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GameClub #4 — Paper Mario (Series) Roundup



As you may have guessed by now, I was one of those people who really disliked the Paper Mario series’ change in direction since Sticker Star. The lack of interesting characters. The New Super Mario Bros style visuals. The stuff regarding to Miyamoto meddling in its development.

And when Color Splash announced and looked like Sticker Star 2, I hated that too. I thought it was a terrible idea. That it’d fail miserably. That the only way to save the series was to post GIFs and photos under the hashtag #MakePaperMarioGreatAgain.

But then I thought…

Why be so negative without actually playing it? After all, you know what that Super Paper Mario joke said, right? The one about complaining on message boards about games you’d never played. Why should I complain about a Paper Mario game without playing it?

So I bought it, played through to the ending and decided to give my thoughts on it. Was it really a better game than I expected?

Well, sort of. Some of Color Splash was great, some was terrible.

On the positive side, I thought the aesthetics here were great, and that the team really nailed the look and feel of the Paper Mario series. You had interesting levels like a train going through a desert at sunset, a quiz show and a Metal Gear Solid style military base. You had an amazing soundtrack that fit every single level and fight perfectly. And the humour? Well it was as good as I’d expected it to be.

However, Color Splash then kind of falls apart in terms of gameplay. Why? Because the actual level design and its puzzle solving don’t really work go well with the battle system.

The former works really well. The puzzle solving with the paint hammer is intuitive and easy to get the hang of (you don’t even have to select colours this time around), the levels are varied and filled with unique designs and set-pieces (like say, a dragon chase or the ground being rolled up around you) and the places are filled with secrets to find in general.

But then you’ve got the whole battle system. And unfortunately, this is where it kind of falls apart.

Because as ‘fun’ as it can be, the battle system is brainless as hell. You have a ton of HP, so the enemies are pretty much never going to kill you unless you’re a terrible player. Attacks can be blocked, but it’s so easy to do that enemy attacks are dealing only half damage right off the bat. And while using cards is easy with the touch screen, it’s also painfully slow. You can’t view them in multiple rows, you had to use about three or four actions per card played and with the low enemy HP, it all means you’ll spend more time selecting attacks than actually fighting anyone.

What’s more, it falls apart even worse when Kamek enters the picture.

This is cause Kamek does one of two things:

A: Turns all your cards over so you can’t see which card does what. Annoying (especially if a powerful Thing card is in your inventory), but not a huge issue.

B: Limits you to a certain few cards, takes away all others, and only gives said others back if you win.

And it’s the latter which has serious problems. Why? Because the developers forgot to check if the cards you have actually let you WIN the current battle.

Which means you can be stuck fighting a whole team of spike covered enemies with jump stickers (hey, mandatory damage taking!) or a whole team of flying ones with hammers (they can’t hit flying enemies). You can’t get new cards, you can’t run, you can’t choose to do nothing and you can’t heal. Well, until you’re out of cards. Then you can run again, at the cost of losing your entire ‘deck’.

It’s annoying. Just like the bosses being weak to Thing cards again. Don’t have the right card? Well, the boss will one shot you later in the battle. Like this:

It’s still a step up from Sticker Star (many Things are found right on the path to the boss, or even in the same level), but it’s still silly to have an RPG game boss where a certain tactic is mandatory to win at the cost of certain death. Replicas don’t work here either.

Either way, it means the battles are the absolute low point of the game, and after a certain point, become more of a chore than fun part of the game.

Still, Paper Mario Color Splash isn’t a bad game, just a flawed one that honestly isn’t worth buying at full price.


I’d been looking for an excuse to go back and play the first Paper Mario, and this Game Club was that excuse. The Thousand Year Door was the first Paper Mario game I’ve played, and I’ve since played all the other games in the series, apart from Color Splash because I don’t have the space to download it on my Wii U. It was tempting to compare this game to TTYD, but in the end I don’t think that’d be a fair comparison. However, I can’t help but look at this game as a veteran of the series.

Paper Mario had quite a slow start to it. There’s quite some time that passes before you get into your first non-tutorial battle, and it still takes a while longer after that before you can use action commands. Staying interested during that time was done solely through the hope that the game would get more interesting as it went on. Thankfully, it does. The badge system is a great way of adapting the way you play, and Mario’s friends each have their own ways of helping in fights, though it does feel like there’s a bit of a balance issue sometimes; as of where I stopped to write this, it feels like Kooper and Bombette are significantly better in battle than Goombario or Parakarry. Their only disadvantage is that they can’t hit flying targets, but Mario can cover that just fine. Still, Goombario is invaluable in his ability to scan enemies, which I will do for every single enemy, no matter how pointless. It didn’t matter to me that each of the Koopa Bros. had the same stats, each one had to be Tattled. And Parakarry is useful for… well, you use him to fly over gaps.

The story has felt pretty standard so far, but what I do appreciate is the world. The towns I’ve visited so far have each had a distinct feel to them, and the NPCs in them are more than just hints on how to progress. A lot of time was spent having Goombario tell me about each NPC I came across. I also appreciate the sense of exploration. Even if the paths are ultimately linear, finding little side paths with treasure that you can only reach with your friends is a nice touch, even if it can have dangerous consequences. I was roaming around the sewers of Toad Town, and ended up in a tough battle against a Blooper that I had no idea would be there. It took all of my healing items just to survive that one…

Even with all the nice things I have to say about this game, I’ve had some less than stellar moments so far. Almost everything that happened in Dry Dry Desert just wasn’t fun for me. The desert itself took way too long to go through, and only had two enemy types before you reached the ruins (and one oof the enemies in the desert gets repeated in the ruins!). I’m typically never one to run from battles in RPGs, but I started to actively avoid fights where I could. It didn’t help that I suffered my first Game Over here, after I accidentally chose Focus instead of Refresh and lost to a group of Bandits (though that’s more on me than the game; I’m surprisingly stingy when it comes to healing items). I even managed to trip myself up in the ruins themselves, as I traced over the whole place twice before I realized that I had already picked up the key I needed to continue. Plus, the sidequests involving delivering Parakarry’s letters pretty much just amounts to back-tracking to places you wouldn’t have much of a reason to go to otherwise, and one particular chain of letters has gone on for so long that I’ve yet to even complete it for fear of running out of time (it has to do with fishing, so if there’s some grand prize for completing this and not just another Star Piece, please tell me).

With all that said, I’d say that this game definitely still holds up today as a pretty solid game. If this was my first entry to the Paper Mario series, I’d definitely have wanted to play the next game. It has its faults, but it also has its charm in its battle system and world. Sure, some of Mario’s friends don’t have much of a personality to them (I dare you to tell me what Bombette’s personality is), and traversing the large landscapes can get pretty tiring if played for long sessions (the Speedy Spin badge feels like a requirement), but there’s nothing that’s significantly ruined the fun of this game for me. If anyone here is interested in Mario RPGs and hasn’t tried this one yet, they owe it to themselves to get it on the eShop.

Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door is fondly remembered as an RPG classic. It’s the first Mario RPG that I played, and I’ve now played nearly every Mario RPG out there. It’s the most popular entry in the Paper Mario series, but popularity doesn’t necessarily equate to quality, so how does it hold up today?
TTYD has a more engaging story than a typical Mario game’s, but it’s still easily understood. One doesn’t need to play the first Paper Mario in order to understand TTYD’s plot. Princess Peach comes upon an ancient treasure map in the distant town of Rogueport, and sends it to Mario, along with an invitation to help her find the treasure. Once Mario arrives, however, Peach is nowhere to be found, as he instead runs into Lord Crump, a commander of the villainous X-Nauts, harassing a Goomba archaeologist named Goombella. After Mario helps Goombella, the two visit Professor Frankly, who reveals that the treasure map leads to powerful objects called the Crystal Stars, which will open the Thousand-Year Door and reveal its treasure after all seven are acquired. Mario decides to help Goombella and Frankly by traveling around the world in search of the Crystal Stars as well as Peach. The game’s plot follows a basic formula: go to the Thousand-Year Door to reveal the location of the next Crystal Star, find a way to get there, complete that area’s chapter to obtain the Crystal Star, briefly play as Peach, and then briefly play as Bowser, which repeats until all seven Crystal Stars are found. Peach’s segments focus on the captive princess interacting with a computer named TEC, finding out information about the X-Nauts’ plans, and then relaying it to Mario. Bowser’s segments are comical scenes where Bowser and his servant, Kammy Koopa, search for Peach and the Crystal Stars themselves, always being one step behind Mario. TTYD has a serious premise, but remains lighthearted overall thanks to its witty writing and cast of silly characters. TTYD focuses its writing on fleshing out the world in order to make it grander than the first Paper Mario, with much effort put into the backstory of Rogueport, including its history and its legends. The characters are not particularly deep, but it’s clear that effort has been put into their dialogue and attitude. Mario’s partners are particularly charming, and even relatively minor characters are well written and entertaining. The funniest character, however, is most definitely Bowser, who has hilarious lines that match his hamminess and huge ego, which go well with the humorous situations he often ends up in. The game is well written as a whole, has a love for details, and is a grander, darker adventure than what may be expected from a Mario game, but its tone allows it to fit right into the Mario universe.
TTYD has solid presentation overall, sporting both graphics and sound that are of high quality. The game has characters appear as flat, paper-like entities that allow them to stick out against 3D environments. Characters look like sprites, but they are actually several flattened 3D models with sprite textures, which allows for more fluid animation than sprites usually allow. The environments are nicely detailed, and are in a style similar to a diorama. The game has an excellent soundtrack, which is memorable without being annoying or repetitive. Each area has its own track, and every major boss also has its own unique battle theme, which helps make each part of the game memorable. Sound effects are great as well, making each action, especially strikes in battle, have impact. The game has minimal voice acting for Mario, Peach, and Bowser, being relegated to simple exclamations and grunts. Notably, Charles Martinet tones down his traditionally loud performance for more subdued acting, even lacking Mario’s iconic phrases, presumably in order to not annoy the player after hearing them frequently during this long game.
TTYD’s gameplay is nearly identical to the first Paper Mario, so those who have played that game will feel right at home. TTYD, like most RPGs, has two modes: the field and battle. When out of battle, Mario can explore the world by jumping, attacking with his hammer, using his partners’ abilities, and folding into papercraft forms. Mario can acquire new partners, paper curses, and upgrades to his boots and hammer in order to open up more areas and use new moves in battle. The game rewards exploration by giving the player items, badges, and Shine Sprites. Badges are equipped in order to boost Mario and his partner’s stats, give them new moves, or have other effects. Shine Sprites are used in order to upgrade partners, which increases their stats and unlocks new moves. The player can also complete sidequests via Rogueport’s Trouble Center, which usually reward the player with coins, but can also yield badges, Star Pieces (to buy special badges), access to minigames, or even an optional partner. In battle, Mario and his partner have separate HP for their health and shared FP for powerful moves, while Mario alone has SP for Special Moves using his Crystal Stars and BP for equipping badges. Battles are turn-based, with Mario’s party usually going first. A party can get a preemptive strike on the other by attacking them outside of battle. Each action in battle has an Action Command, which tasks the player with pressing buttons or moving the Control Stick with good timing in order to increase the move’s effectiveness. To defend against enemy attacks, the player can either slightly reduce damage taken by guarding with A at the right moment or negating it entirely by superguarding with B during a precise period of time. Battles are in front of an audience, which will give Mario more Star Power by performing Action Commands well. The audience and stage may trigger random events, such as the background scenery falling on combatants or an audience member throwing an object at Mario that can be either helpful or hurtful. Enemies come in a variety of forms, such as spiked enemies that are immune to jump attacks, or ones that are airborne and avoid ground-based moves. The player can prepare for battle by upgrading their partners with Shine Sprites, having the right partner active, and equipping Mario with appropriate badges. After gaining enough Star Points, or experience, Mario will level up, and the player can upgrade either HP, FP, or BP. This level and badge system allows the player to be highly flexible in their playstyle and allows for varied subsequent playthroughs.
The playthrough I did for this review was the third time I played through this game, so I was highly familiar with the game and its mechanics. Due to this, I had a playstyle that was heavily focused on offense. I almost always raised BP each level, sometimes raised FP, and only raised HP once in Chapter 3, once in the Pit of 100 Trials, and again at the end of the game when I was satisfied with my other stats. My badges focused on raw power, equipping a variety of jump attacks and disabling hammer attacks with the Jumpman badge in order to maximize damage. I frequently used offensive items early on, but almost never did so after Chapter 2. I was able to get away with low HP by defeating many enemies before they could attack, superguarding, and frequently putting my partner in front of Mario. Despite my low HP, the only time Mario’s HP hit 0 was when an end-game boss used its desperation attack, but Mario was automatically revived with a Life Shroom from my inventory. I was even able to defeat the boss of Chapter 7 without any damage whatsoever. For healing, I primarily used Sweet Treat, sometimes used spare items, and took advantage of a level up healing Mario and his current partner in the Pit. I avoided most enemy encounters, usually only purposefully fighting them if they’re in the way of a puzzle or platform, and to fight at least one of each enemy. I only did some of the sidequests, but I did go for all of the treasure I could find, got the optional party member, and completed the Pit of 100 Trials. I beat the game in 25 hours at Level 30, with 25 HP, 25 FP, and 69 BP. Ten of those levels were from the Pit of Trials, which I did during the end-game, so my level was low for most of the adventure. Due to my powerful setup, TTYD wasn’t particularly challenging, but I had a very pleasant experience playing this game.
While my time with TTYD was great, the game still has notable problems. First of all, Mario’s inventory is quite small, being capped at just 10 items. While there is an item storage that can be accessed through shops, being forced to use or throw away an item when attempting to pick up an eleventh item is annoying. The tiny inventory also limits players who may prefer using offensive items in battle. It’s possible to double Mario’s inventory by getting the Strange Sack on Floor 50 of the Pit of 100 Trials (I got it after Chapter 4), but most players won’t do this, or even know to do so, until late in the game. While the Trouble Center centralizes TTYD’s sidequests into one place, it’s still inconvenient, as the player must pick the quest to take at the Trouble Center, talk to the specified person to begin the quest, then talk to them again once it’s done to finish it. Additionally, only one sidequest can be taken at a time, only some are worth it, and it costs 30 coins to quit the current quest, cancelling its progress. One major optional area that can be accessed at nearly any time is the Pit of 100 Trials, which is a 100-floor gauntlet of enemies. It starts off fairly simple, but it later escalates into hordes of exclusive enemies that rival bosses in terms of strength. The main problem with the Pit is its obnoxious length (it took me 2.5 hours) combined with a complete lack of save points. There are exits every ten floors, but the player must start the Pit over again on the next visit. At the end of the Pit, the player must fight the strongest boss in the game, but I don’t think the reward is worth it. My final issue with TTYD is the amount of backtracking required. While backtracking is fairly common in RPGs, some specific parts of TTYD are annoying with it. Chapter 4 may have an interesting story idea and introduce a fan favorite partner, but the chapter consists almost entirely of going back and forth between a few areas. The player must travel to or from the dungeon along a linear path (with no shortcuts and enemies that are tricky to avoid) no less than five times. There is a similar instance at the beginning of Chapter 5, although it’s not quite as bad there. Finally, the beginning of Chapter 7 requires the player to travel all around the world in search of someone, talk to a specific person in the area to find where he went next, then go there until you finally find him. Unfortunately, backtracking is an issue that is prevalent in the entire Paper Mario series, although it’s the least pronounced in the original Paper Mario.
In the end, I found Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door to be a highly enjoyable game and a great sequel to the original Paper Mario. After examining it with a more experienced and critical eye, I’ve come to appreciate its smart design choices and improvements over its predecessor while also noting its shortcomings. One thing that particularly impresses me is how the game is simultaneously accessible to new players and accommodating towards experienced ones: there’s no tutorial for the first battle because of intuitive Action Commands, the tutorials for partners and gear upgrades are brief, and the tutorials for badges and battles are both brief and optional. The game allows for more playstyles with its combat system than its predecessor thanks to new badges, changes to partners, and a raised BP limit. I found TTYD to be just as fun as I remembered it being, and still deserving of its status as the fan favorite Paper Mario title. I can recommend this game to any RPG fan, especially those who are a fan of Mario. Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door has not seen any re-release outside of the Player’s Choice line, so you’d have to find a GameCube copy. I hope you found this review informative, and see you next Game Club!
  1. CM30’s thoughts on Color Splash are similar to my own, although I have yet to play the game for myself. If a video game’s gameplay is bad, what reason is there to actually play it, let alone ever revisit? As I’ve said before, I’ll get this game for cheap someday, as I’m in no rush to play it nor to give Nintendo money for creating such a poor Paper Mario game.

    As for Spiral on the original Paper Mario, I agree that the opening is awful. Paper Mario having such a boring start greatly deters me from revisiting it, which is why I’ve only played through it twice. It’s also a bit hard to go back to a more limited battle system compared to TTYD’s version; I feel restricted by a 30-BP cap, barely any badges for partners, no HP for partners, and few ways to restore Star Power.

    P.S.: You might wanna fix the paragraph spacing on my TTYD review, Push.

    Nintendrone on November 5 |
  2. In response to CM30, I was afraid of Color Splash being just ‘a better Sticker Star’, because Sticker Star left a bad taste in my mouth for several reasons. Unfortunately, it seems that most of those reasons have carried over, even if the game is still more enjoyable in general. I really don’t like having to use certain things for certain bosses, and being guaranteed to lose because you used it too early is just cheap. I am glad that certain aspects have been improved, but I’ll probably have to wait on a price drop before I buy it.

    In response to Nintendrone, sounds like you’re a lot better at the game than I was, I remember having to upgrade health and FP a lot more often :O I could never get the timing right on the counterattack, so I always had to settle for blocking instead, so I ended up taking more damage in general than you did. It has been a long time since I last played TTYD, but I still have fond memories of it and I’d play it again in a heartbeat.

    And in response to me…

    “and one oof the enemies in the desert gets repeated in the ruins!”

    Ach, a typo! I spent so much time making sure I caught all of them too!

    Shame no one got to Super Paper Mario this time around, it’s been a while since I played that game and I’ve always wondered what other people thought of it.

    Spiral on November 15 |