Posted By Robert H. about 1 year ago
Ever since I started this series, I’ve been looking over individual levels from games that range from first-person shooters to platformers and explaining why I believe them to be great stages both in the context of the game in question and from an objective standpoint, removed from the game. There are many levels that stand above the others in a game in such a way and deserve to be celebrated for it. However, I want to try something a little different for some of my next few articles. To show how consistently good levels in a game can build on one another while still standing strong on their own merits, I’d like to write an article about each of the levels in a game I find to be a wonderful example of level design at its best. In that spirit, and due to the fact that another sequel is coming out within the next week, I’m going to start a comprehensive series of articles looking over all nine areas in one of my personal favorite games: Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door. To begin this run-through, we’ll start at the hub for the game: Rogueport.
Just as the original Paper Mario had Toad Town and its sewers as the connections to all the places Mario would have to travel on his journey, the sequel has Rogueport and, shockingly enough, its similar sewers to serve the same function. The town is Mario’s base of operations throughout the game and serves every function it should, having an inn for healing, multiple stores, a casino for gambling away your hard-earned coins, and other such services. Where it differs, and what makes Rogueport an interesting locale, is the personality of the place itself.
There is a rough, streetwise element present throughout the area due to the fact that the town was built by thieves and the like as they searched for the treasure of the titular Thousand-Year Door. The most common inhabitants aren’t the plain and unthreatening Toads, but shifty types like the Bandit enemies and the mafia-analogue Piantas. One of the first things that happens on your initial visit is a thief stealing half of Mario’s coins as he bumps into you and everyone you talk to tells you that Rogueport is a tough town. It gives a completely different impression than the harmless Toad Town and that lends the place a far more interesting and memorable edge that makes the keeps player interest throughout.
The design of Rogueport itself compliments this impression perfectly. Nearly all the buildings in all sections of the town are dilapidated, with bricks missing and moss growing in a few visible cracks. The fences are off-kilter with broken posts and trash is scattered all over the numerous back alleys throughout. A gallows stands in the exact center of the city, especially surprising considering the fact that this is a Nintendo-developed game, as a monument of sorts to the brutality of those who settled the city. All of these details contribute to the ramshackle, yet tough feeling the area conveys. However, despite those facts, Rogueport still has a charm to it that makes you perfectly happy to come back to it again and again in between your journeys to the surrounding areas. This is most evident in the theme of the town, an upbeat song that doesn’t give a sense of foreboding so much as the feel of a bustling, colorful town where there’s always something to see and discover. These “light” and “dark” sides of the town expressed through the design make Rogueport a multifaceted location that’s just as interesting as any other area of the game, instead of having the place merely serve as a go-between.
In addition, there are several background story elements at play in Rogueport that come up throughout Mario’s quest to open the Thousand-Year Door that give the area its own story, which makes you excited to come back at the end of each chapter instead of feeling the boredom of returning to a static hub. While many such stories, both small and large, are at work in the town, the most prominent of the bunch is the turf war between the Robbo Gang, led by Ishnail, on the east side of town and the Pianta Syndicate, run by Don Pianta, on the opposing west. This conflict is present even at the very beginning of the game where, in the background of a story scene, a couple Piantas rough up members of the Robbo Gang. Looking around either side of Rogueport shows each gang’s influence heavily if you look for it and you personally have to interact with the gangs multiple times to progress to new areas.
Despite that, the story of the gangs, along with most other plot in Rogueport, isn’t directly stated for you, at least not completely. The story threads directly presented merely hint to greater stories that give the events far more depth than a simple run-through of the game would show. I am very fond of this design choice, as piecing together the bigger pictures through presented events and further information found through searching make the world seem that much bigger and while this is present throughout the game, it is most obvious in Rogueport.
However interesting the town may be, talking about only that would exclude about half of the area, due to the sewers underneath the city. Much like the Toad Town Sewers, the main purpose of the area is to provide connections to the various other places through pipes found as you gain more abilities. Unlike the Toad Town Sewers, there is just as much story to be found in this place as there was in Rogueport, if not more so, all starting with the Thousand-Year Door itself.