Bringle’s Obscure Changes in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door

I wish that these videos weren’t always videos. A lot of this information would be delivered just as effectively in text, but these days a lot of game researchers have abandoned good old text for flashy video, or otherwise locked-off Discord servers that don’t add to our common body of knowledge. I’ve complained about this before, and I am liable to keep complaining about it. Because I’m right about this, and yet it doesn’t change. Get to fixing this, world!

The video (21 minutes) has a lot of interesting changes though. Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door has sustained a huge amount of fan interest over the years, due to its story being actually really good for a Mario game, it’s terrific sense of humor, and its deep gameplay. It’s generally agreed to be the highlight of the whole Paper Mario series, building on the ideas of the first game.

This is a good opportunity to muse upon what the gameplay merits of TYD are. I identify these:

  • The combat system, which keeps most of your moves useful in different ways by giving them special properties that make intuitive sense. Jumps can’t hit spiked enemies or enemies on the ceiling, while hammer attacks only hit the first enemy in line and can’t hit enemies in the air. There are exceptions to these rules, but they’re more costly. Follower attacks also have their own limitations along these lines.
  • The action commands, and Guard and Superguard functions. Paper Mario wasn’t the first JRPG to add a timed minigame to combat (that may have been Super Mario RPG), but the design here is very good. Most moves have an action command minigame where good performance increases the move’s power. Guard reduces the damage taken from attacks by pressing a button in a brief time window, while Superguard negates damage if a different button is pressed in a briefer time window. The button you press changes both the difficulty and the reward. Both aren’t easy to perform consistently, as many enemy attacks have tricky timing, but the Superguard bonus is great enough that it’s really tempting to use it. All three of these functions largely replace the general randomness and variance in JRPG combat, making it a lot more skill-based. (Finding ways for players to demonstrate skill in RPG-style games is a long-standing design challenge. I should write something about that here in the future!)
  • And then there’s the joy of exploration, and the many secrets in the game world that reward it. Paper Mario had a bunch of them, but TYD really goes overboard. I can’t name a game with as much cool stuff thrown into its game world for players to just happen upon. The old line used in many Nintendo game manuals is to “try everything,” but how much of everything should the player really try? TYD is one of the few games that feels like it lives up to the true breadth of that word. There is a character in the game whose purpose is to give the player hints at finding obscure secrets. The Trouble Center offers further rewards and fleshes out the game world by giving Mario and friends the opportunity to perform helpful tasks for people. There’s so many things to do!

Super Paper Mario also had a lot of tricks, but it had a worse story (IMO), and it completely abandoned the classic Paper Mario battle system. Later Paper Mario games went in a completely different direction with unique battle systems for each. It was Thousand Year Door that got the most right in a single game.

So, um. The video! Yes, watch it, it’s interesting.

Obscure Changes in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door (Youtube, 21 minutes)

Advance Wars By Web

Advance Wars By Web is a long-standing website allowing for Advance Wars games to take place between players online. It’s old enough that it came out before Advance Wars Dual Strike, the first DS Advance Wars game, and has survived long enough to see the release of Dual Strike, Advance Wars Days of Ruin, and now Advance Wars 1+2: Reboot Camp.

The first Advance Wars game had a legendary awkward launch date: September 10, 2001. I don’t know if world events following it had any influence on its popularity, but Advance Wars had the advantage of being a long-running series, going back to the Famicom, that had never been given a chance in Western territories. (One reason? Super Famicom Wars had a notorious character named Hister, with a moustache that made its inspiration unmistakable.)

The first two Advance Wars titles, taking their name, like previous versions, from its release platform the Gameboy Advance, were unexpectedly popular. The gaming groups I was in in college played an incredible amount of Advance Wars 2. We maxed out the game’s timer at 999 hours! I have no doubt that, if our group hadn’t broken up from people graduating and leaving, we’d still be playing it today.

Both of these games are preserved in proper fashion by Wayforward’s Switch remake of Advance Wars and its immediate sequel. Of the two games after it, Dual Strike leans a bit too hard on CO powers (already a creeping problem in AW2), and Days of Ruin implemented a lot of gameplay adjustments and fixed but, alas, lost the weird sense of fun from the semi-cartoony characters and setting of the first two games.

The Gameboy Advance Advance Wars games did not have internet-enabled multiplayer. The DS versions had better options, but they’re unavailable now, at least without some technical effort, due to the shutdown of the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection.

Advance Wars By Web both allows a game much like AW2 to be played over the internet, and it does so with features that make it feel like a play-by-mail game, with the site handling the state involved with turn-based multiplayer. It does this at the of having any form of single-player: all of its battles are against other human players. So it’s not an excellent way to learn to play Advance Wars games interactively, as with the official games, which easy you into the game a bit at a time. But as for learning how to play this online version, there’s a number of useful videos available on their Tutorials Page. I especially like their video on overcoming first turn advantage, which they do by spotting the second player one Infantry unit. It’s not a perfect solution, but one that works out fairly well in play. And the video on designing balanced multiplayer maps, which offers a lot of practical advice that can be carried over into designing maps for the original games. And there’s a huge library of over 3,800 games to view, if you want to see how the community plays.

I don’t know if Reboot Camp is helping to sustain the avid fandom that the first Advance Wars games did, but I’ve enjoyed it a lot. If you enjoy it too, you can go from Reboot Camp right into playing against people online on AWBW. I can’t offer much more about it than that, for Advance Wars is a deceptively deep game and I have to make a post here, on the average, every day, but it’s been offering online play between humans for nearly twenty years now! That has to count for something.

Advance Wars By Web (