Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door

This game is the second in the enigmatic Paper Mario series. The story follows Mario as he travels to far off lands to discover just who kidnapped Princess Peach and what it has to do with the prophesized opening of a door that had been closed for a thousand years. This game feels like an Indiana Jones title. It involves traveling to far off locations, ancient evils reawakened, and exotic enemies to battle. What makes this game different, however, is the way humor, subplots, and adult themes are braided into the arch, providing a highly entertaining and colorful story.

Genre-Bending

This game crosses a lot of boundaries– not just in terms of game play– but also in terms of story and plot. Essentially this is an RPG, but at times it blends in aspects of platform, fighting, puzzle, and casino genres. In story, the game would fall into the adventure category. But at times it strays into aspects of horror, mystery, and science fiction. While many games take characters and players to far distant locales with vastly different environments, the developers spent a lot of time interweaving rich detail into regions like desert island jungles, frozen wastelands, crumbling ruins, a lunar fortress, pastoral fields, haunted castles, and luxury towns. This gives you the sense of traversing great distances and meeting all kinds of people and challenges as part of your varied quest.

This is accomplished in signature RPG style by having the characters travel far and wide, but also by incorporating an unusual mix of characters. Mario and his friends not only face off against Bowser and his hordes, but against a new enemy– an army from outer space known as the X-Nauts. This army, led by an evil scientist known as Sir Grodius, serves as the primary antagonist, even battling against Bowser and his Koopa army. Grodius’ minions appear to be as incompetent as Bowser’s, however, and Mario winds up facing off against independent ne’er-do-wells as often as he faces X-Nauts and Koopas.

History of the Thousand-Year Door

The game centers around the reopening of a great door which for a thousand years has sealed in both a great evil and a great treasure. It is this promise which has all factions in the game scrambling to access the door. What is interesting about the door is the stylistic references made by its appearance. It is an arched passageway, adorned with intricate filigree, a crown, celestial symbols like stars, moons, and suns, and which is not immediately accessible without some manner of incantation. Below, the door is shown in a side by side comparison with two other very similar icons from literature.

In the first image on the left, we see the Thousand-Year Door. Mario and one of his friends stands before it, invoking the power of the stars. In the center is the great Door of Moria from The Lord of the Rings. This door could only be opened by someone knowing the correct pass phrase, and concealed the great mine-city of the Dwarves known as Khazad Dum. The final image on the right is the “Royal Door” from Freemasonry. The image invokes many of the same symbols and could be the root icon in this continuum. The Royal Door features Biblical and European images connecting it with Christianity, mysticism, royalty, and the perceive elitism of the Freemasons. It is clear that this was the inspiration J. R. R. Tolkien used for his door (center), and that this was the overall style used by Intelligent Systems art designers in creating this titular image for the game.

Adult Themes

This game breaks from other Mario titles by using a large amount of adult themes to populate its details. To begin with, the game centers around a village of brigands and thieves called Roguesport. Mario is constantly hustled for money by the town’s criminal ilk. The buildings are covered in graffiti and dirt and most of the characters are hostile and jaded, which are both big contrasts to other Mario games where the characters are cloying and whimsical. Below are some of the unusual themes present in the game.

Sex

This topic almost never comes up in Mario games. However, in this case the game acknowledges sex by teasing the player with it. During her captivity with the X-Nauts, Peach is forced to perform a number of covert missions by their base computer, an artificial intelligence named TEC. While these tasks are usually simple enough– mix a potion, retrieve a disk, use a computer– they almost all involve Peach disrobing. In the first mission, she takes off her dress and showers while TEC watches. Later, she strips naked because she has become invisible and her clothes have not. This allows her to move around the base undetected. In another encounter, she has to change clothes into an X-Naut uniform to sneak around. While sex is never overtly mentioned here, the voyeuristic nature of it is enough to keep it present in the game.

Other characters make oblique references to sex. A female character named Ms Mowz often kisses Mario for his trouble, making another character to wonder what kissing is and whether or not he’d like it. There are also some fairly innocent romances between various characters, but they never stray out of benign courtship.

Gang Wars

One of the most surprising aspects of the game is the mob war that afflicts Roguesport at the beginning of the game. The first faction is made up of “Bandit” characters and what appear to be pirate snails. The other are mafia-style criminals made of up the plant-like Pianta race first seen in Super Mario Sunshine. While there is no violent imbroglio between the gangs in the game, it does set up a West Side Story type of tension which helps the player complete various side quests and move on to new areas of the game.

Fight Club

In one area of the game, Mario is drafted into an arena fighting championship. Rather than being the homoerotic gorefest of Fight Club, the sequence more closely resembles Golden Boy, as Mario engages in cage fights with other franchise characters to claim the top prize. In this capacity he is given the moniker, “The Great Gonzales,” the name by which one of the characters refers to Mario as for the remainder of the game. While this is just a pretense for another series of RPG battles, the arena fighting represents a departure for the series as fighting is glorified instead of viewed as a necessary evil. Mario and the other fighters have loyal fans who mob them, get special treatment for winning, and receive relatively small purses for often costly battles.

Humor

What ties this game and all of its divergent themes together is its incredible sense of humor. The writers at Intelligent Systems and localization specialists at Nintendo of America had previously made Paper Mario, and subsequently made Super Paper Mario very humorous, but this game has an exceptionally abundant amount of source material from which to draw jokes and gags. From the downright silly interplay between Bowser and the X-Nauts, to the myriad of wacky characters Mario has encounters with, almost everything draws some kind of subtle joke. One running joke involves Luigi, who tells Mario periodically about his ridiculous quest he is simultaneously undergoing and how his heroics get him out of tight jams. Luigi is always flanked by his own sidekicks, who tell Mario a very different story about Luigi’s misadventures and want revenge against Luigi. The subtle, quirky humor is like an added bonus to an already engrossing game which combines genre and art in very interesting ways.

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