Nintendo’s new Paper Mario remaster doesn’t mess with perfection

Nintendo’s new Paper Mario remaster doesn’t mess with perfection

Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door originally launched on GameCube in 2004 to widespread acclaim, and the upcoming Nintendo Switch rerelease won’t mess with perfection. Nintendo and Intelligent Systems’ remaster of the landmark role-playing game — which also represented the Paper Mario series at its peak — will instead give Mario fans a better-looking version of the original game, with a few welcome tweaks. It will also give the massive Switch audience a chance to experience this classic Nintendo game for the first time.

Unlike the major graphical overhaul of Super Mario RPG, released on Switch last year, Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door will look more like your memories of the GameCube original, based on a hands-off demo that Nintendo showed to Polygon last week. Characters like Mario, Peach, and Bowser are still rendered as flattened, 2D paper cutouts, and the game’s world is still constructed with chunky cardboard objects. But everything looks sharper. Stages are bathed in warm, realistic lighting, and characters cast shadows and reflect realistically in pools of water. There’s updated music as well, along with streamlined controls and menus. That’s all well and good for Switch players, but fans of the GameCube original also get a few new toys to play with.

For newcomers, Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door sends Mario and a handful of his buddies on an adventure to — what else? — rescue Princess Peach. Her kidnappers here are a group of aliens known as the X-Nauts, who are led by the evil Lord Crump. Mario enlists allies like Goombella the archaeologist Goomba, a shy Koopa named Koops, and a voluptuous cloud spirit known as Madame Flurrie throughout his journey.

Mario rides on the back of a Yoshi to jump over a roof gap in a screenshot from Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door Image: Intelligent Systems/Nintendo

Outside of combat, which takes place mostly in arenas presented like stage plays (complete with a fickle audience), players explore overworld and underground areas in a side-scrolling style. These sections are filled with hidden power-ups and collectibles to find, and environmental challenges and puzzles to solve. Mario can use special abilities, amusingly called “curses,” to transform into a paper plane or shimmy through paper-thin gaps to reach new areas as players explore.

Like other Mario role-playing games, battles in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door are turn- and timing-based. The game strikes an enjoyable balance between turn-based action and platforming-style combat, where nailing a button press at the right moment will determine whether Mario succeeds or not. There’s depth to the combat of The Thousand-Year Door beyond well-timed button presses, with a large number of attacks, items, and power-ups known as badges that players can equip to modify Mario’s abilities.

Mario’s various party members add layers to the game’s tactics and action; each also has unique abilities that complement Mario’s familiar attacks (e.g., jumps, hammers, fireballs). Goombella, for example, has a special move called Tattle that exposes enemy strengths. In a new addition to Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door on Switch, she’ll also offer gameplay hints and guidance on what to do next when outside of battles. In another quality-of-life update, a new “Partner Ring” pop-up will make it easier to swap between partners on the fly with a single button press, eliminating the need to dive into game menus.

Mario jumps toward a group of Goombas in a stage battle in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door Image: Intelligent Systems/Nintendo

The game will also add another new feature called the Battle Master, a Toad martial arts whiz who players can visit to practice moves and try out badges, without needing to be in a battle. There’s at least one new badge, too: the Nostalgic Tunes badge, which players can equip to hear the original background music from the GameCube version.

Outside of exploration and turn-based battles, one of the strongest aspects of Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door is the game’s writing; the role-playing game is full of humor and meta jokes about the Mario franchise. Nintendo says that some of the game’s script has been updated in line with modern sensibilities for the remaster. Nintendo didn’t say what had changed dialogue-wise, but expect some script polish.

Nintendo teased additional unannounced updates to Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, some of which Switch owners will apparently have to discover for themselves when the role-playing game is released on May 23.