Welcome to the latest instalment in our new-ish column, Memory Pak, where we're going to be doing a deep-dive into some of the most memorable moments in gaming – good and bad. This time, Kate wrestles with some extremely strong feelings for Paper Mario...
I may be bending the rules of Memory Pak slightly by picking an entire chapter of Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, but it's fine, I make the rules here. And this chapter — the third one in the story — is one of the best in the game. Well, most of the chapters are the best. Except the Boggly Tree one. We do not speak of the Boggly Tree.
At the end of Chapter Two, Paper Mario — who is a different entity from Mario, by the way, as canonically confirmed by Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam — is forced to befriend the mafioso, Don Pianta, in order to get a ticket on a blimp to take him to Glitzville, a sky-island packed with tourists, shady weirdos, and the Glitz Pit.
Paper Mario and his companion enter the Glitz Pit to find that it is the main hub of activity in Glitzville: a wrestling ring, ruled over by wrestling champ and massive egomaniac, Rawk Hawk. And on the championship belt: The Crystal Star! That's what Paper Mario needs to open the Thousand-Year Door!!
There's only one solution: approach Rawk Hawk and ask nicely for the Crystal Star, please and thank you. Well, that's what a sensible person would do — Paper Mario instead marches into the manager's office and demands to be the next wrestler on his rota. And thank Triple H he did, because what follows is some incredible storytelling.
There is a trope in episodic TV called a "bottle episode", in which — either because of financial or creative constraints — the characters largely stay in one place. You may have heard about it from Community, in which the characters (well, Abed) are constantly lampshading their own TV-ness, or you may have noticed that some sitcom episodes take place in an elevator, an apartment, a spaceship, and so on.
Despite the fact that these episodes arise from wanting to save money, they often become the most memorable and well-loved episodes of the show in its entirety, because bottle episodes have to rely on really, really solid writing in order to stand up on their own.
Glitzville is one such bottle episode, as it's largely set in the Glitz Pit, following Paper Mario's rise to wrestlefame. Like many bottle episodes before it, the dialogue is pumped up to 11, and given that Paper Mario: TTYD's writing is already stellar, that's saying something.
In the ring, our 2D hero is no longer Paper Mario — he is The Great Gonzales, an up-and-comer who begins right at the bottom of the table, fighting Fuzzies and Goombas to rise up the ranks. The fantastic thing is that these mooks aren't just random chaps in the field anymore; they're all wrestling teams, fighting you not for Bowser's sake, but because it's ENTERTAINMENT, dangit. They all have wrestler names, like Cleftor, Sir Swoop, and Spiky Joe, and fightin' catchphrases that they yell at Gonzales, just like real wrestling.
If you follow the story and don't get distracted along the way, most of the story is just The Great Gonzales doing a battle, taking a break, then immediately doing another battle. It could be boring, but Paper Mario's battle system is engagingly theatrical and constantly surprising, despite its two-dimensional limitations. It's a testament to how strong a combat system it is that the third chapter in the game — when Mario has very few special abilities and companions — is entirely based around it without ever seeming threadbare.
But the downtime between matches slowly gets to be just as compelling, if not more. After swiftly kicking these chumps to the curb, Gonzales returns to the locker rooms; you can talk to the other wrestlers in here (the chumps you just kicked) to make friends, making it clear that they're only interested in punching you when it's wrestletime.
The whole time, you're having to deal with Grubba — a shady wrestling manager who definitely has some darker motives — and his assistant, Jolene, a Toad/girlboss. The characterisation in TTYD is fantastic in every single area, and Glitzville is a great example, because of the density of new characters in one place. Rawk Hawk is a macho tough guy bully; the newly-hatched companion is small, feisty, and capable of holding his own against guys four times his size; the mysterious whistleblower, "X", is a secret benefactor who lavishes Paper Mario with gifts in an attempt to reveal the conspiracy at the heart of the Glitz Pit.
For every match, you'll be expected to stick to a specific request — don't switch out your partners, or make sure to use only the hammer — and if you fail, you won't get moved up to the next rank. You'll also start receiving mysterious, anonymous whistleblower emails, and at one point, an egg appears, which will later hatch into a brand-new companion.
After a few matches, Gonzales gets upgraded to the Major League locker room, a significantly nicer place that probably doesn't smell like stale sweat and cheap deodorant. The whistleblower emails get more and more frequent, and intriguing — it might not smell like stale sweat, but it definitely smells like some kind of scheme.
The Glitzville chapter is a fantastically-told story of dishonest shysters, fragile egos, and plucky underdogs; it sets up Paper Mario and his companions as a troupe who'll do the right thing, but aren't afraid to have a bit of fun while doing it. The central mystery is compelling and well-paced, and the battles that Gonzales has to do in order to get his papery mitts on the Crystal Star manage to never get old. Grubba's match requests and the rising difficulty curve keep things feeling plenty fresh, and there's always the promise of the Crystal Star at the end of it all to keep you going.
I haven't really mentioned real wrestling much in this Memory Pak, mostly because I don't know too much about it, but from what I have watched, it feels like the Glitz Pit nails a lot of the best parts of the sport. Wrestling is goofy, thrilling, and doesn't take itself too seriously; you're as likely to see a beefy chap in a leotard piledrivering another beefy chap in a different leotard as you are to see a wrestler jumping out of a giant cake during an in-the-ring wedding.
Wrestling is a soap opera led by people made of muscle and glitter, and what could be more soap opera than a ringside conspiracy involving missing fighters, mysteriously muscular managers, and rumours of a haunted toilet? The Glitz Pit is a perfect bottle chapter for both wrestling fans and novices alike, because it takes something players know well — Paper Mario's combat system — and repackages it into something novel. Add a dash of Paper Mario-style goofs, a mystery worth unravelling, and the series' trademark witty dialogue, and you've got one of the best adventures in all of games.
I would rebuy this in a heartbeat
This was such a cool game. I kinda wish Nintendo would allow those staff back together and not micromanage them too much to let something like this happen again, but I don't really see it happening.
That Christmas, I couldn't put this down.
Fond memories of this game.
This is seriously my favourite chapter/episode in all gaming!!
Hence the username 😄
I replayed this 2y ago. This chapter is perfection.
Why was this game not more available? Why is this still 80 to 125 bucks when other games are more available? Why Nintendo
Loved this chapter so much. Every time i replayed the game, this chapter was the one i looked forward to the most alongside the express train one. And part of it is definitely because of the writing and the charismatic characters
It's extremely depressing to think we're likely never getting another good paper mario ever again
Way to remind us how great this series used to be...
Came for the Paper Mario, stayed for the Community reference.
I absolutely love your writing, Kate. Every article, whether it’s about games I know or the ones I never had the chance to play, is engaging and full of heart. I love it!
@Nontendo_4DS I don't wanna overhype the game and set unrealistic expectations, but you're in for a real treat if you ever do get a chance to play it. It's literally my favorite game of all time. It's so special to me, and I'm thrilled you'll be going in blind. Still great on repeat playthroughs, but that first time is magical.
Great game but didn’t like the chapter. It was more of a build your battle flower XP level up here level.
The Great Gonzales was one of the best things to happen to the Paper Mario series
I’m fortunate enough to have a copy of TTYD, and this is such an amazing chapter in it. The hype of the wrestling league mixed with the intrigue of the detective work are such a great combination.
Now if only you could best Rawk Hawk on the switch...
Ah yes, the story of Paper Gonzales, a true classic.
In hindsight, I'm always amazed how well this game pulled off...a lot. The storytelling, from a comedic perspective and otherwise, is so beyond a Nintendo game and even a lot of other popular JRPGs that its really surprising that it came from a popular platformer series. There's a lot of games where, even when they try, I can't even tell you the main story beyond some basic details, but I distinctly remember every chapter of the first couple of Paper Marios. And the Glitz Pit is one of the best. Also on top of the storytelling, its a really nice change of pace to get so many unique battles in a row. Usually in other chapters and other JRPGs, if you're in an area, you'll become accustomed to the same handful of enemies very quickly. But here you fight probably like two dozen different enemies, bosses included.
But I dunno, I'm sure this chapter would have been better if none of the characters had names and it had zero Mario races outside of the ones created for the mainline console platformers. :V
@Nontendo_4DS Out of curiosity, which Paper Mario games have you played, exactly?
TTYD is the series peak for me and this is the best part of that game!
It so deserves a remake or even just a re-release. I’d pre-order it instantly…
That tagline! Bravo, Kate!
One of many absolutely brilliant narrative and gameplay elements of just a staggeringly great game. God I miss classic Paper Mario....
I remember this chapter. It's been a while.
Yeah, Nintendo had it right closer to the start. While I can understand them wanting different styles to keep the series from getting stale, limitations like what they have shouldn't be for the rest of the series.
The Paper Mario trilogy.. Such great games. The third one isn't as good as the other two but it's still a solid trilogy.
Wish we could get a fourth one.
And no, the abominations that came after Super Paper Mario don't count.
Uh, that’s not from the REAL Paper Mario series. Stop spreading the harmful narrative that the antiquated TTYD has any merit—people like you are trying to ruin this beloved series, and I won’t stand for it.
Arrrg! This game was absolute perfection for me - 10/10! Trying to finish Origami King and really wishing Paper Mario was still like TTYD!!
Truly the Intelligent Systems of the first three games (now it's a different team who inherited the name) did remarkable masterpieces of these stories, not to mention that the first two games are some of the best RPGs of their respective consoles.
Loooved this chapter.
I hate what Paper Mario has become, but this game is one of my favorite games of all time. Such an awesome experience
Always happy reminiscing about one of my favourite games of all time, thank you, Kate! This chapter has always been one that stands out to me in this game (which, I guess is also most of them). But I am still torn about whether to wait out an official future rerelease or play a version with updated HD textures for a fresh experience, or just whip out my GameCube to kick it old school.
I love what Paper Mario has become
This was always my favorite chapter in the game!
I remember playing through a second time and being so surprised that the Yoshi was a different color!
God this game is so good. Love that chapter. Think I’m going to replay it with the patch that retranslates and uncensors content like with Vivian and such. I have it on disc so lord knows how much that could sell for.
Paper Mario the Thousand Year door is such a important game of my life. I would come home from School and play it when I was overwhelmed wirh social anxiety. It felt like a journey with friends but without the anxiety, the lovable partners who all had their own personality all the lore of the areas in the game the boss fights like doopliss. I never beat it when I was younger but I still got pretty deep into it, Then years pass when I first moved out on my own when I was 18 (im 23 now) I moved into my own apartment and I didint have that much furniture even but I was like I cant wait to play a game in my own apartment, all alone it felt so nice and liberating, I decided to play Paper Mario ttyd and beat it. What a great and cozy experience that was. I honestly felt a bit sad when it ended because the ending is so nice and the journey was just amazing.
Beating Paper Mario ttyd at the same time as being in my own place as an adult really marked the beginning of adulthood for me.
beating a game I could never beat when I was younger and in my own place idk what the feeling was but it was like someone put cozy, love, nostalgia, mystery, and independence in a blender and The overwhelming feeling in my stomach and my chest I got from it felt so amazing and I have never felt it since. But whenever I see paper mario ttyd referenced or see it somewhere I instantly feel a tiny bit of that emotion that I had gotten when I beat it in my new apartment. Such an important game to me.
Paper Mario is great.
But you’re talking about Mario being a pro wrestler and ignoring that before Charles Martinet, most people thought Mario sounded like professional wrestler, Captain Lou Albano (and with good reason, Captain Lou played Mario in the all the Dic cartoons and the live action segments of the super mario bros super show).
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