It seems the only developer going for gusto on the GameCube these days is Nintendo themselves. Although their release list looks a bit anemic (dare I say on life-support), what is there is solid. Take the newest Paper Mario for instance – pushing its artistic concept to the limit with the GameCube’s processing power, this installment is a marvel to behold…
Instantly you’re pulled into this vibrant pop-up world where characters bend and fold like…well…paper. Mario takes on various forms of transportation through folding, rolling, and twisting himself. Buildings pop up and down to give the best view possible while traversing towns and dungeons. To be blunt, it is the most colorful and vast pop-up book you could ever ask for in videogame format.
Populating this world are characters all over the Mario mythos, from the common staple of Goombas and Koopas to the fairly new Pinatas. Everyone is hand drawn but not – a very high-resolution texture on very simple ‘pieces’ of flat polys to give a feeling that each character was rendering by hand, but thrown into this vast 3D realm. The overall effect works for what Intelligent Systems intended, and when you see a screen populated by literally hundreds of characters without skipping a beat it’ll be hard to be unimpressed. Suffice to say, the graphics whore in you will be well-satiated.
The whole atmosphere of Paper Mario invokes a colorful comfort – like all is well with the world and nothing could seriously disrupt such a perfect balance. Mario saves Peach just like always; Luigi plays second-string hero; and Bowser always loses. Then one day our fair Princess goes in search of the “Thousand-Year Door” which legend tells of a great treasure behind the ancient portal. Before anything gets on in earnest, Peach is swept away by a new band of bandits, the X-Nauts and it’s up to Mario to save the day once again. Thwart a new menace, save the Princess, and collect Crystal Stars to open the door that so many are bent upon unlocking? All just another day for our favorite plumber...
Truth be told, the story is pretty cookie-cutter if you played the original Paper Mario on N64, and if you played the phenomenal Mario & Luigi on GBA it’ll be hard to sell the thin plot and contrived jokes for the more clever dialogue of its predecessors. Yet what Thousand Year Door does is have fun – the visuals, dialogue and very non-threatening plot alleviate an air of adventure rather than epics of life-and-limb. So if you can go for some clean, dumb fun, be ready for the tightest RPG battle ‘system’ in recent memory.