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18. Paper Mario 2: The Thousand Year Door
Intelligent Systems | Nintendo | 2004
A heartfelt and happy little RPG starring Nintendo's world-famous mascot in his most adorable role to date: a razor-thin sheet of paper
What made it so great?
If we were ranking the most charming games of the system, this would be at the top of the list. On the surface it seems like the simplistic visuals are left over from the N64, or maybe almost even the Super NES era, but after a few hours of play you'll notice all kinds of little effects that keep thingss lively and exciting. The minimalist approach let the developers create some truly bizarre environments and give Mario strange ways of navigating them - he can turn into a paper airplane to soar across gaps or turn sideways and slip in between tight spaces, for example. Most of the game looks 3D but still takes place in traditional, 2D Mario space. You can mess with this cutesy world by flipping switches that cause certain areas to "grow" stairs or open new paths as if flipping to a new page in a book. It's a one-of-a-kind look that no other series really gets right, yet makes perfect sense when set inside the Mushroom Kingdom.
Critics will knock the game down for its extensive dialogue scenes, and yeah, it can get pretty chatty. But we think the babbling townspeople and Kingdom denizens serve to flesh out a realm that so rarely sees any characterization at all. If they want to get a little off their chest, let 'em be. The quirky conversations are half the fun anyway. Who knew Bowser and Peach had so much to say?
Get ready to play
An RPG is only as good as its battle system, and Paper Mario 2's remains one of the most endearing in memory. Like its SNES, N64 and GBA predecessors, the game demands you pay attention and push buttons for battle bonuses. If you see a hammer coming your way, tap the button right before it hits you to reduce damage. Conversely, tapping properly during at attack will double up your moves, stacking more hurt onto your target. A simple idea, but it sure kept us awake better than some of the yawnfest RPGs that have come since.
Been there, done that?
Developer Intelligent Systems crafted another GameCube RPG, you know. Once you're done with the storybook world of Paper Mario, you should try the grid-based Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance for a more serious tale of might and magic.