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This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door.

Transcript Edit

Oh, dear. It's one of those "gap-in-the-schedules" kinds of weeks. Well, there was Battleborn, but, you know... multiplayer-focused, MOBA-inspired, by the guys who made Borderlands, the Pepsi to Overwatch's Coke. "That's not my bag, like, three times over," as the frustrated old woman said to the forgetful lost-property attendant. And I doubt my opinion holds much value. Of course, the game does say we're perfectly welcome to play it single-player, but I've fallen for that one before, haven't I? Like with Evolve and Star Wars: Battlefront, which technically do have single-player in the same way that a hotel room does technically have a bidet if they hire someone to lie on the bathroom floor and spit up your asshole.

So, it's been a while. Let's retro-review! And since we just did a Nintendo game, let's remind ourselves of a time when Nintendo didn't gargle quite so much hot motion-control piss-gravy and spat it out all over our aching wrists. It's 2004, it's the GameCube (a console with several very decent games which you'll find very difficult to get hold of and play these days, which is in some way in service of progress and, incidentally, you could run faster if you weighed less, so why not cut one of your legs off?) It's a game that I'm constantly bringing up whenever we talk about RPGs, Mario games and RPG Mario games: Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door. The second game in the Paper Mario series that continued the Mario RPG tradition that began on the SNES with, brace yourself, Super Mario RPG, a collaboration between Nintendo and SquareSoft, which explains why it was simultaneously cutesy and fucking incomprehensible.

Paper Mario, meanwhile, was developed by Intelligent Systems, who, it turns out, had some pretty good ideas despite their company having the dreariest fucking name in the history of game development. The paper-puppet-theatre aesthetic was a lot more appealing than Mario RPG's 3D pre-rendering, a style that looked good for about the twelve nanoseconds after Donkey Kong Country came out and then looked like Playmobil people sliding around a breakfast tray. But the reason why I hold up Paper Mario 2 as the peak of Mario RPGing is that while Nintendo are a stubborn lot that retread their old ground so much that they've worn down a trench deep enough for a fucking fallout shelter, something magical happens on the rare occasions when they do try building some continuity.

Look at the N64 Zeldas! Ocarina of Time had to reestablish all the same old shit: Link, Zelda, burble, bom, Ganon, Triforce, bomble, boo. But once they'd gotten that shit out of the way, they did Majora's Mask in the same continuity, and that actually had some really good original ideas and themes. And the same thing happened with Paper Mario. The first one had to get all the tired, old status-quo bullshit out of the way: Bowser kidnaps princess, Mario mounts highly circuitous rescue attempt that will inevitably involve collecting stars (for it is always stars). But once that was established, they could do Thousand-Year Door: same continuity, some actual new fucking ideas. For, you see, Nintendo, you'll never break your shoes in properly if you keep rebooting every five minutes.

How's about this for breaking the mould: Princess Peach gets kidnapped, right, by somebody other than Bowser. Bam! And the seven stars you have to collect are seven crystal stars this time. Fucking hell, guys! Rein in the creativity before it starts triggering miscarriages! All right, admittedly, the broad strokes in the game aren't that much different to Paper Mario 1 and it was Super Paper Mario that really shook the formula up. Thousand-Year Door still applies Paper Mario 1's turn-based combat of the temporary-pocket-dimension variety with the usual Mario RPG innovation: that you can press a button in time with the hits to do more damage or take less, which is about as far as turn-based combat can innovate without turning into one of those godawful turn-based/real-time hybrid systems of the Ni no Kunis of the world. Still, over time, the Mario RPGs couldn't resist escalating mechanics so that attacks require more and more ridiculously elaborate minigames. The Mario & Luigi series has run this right into the fucking ground and now the super attacks in those games are like supervising a temperamental Heath Robinson machine.

But in Thousand-Year Door, the worst it gets is probably the earthquake attack (which is the best all-purpose damage-dealer for most of the game, but getting the full effect requires playing five minutes of PaRappa the Rapper). The combat's also lent depth by the badge system that allows Mario's fighting style to be heavily customized, but considering virtually every enemy has some specific immunity, the only practical fighting style is "all of them". But the fact is, the combat almost doesn't matter. An RPG must have some and, hey, there it is! It's the story and writing that have the edge. Considering that Nintendo these days treat their first-party IP like it's the priceless family silver and don't even use it for special occasions now because it's just about the only thing they have left to pawn, it's amazing to look at what Thousand-Year Door and other Mario RPGs managed to get away with while flying the official Mario flag.

Thousand-Year Door pretty swiftly goes off the usual rails. You know what I mean: grasslands, desert, ocean, jungle, my Sharona! Yeah, the first stage has much of the grasslands about it and then you fight a dragon in a castle, but it's not too long after that before you get to the chapters where Mario takes up a career in professional wrestling or investigates Agatha Christie mysteries on a moving train. Super Paper Mario was even more offbeat with its settings, but Thousand-Year Door found the best balance between the irreverent, funny laughs and building an actual cohesive world that's more than just a vehicle for the silliness. The hub town around which the game revolves is not a cheerful Smurf village where the generic mushroom people live the eternal paradox of how one builds a pastel-coloured sugar-plum cottage with no opposable thumbs, but a cosmopolitan pirate town in the grip of sleaze and organised crime. There's even a dirty great gallows in the town centre, which is a bit dark, although considering all the Mario monsters that can fly or have no discernible neck, there's only about five dudes it could've been used on!

This is also the game in which Princess Peach is about as sexualised as she'll ever be in an official Mario game, and in that I include Super Mario Sunshine, in which Bowser's kid claims to have come out of her vagina and, tellingly, she doesn't deny it. In between Mario's chapters, you briefly play as Princess Peach in the villain's hideout, finding a way to send help or information to the outside world and she's able to do this because, early on, the villain's computer spies on her taking a shower and then spends the rest of the game contriving new reasons for her to take her clothes off. It might sound exploitational to you, but I think she comes across rather well. She's a diplomat, not a fighter, and she's finding opportunities to leverage the upper hand, making full use of the assets she has available. Both of them, in fact. She'd last longer than Mario in Game of Thrones. She'd have a strategic marriage in the bag before you can say "nudity clause".

Addenda Edit

More like Raper Mario: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw

I could imagine Luigi doing alright in Game of Thrones 'cos he could sort out the White Walkers with his vacuum cleaner

Personally I know exactly what has and has not come out of my vagina

Episodes
2007 - 2010
2007
Q3 The Darkness Demo · Fable: The Lost Chapters · Zero Punctuation (Episode) · Heavenly Sword and Other Stuff · Psychonauts · Console Rundown · BioShock · Tomb Raider: Anniversary · Manhunt · Peggle
Q4 Halo 3 · Tabula Rasa · The Orange Box · Super Paper Mario · Medal of Honor: Airborne · The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass · Clive Barker's Jericho · F.E.A.R. Perseus Mandate · Assassin's Creed · Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock · Mass Effect
2008
Q1 Super Mario Galaxy · Silent Hill: Origins · Crysis · The Witcher · Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles · Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare · SimCity Societies · Yahtzee Goes to GDC · Uncharted: Drake's Fortune · Devil May Cry 4 · Burnout: Paradise · Turok · Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure
Q2 Army of Two · No More Heroes · Condemned 2: Bloodshot · Super Smash Bros. Brawl · God of War: Chains of Olympus · Mailbag Showdown · Grand Theft Auto IV · Painkiller · The World Ends With You · The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion · Haze · Metal Gear Solid 4
Q3 Webcomics · Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures · Alone in the Dark · Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures · The E3 Trailer Park · Ninja Gaiden II · Prince of Persia Retrospective · Soulcalibur IV · Braid · EVE Online · Too Human · Spore · XBLA Double Bill
Q4 Mercenaries 2: World in Flames · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed · S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky · Silent Hill: Homecoming · Saints Row 2 · Dead Space · Fable II · Fallout 3 · Guitar Hero: World Tour · Mirror's Edge · Left 4 Dead · Sonic Unleashed · The Year in Review - 2008 · Prince of Persia
2009
Q1 Awards for 2008 · Tomb Raider: Underworld · Far Cry 2 · Gears of War 2 · LittleBigPlanet · Thief: The Dark Project · Skate 2 · F.E.A.R. 2 · Spider-Man: Web of Shadows · The House of the Dead: Overkill · 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand · Resident Evil 5
Q2 X-Blades/Halo Wars · Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars · MadWorld · Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X · Siren: Blood Curse · The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena · Valkyria Chronicles · Velvet Assassin · Duke Nukem Forever · Bionic Commando · InFamous · The Second Annual E3 Hype Massacre · Prototype
Q3 The Sims 3 · Ghostbusters: The Video Game · Overlord 2 · Red Faction Guerrilla · Wii Sports Resort · Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood · The Conduit · Silent Hill 2 · 2.5-D Hoedown · Tales of Monkey Island · Wolfenstein · Batman: Arkham Asylum · Beatles Rock Band & Guitar Hero 5 · Darkest of Days
Q4 Scribblenauts · Wet · Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story · Brutal Legend · Washington D.C. · Uncharted 2: Among Thieves · Dragon Age: Origins · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 · Assassin's Creed 2 · Left 4 Dead 2 & New Super Mario Bros. Wii · Demon's Souls · Holiday 2009 · The Saboteur
2010
Q1 Awards for 2009 · Torchlight · Darksiders · Bayonetta · Dark Void · Borderlands · Mass Effect 2 · Dante's Inferno · BioShock 2 · Aliens vs Predator · Heavy Rain · Battlefield: Bad Company 2 · Final Fantasy XIII
Q2 April Fools 2010 · God of War III · Red Steel 2 · Just Cause 2 · Silent Hill: Shattered Memories · Splinter Cell: Conviction · Nier · Dead to Rights: Retribution · Monster Hunter Tri · Alan Wake · Red Dead Redemption · Alpha Protocol · Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands · E3 2010
Q3 No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle · Super Mario Galaxy 2 · Singularity · Crackdown 2 · DeathSpank & Limbo · Shadow of the Colossus · Split Second: Velocity · Transformers: War for Cybertron · Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days · Mafia II · Metroid: Other M · Video Game Voters Network · Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Q4 Halo: Reach · Dead Rising 2 · Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow · Enslaved: Odyssey to the West · Fallout: New Vegas · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II · Call of Duty: Black Ops · IPhone Games · Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood · Splatterhouse · Epic Mickey · Holiday 2010
2011 - 2014
2011
Q1 Top 5 of 2010 · World of Warcraft: Cataclysm · Fable III · Minecraft · A Shadow's Tale · Dead Space 2 · DC Universe Online · MindJack · Two Worlds II · Bulletstorm · Killzone 3 · Kirby's Epic Yarn · Dragon Age II
Q2 Pokémon White · Yakuza 4 · Crysis 2 · Nintendo 3DS · Portal 2 · Castlevania: Symphony of the Night · Mortal Kombat · Brink · L.A. Noire · The Witcher 2 · Hunted: The Demon's Forge · Duke Nukem Forever (for real this time) · InFamous 2
Q3 Alice: Madness Returns · Shadows of the Damned · F.E.A.R. 3 · The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D · Call of Juarez: The Cartel · Bastion and From Dust · Catherine · Red Faction: Armageddon · Deus Ex · Deus Ex: Human Revolution · Driver: San Francisco · Dead Island · Resistance 3
Q4 Gears of War 3 · Hard Reset · Rage · Kinect · Batman: Arkham City · Battlefield 3 · Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 · The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim · Saints Row: The Third · Assassin's Creed: Revelations · The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
2012
Q1 Serious Sam 3: BFE · Top 5 of 2011 · Super Mario 3D Land & Rayman Origins · Sonic Generations · Star Wars: The Old Republic · Amy · Resident Evil: Revelations · Darkness 2 · Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning · NeverDead · Syndicate · Mass Effect 3 · Twisted Metal
Q2 Yakuza: Dead Souls · Ninja Gaiden 3 · Silent Hill: Downpour · Kid Icarus: Uprising · Fez and I Am Alive · Prototype 2 · Risen 2: Dark Waters · Sniper Elite V2 · Diablo 3 · Max Payne 3 · Dragon's Dogma · E3 2012 · Lollipop Chainsaw
Q3 Quantum Conundrum · Spec Ops: The Line · Walking Dead · Inversion · The Amazing Spider-Man · Half-Life · Wreckateer and Deadlight · Steam Roundup · Sleeping Dogs · Darksiders 2 · DayZ · Guild Wars 2
Q4 Borderlands 2 · FIFA 13 · Resident Evil 6 · Dishonored · XCOM: Enemy Unknown · Medal of Honor: Warfighter & Doom 3: BFG Edition · Assassin's Creed 3 · Halo 4 · Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 · Hitman: Absolution · Far Cry 3 · ZombiU
2013
Q1 Top 5 of 2012 · Paper Mario: Sticker Star · Black Knight Sword & Hotline Miami · Anarchy Reigns · DMC: Devil May Cry · The Cave · Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch · Dead Space 3 · Aliens: Colonial Marines · Crysis 3 · Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance · Tomb Raider · SimCity
Q2 The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct · BioShock Infinite · Lego City Undercover · Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon · Injustice: Gods Among Us · Star Trek · Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon · System Shock 2 · Metro: Last Light · Next Gen Buyer's Guide · Fuse · Remember Me · E3 2013
Q3 The Last of Us · Deadpool · Animal Crossing: New Leaf · Ride to Hell: Retribution · Dark · Mario & Luigi: Dream Team · Rise of the Triad · Papers, Please & Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons · Pikmin 3 · The Bureau: XCOM Declassified · Saints Row 4 · Killer is Dead · Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
Q4 Grand Theft Auto V · Lost Planet 3 · Beyond: Two Souls · The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD · Batman: Arkham Origins · Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag · Call of Duty: Ghosts · Exclusives Showdown · Ryse: Son of Rome · Dead Rising 3 · Super Mario 3D World
2014
Q1 Top 5 of 2013 · Knack · Killzone: Shadow Fall · Survival Special · Broken Age · Might & Magic X: Legacy · The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds · Dark Souls · Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII · Strider · Thief · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 · Dark Souls II
Q2 Titanfall · InFamous: Second Son · Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes · The Elder Scrolls Online · South Park: The Stick of Truth · FTL: Faster Than Light · Child of Day-Light · The Amazing Spider-Man 2 · Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure · Wolfenstein: The New Order · WATCH DOGS · E3 2014 · Murdered: Soul Suspect
Q3 Tomodachi Life · Enemy Front & Valiant Hearts: The Great War · Shovel Knight · EarthBound · Transistor · E.T. · Firefall · Sacred 3 · Risen 3: Titan Lords · Daikatana · Lichdom: Battlemage · The Sims 4 · Destiny
Q4 D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die · Hyrule Warriors · Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor · Alien Isolation · The Evil Within · Bayonetta 2 · Sunset Overdrive · Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare · Assassin's Creed: Unity · Far Cry 4 · Dragon Age: Inquisition · Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric · Top 5 Games of 2014
2015 - 2017
2015
Q1 The Talos Principle · Elite: Dangerous · Five Nights at Freddy's and This War of Mine · Lords of the Fallen · Saints Row: Gat out of Hell · Dying Light · Grim Fandango · Evolve · The Order: 1886 · The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D · Resident Evil Revelations 2 · Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number & Ori and the Blind Forest
Q2 Battlefield: Hardline · Bloodborne · Half-Life 2 Update · Axiom Verge & Stealth Inc 2 · Mortal Kombat X · Grand Theft Auto Online · Broken Age: Act 2 · Wolfenstein: The Old Blood · Cyberpunk Double · The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt · Splatoon · Hatred · E3 2015
Q3 Alone in the Dark: Illumination · Batman: Arkham Knight · Yoshi's Woolly World · Cave Story · Godzilla · Rocket League & Tembo the Badass Elephant · King's Quest: A Knight to Remember · Nom Nom Galaxy & Freedom Planet · Everybody's Gone To The Rapture · Volume · Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain · Mad Max · Gears of War Ultimate Edition · Until Dawn
Q4 Super Mario Maker · SOMA · Rock Band 4 · Assassin's Creed Syndicate · Halo 5: Guardians · Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 · Rise of the Tomb Raider · Fallout 4 · Star Wars: Battlefront · Just Cause 3 · Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water
2016
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2015 · Devil's Third · Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam · Assassin's Creed Chronicles · Xenoblade Chronicles X · The Witness & Bombshell · Gravity Rush · XCOM 2 · Firewatch & Layers of Fear · Far Cry Primal · Stardew Valley & SUPERHOT · The Division · Salt and Sanctuary
Q2 Republique · Shadow Warrior · Quantum Break · Dark Souls III · Ratchet & Clank · Star Fox Zero · Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door · Uncharted 4: A Thief's End · Doom · Homefront: The Revolution · Overwatch & Battleborn · Mirror's Edge: Catalyst · E3 2016
Q3 Mighty No. 9 · Inside & Shadow of the Beast · The Technomancer · Furi & Song of the Deep · I Am Setsuna · Headlander & Quadrilateral Cowboy · Quake · No Man's Sky · Grow Up · Deus Ex: Mankind Divided · Metroid Prime: Federation Force · The Curious Expedition & Mother Russia Bleeds · ReCore
Q4 Capcom Five · Clustertruck & Lichtspeer · Paper Mario: Color Splash · Mafia III · Gears of War 4 · PlayStation VR · Battlefield 1 · Titanfall 2 vs Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare · Dishonored 2 · WATCH DOGS 2 · Final Fantasy XV · The Last Guardian
2017
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2016 · Let It Die · Dead Rising 4 · Hitman · Gravity Rush 2 · Resident Evil 7 · Yakuza 0 · Nioh · For Honor · Nintendo Switch & Breath of the Wild · Horizon Zero Dawn · Nier Automata · Ghost Recon Wildlands
Q2 Mass Effect Andromeda · Yooka-Laylee · Persona 5 · Remastered Editions · Outlast 2 · Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 · Prey · Wilson's Heart

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