sailor named Bobbery.

As a teenager, I thought this was quite charming and a heartwarming way to develop a character and their motivation. Playing it now, I can’t help but feel the way it’s executed is trivial. It turns out that the bartender in the Inn in Rogueport holds a letter from Bobbery’s former lover, Scarlette, telling him to never quench his love for the sea, even after her death, which Bobbery blames on himself. The excuse (because it’s a fucking excuse, not a reason) the bartender gives as to why he didn’t give the letter to Bobbery earlier is that he couldn’t bear to face Bobbery in his depressed state. Well that’s pretty fucking convenient for Mario now, isn’t it? Mario takes the letter to Bobbery and he, after a moment of “being alone,” decides to become the navigator to Flavio’s ship. Gee, bartender, maybe you should’ve given this letter to him earlier so he wouldn’t be so depressed for all those years, eh?

In any case, it’s a bunch of back and forth between Flavio, Bobbery, the bartender, and whoever else decides to be a part of it. You get to dive into Bobbery’s motivation for leaving the sea and help him resolve his burdens (fairly quickly). That’s pretty much it.

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Once you’re at sea, you do absolutely nothing. Just sit through some dialogue and some scenes of people interacting, up until right before the boat lands on the island, when some fire ghosts sink the ship, with everyone abandoning it beforehand. Afterwards, it cuts to a few days afterwards, when the salvaged members of the ship build a little camp outside the island’s jungles. Soon enough, Flavio tasks Mario to forage for stuff or something (I don’t entirely remember). He goes into the jungle and finds the other members of the ship that were lost in the chaos, including Bobbery, who sacrifices himself in the face of oncoming fire ghosts to let the others escape. And thus begins the agonizing back and forth.

Bobbery wants a “last memento” of his life, because he believes he’s dying. He wants Chuckola Cola, a beverage he saw on the outskirts of the island before he landed. Turns out, Flavio has it. He offers to give it to you… if you find him something else on the island in return, which turns out to be a coconut found fairly far in the jungle (the “jungle” is four rooms long). He gives you the Cola, you bring it back to Bobbery, he “dies” (falls asleep), and you acquire him as a partner in your adventure. You go back to Flavio and then he asks you to take him to go treasure hunting with him. So, you go back to the farthest-most point and you do a puzzle and it leads to the dungeon portion of the chapter. Fantastic. The player has to go from the campsite to the farthest-most point (or second-farthest) four times. It has the decency to not be very long, but that in of itself destroys the concept of a “large and foreboding deserted island.” It’s pretty barren and holds very few secrets, along with enemies already encountered, except with enhanced abilities. It’s a chore going back and forth through this jungle. And it makes the area feel pointless and cheap. It’s padding at its finest.

Even worse, the dungeon is little different! It’s not anywhere near as annoying as the jungle, but it offers a lot of backtracking and overextensive use of a newly acquired ability. The track that plays is pretty harmless, albeit repetitive, but it settles the mood nicely, even if it’s not entirely spooky. The puzzles and obstacles within are also relevant enough to pose some challenge or focus from the player, so it’s not entirely barren, either. I just can’t stand how much the player needs to backtrack in this place. By dungeon’s end, Mario will have visited some rooms three or four times! Again, the dungeon is pretty compact compared to some dungeons, so it’s not like the player will be spending a lot of time with this one, but it’s still irritating enough to note. In fact, completing this dungeon felt awfully short. Not including the bullshit jungle segment, this dungeon took me maybe thirty minutes to get through, give or take with the number of enemies I faced. It’s awfully short.

Appearance-wise, the look of this dungeon is pretty sweet. I have no complaints about the color palette or the placement of nearly anything in here. It almost has a misty quality about it, full of grays and dark colors. The inclusion of ghosts, cannons, and giant bob-ombs was a nice touch, even if the bright pink of the bob-ombs felt kinda misplaced. The emphasis on water travel (the acquired ability is the ability to turn into a paper boat) also serves the chapter’s theme well, and controlling the ability is pretty adjustable, if not a tad hindering. I would say this dungeon is mildly irritating, but overall decent. I’m just a little taken aback by how short it was. I remember hating this dungeon as a teenager. It’s nowhere near as annoying as I remember it.

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Eventually, the player will encounter a big, disheveled boat. This boat houses Cortez, a pretty sweet-looking pirate-ghost-corpse-thing that warns Mario of a grim fate should he choose to enter his treasury. I forgot to mention, but Cortez will talk to the player throughout the dungeon with echoes of “OoOoOoOo’s” and vague threats. It doesn’t happen often, but it lets the player know he exists. In any case, Mario enters the treasury and faces off against Cortez, who is actually a decently-challenging boss. I’ve always had fun facing off against Cortez. Not only does he rapidly change form depending on how much damage he’s taken, but he’s also no pushover. He has a huge arsenal of attacks to his disposal and plenty of ways to fuck you over. He even plays the Hooktail card and recovers health from absorbing the audience’s souls. Special Moves and high-range items will be your best friend for this battle. In case you were wondering, this was part of the “very end” I mentioned earlier that was genuinely good about this chapter.

After defeating Cortez, he concedes defeat and begrudgingly allows Mario to take his treasure. However, since this is Mario, he only asks for the Crystal Star hidden conveniently in the corner of the room. This surprises Cortez, stating that he never even cared for the Star in the first place, which leads me to believe that the entire battle against him was pointless. Nevertheless, Mario gets the Crystal Star and the chapter ends accordingly.

Just kidding.

Along the way to Cortez’s ship, Mario comes across a sea of Toads (and Francesca and Frankie from Chapter 3) that were stuck within the caves for some amount of time. He saves them by lifting conveniently placed barrels out of the water via “!” switches. They make their way to a secluded area before Cortez’s ship. Once Cortez is defeated, a giant crack will appear in the wall behind them, which Bobbery can blow up to serve as an escape route. Once outside, Flavio and the other shipmates congratulate Mario on a job well done, when Lord Crump comes out of nowhere with a giant, armored ship that begins to shoot cannonballs at the shore where everyone is standing. I also neglected to mention that one of the crew members was Lord Crump in a very bad disguise. No one recognizes him because plot and he ends up with the upper hand. Flavio then hatches an idea and tells Mario to take him to Cortez. Once there, he reaches a deal with Cortez that if Mario can use his ship to attack the oncoming X-Naut threat, Flavio will give him the Skull Gem, an item that was required to enter Cortez’s dungeon and an heirloom passed down in Flavio’s family for generations (Cortez reveals that the Skull Gem was stolen from him many years ago). Cortez accepts and a pretty cool cutscene ensues with Cortez and the X-Naut ships duking it out side by side. After the scene ends, a battle with Lord Crump begins.

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This is also pretty interesting on a part of this chapter: two boss fights almost back-to-back. Lord Crump isn’t nearly as hard as Cortez, but he’s certainly harder than he was back in Chapter 2 with Magnus Von Grapple. He also does the whole “heal himself when he’s about dead” shtick. Once again, Special Moves and wide-range items will be your best friend for this fight, because he also uses an army of X-Nauts at his disposal. And let me tell you: they hurt like hell. It’s a fun battle without being too difficult, but don’t be surprised if you may have to use a healing item or two. Once defeated, the X-Nauts retreat and then the chapter really ends. Almost abruptly, in fact. I believe someone says something and then it transitions to something else, lickety-split.

The chapter is pretty stale, in my eyes. The entire beginning segments when you’re running around playing Dr. Phil with Bobbery doesn’t have the same impact on me than when I was younger. The beginning segments of being on the island is literally just running back and forth. The dungeon is fine, but short-lived, and the only real entertainment I found in it were the boss fights against Cortez and Lord Crump. Even my brother admits that this chapter really isn’t all that great, and I was hesitant to believe him before playing it again recently, but fuck, he was right. My most major problems with this game can be wrapped up in the first half of this chapter: fetch quests and backtracking. Over and over and over and over and over—

(All gameplay screenshots courtesy of PKSparkxx DatHottneSS.)

Traveling Thoughts on Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door (The Battle System)

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Throughout these Traveling Thoughts, I’ve neglected to mention much about the battle system that takes place within the game. As one can see now, this was intentional. This particular entry will be dedicated to analyzing the ins and outs of the battle system, but one could’ve already guessed that from the title.

As far as JRPGs go, Thousand-Year Door’s battle system is fairly basic. You can attack in two ways (at first): through use of your Hammer or your Jump. Both do the same amount of damage, but both have their advantages against certain enemies. In order to make these attacks stronger, one has to correctly time specific controls on the controller. The Hammer typically has the player pull back on the control stick for some time, while the Jump requires them to press “A” right before making contact with the opponent. There are different variations of these two moves, but those will be explained in another entry.

Aside from these two attacks, once the player advances through the second wave of dialogue in the Prologue, they will be rewarded with their first partner: Goombella. She can also attack in two ways (at first): Headbonk and Tattle. Tattle isn’t technically a physical attack, but it gives info on any enemy (Apparently her book was written by the developers), revealing their overall health, attack, defense, and any strategy to beat them more easily. Headbonk is basically just Mario’s Jump, except a tad harder to time correctly. This is not just limited to Goombella, though. As one advances the game and collects more partners, they’ll be able to use more strategy and more partner attacks to suit their fancy. There are also Shine Sprites (Remember those from Sunshine?) that the player can collect and trade in to upgrade their partners, giving them more health, attack power, and a third and fourth attack. By the end of the game, and by fully utilizing the Shine Sprites, the player can attack in about thirty different ways.

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In an effort to not be too offensive, there are also options to Defend, Appeal, Run Away, and Use Items. There’s also Switch Partner, but that’s not something worth explaining unless you don’t have the Quick Change badge, in which case it costs a turn to switch out a partner. Defending will increase the defender’s defense by 1 for the turn, but they cannot attack. This is useful for when the player can’t do anything against an enemy for the time being, such as having Goombella face a Spiked Goomba, in which she can’t jump on without taking damage. Appeal is almost like a taunt, except it allows the player to collect Star Power (more on that later). The bigger the audience is (more on them later, too), the more Star Power the player will collect. The player can also run away from battle, which involves a roulette-like bar that increases the chances of escape so long as the player furiously taps “A.” If it fails, the player will lose the turn for the character who tried to run away. If it succeeds, the player will leave the battlefield and drop coins whilst doing so. Finally, a player can also use an item, which can range from attack items like the Fire Flower or Thunder Rage, defense items like the Courage Shell and Boo’s Sheet, or healing items like the Mushroom or Honey Syrup. Using an item takes a turn to use and can even make battles end a lot faster.

This range of options are standard for most turn-based RPGs. Paper Mario has a tendency to take the clichés of other RPGs and put their own spin on it. Perhaps I’ve talked of this before. I like how it implements all sorts of Mario-themed items and enemies and attacks into the formula, but it’s really all that can be said about it. The presentation is lovely and the battle system is fun so long as your range is wide. But grinding can feel tedious especially when facing off against the same enemies over and over again. Fighting within this game becomes more fun when you have a large variety of ways to attack, but can also be fun with you can take advantage of certain characters’ abilities to dish out extra damage. It can also be fun when the battle field is equal, with the enemy having an advantage over the player and vice versa, such is the case of Hooktail Castle and, to some degree, The Great Tree. It’s a common complaint among veterans when a game becomes too easy. Thousand-Year Door’s battle system, when one is familiar with it inside and out, has a clear handicap in favor of the player, but it makes it somewhat challenging in the process. It’s a simple trick on paper, but I appreciate the effort in not having it too one-sided.

This “trick” I’m referring to is the “Guard.” A Guard is a defensive mechanism implemented to reduce the amount of damage that is inflicted on the player when an enemy attacks. In order to do so, one has to press “A” at just the right moment before an enemy makes contact. It decreases the damage of their attack by 1, somewhat similarly to the Defend tactic. But that wasn’t sexy enough. They also implemented the Superguard, a guard that prevents any damage from being taken and counterattacks for 1 (or no) damage against the opponent. This is a lot harder to pull off than a normal Guard and is accomplished in the same way, but with more precise timing and hitting “B” instead of “A.” These Guard options make the battle system a lot more involved. Instead of just sitting there and letting the enemy attack you, one has the option to counterattack in real time. It makes battles a lot more satisfying against larger quantities of enemies or stronger enemies in general. To a degree, trying to pull off a Superguard can be more fun than actually using an attack. At least with Superguards, it’s always fun to try and time different enemies’ attacks down to a single frame, while attacks are always done in the same fashion, depending on the type of attack.

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After the player acquires the location of the first Crystal Star, they’ll be able to use a move called “Sweet Treat,” which lets Mario attempt to regain HP for himself and his partner, along with some FP (more on that later). This is what’s considered a “Special Move,” which is, again, typical for any turn-based RPG, and not much different here either. It’s disappointing for me to see them do next to nothing in terms of “Mario-tizing” the Special Moves. It’d be cool to see Mario do some trademark Nintendo thing as a special move or something. Like, imagine if he turned into Dr. Mario and shot pills at enemies? If he got his cape and unleashed a tornado? Instead, it’s just the Crystal Stars doing random shit, like bulking Mario’s stats or slamming against the ground to cause tremors or whatever. Using these special moves takes star power, which can be acquired from the audience. In every battle, Mario and co. will have an audience watch their battle, like a stage play. If Mario and co. perform well, they’ll reward them with star points. If they perform badly (such as getting hit or not pulling off the button commands for attacks), audience members will leave. If you perform well afterwards, more audience members will take their empty seats. It’s not really that eventful. Filling up star points is almost as easy as defeating a Goomba. If you’re good at the game, it’s not an issue.

But the importance of the audience doesn’t end there. There are also occasions where some audience members will throw shit at Mario, whether it be coins or items, or rocks that cause damage. There are even times when they’ll run (or float, depending on the species) onstage and assist a certain side. It’s usually someone dropping stage props on someone’s head, but it’s still annoying when it happens. Speaking of stage props, the stage will also change based on Mario’s level. Up until level 10, the stage is small and compact, only holding fifty audience members. Past that, it’ll become bigger and less likely to have falling props or issues. It’ll also incorporate little spray hoses that sometimes shoot at Mario or the enemy to freeze them for a few turns. After level 20, the stage will be able to hold a 150 audience members and also adds firecrackers that can also damage anyone on the stage. These things provide little for the overall battle and rarely ever happen regardless. I would suppose one should be prepared for anything if these things were to happen, but I don’t think it really adds anything overall. It’s nice that Thousand-Year Door makes almost everything about the battle interactive, but in these cases, I feel they need to happen more often and with more consequence in order for them to become something to strategize for.

There’s also a little Bingo involved in battles. After every turn, in the upper-right portion of the screen, there will be symbols that line up from left to right. These range from Mushrooms, Flowers, Stars, Shine Sprites, and Poison Mushrooms. Aligning two in a row will trigger a roulette after Mario’s next attack in which the player has a chance to get a Bingo. All the symbols have different effects, like Mushrooms replenishing all health and having the stage fill to maximum capacity. All of them fill the stage except Poison Mushrooms, which balances out the amount of good that can come from Bingo. All symbols help the player in some way, but the Poison Mushroom cuts the player’s HP and FP in half and has the entire audience leave. This is a huge inconvenience, which makes the player fear whenever two Poison Mushrooms line up in a row. This is a lot more prevalent than, say, audience interaction, so it becomes more a part of battle than otherwise, with a nice boost most of the time, or the fear of something as draining as the Poison Mushrooms.

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FP, I would argue, is the single-most important aspect to a battle aside from the Superguard. I won’t go too much into detail as FP is more notable for Badges than anything, which I’ll save for another entry. FP, which stands for Flower Points, is required to use certain moves. These moves tend to be more powerful or more useful than normal moves. Replenishing FP is also less convenient than replenishing SP, and it drains fast if one isn’t careful. It makes a battle go a lot faster and allows a wider range of strategies and attacks in the player’s arsenal. Most attacks range from 2 to 4 FP, depending on the flexibility of the attack. Without badges, most moves won’t require FP until much later in the game.

Every time you defeat an enemy, you’re rewarded with experience points. Collecting one hundred allows Mario to level up. With every level, one can choose to upgrade their HP, FP, or BP (more on those in my Badges entry). With every level up, enemies begin to give less and less experience with every battle. Every time you upgrade your HP and FP, Mario is rewarded with 5 additional HP or FP, or 3 BP. I would recommend more FP as HP isn’t too important if one is good at Superguarding. I would also recommend more BP.

Have I missed anything? Oh! One last thing: First Strike. Before entering battle, you can Hammer or Jump on an enemy to inflict damage on them before the battle begins. But be careful: the enemy can do the same to you (A badge can change that later on). It allows (another) handicap for the player (or enemy) and can make a battle easier or slightly more irritating. Not much more than that.

This went on much longer than I thought it would. The Battle System of Thousand-Year Door offers a lot of variety and color when it comes to replayability. The special moves are a little underwhelming, but fun to use most of the time. The fact that the stage is interactive and the audience provides a spice of random effects brings a tad more to the table for boss battles and stronger enemies. It’s a lot of fun using a variety of different moves to see which is most effective and most efficient for a particular type of enemy. Superguarding is probably my favorite part of battling, though. Probably because it provides the most challenge pulling off with the best of rewards. Superguarding alone makes battling all the more enticing. There’s a really lovely feeling involved when accurately predicting the timing of enemy’s moves. Aside from that, I would only complain that battling against one-dimensional enemies becomes tedious when grinding and some of the partners are more useful in battle than others. Otherwise, it’s probably the best part of the game. Story and character-building? Meh. Battling is the true joy I receive when playing this game.

(All gameplay screenshots courtesy of PKSparkxx DatHottneSS.)

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.)