Kidnapped again? Honestly, this must be the hundredth time. You'd have thought the Princess would have grown some common sense by now.
Yes, she's vanished again, but this time it isn't what you're thinking. And it probably isn't the kind of game you'd associate with Mario, this being an RPG and all that. However, it's still a smashing piece of Nintendo fun.
It's the sequel to an N64 title from a few years back, although you certainly don't need to have played the original to get maximum enjoyment from it. And Mario's traditional jumping abilities are toned down in favour of turn-based fights and clever puzzles.
The game is undeniably beautiful. And all the characters appear as if they're painted on slips of paper, so whenever somebody turns to face the other direction you see them flip around.
Buildings are cardboard stages that flop apart and spin to give the best view when you enter. Walk on to the next screen, and rather than a simple wipe or fade effect, the previous screen gets folded up or crumpled into a ball and tossed aside.
The amount of detail is superb. There are always things happening in the background, or little bits of artwork that beg to be investigated. And the hand-drawn look lends it a depth of character rarely seen since Wind Waker.
The aim is to gather special crystals that unlock the secret of the Thousand Year Door. This is a task that Mario can't accomplish on his own. But luckily there are plenty of friendly faces that'll tag along and offer their special skills, usually in return for help on a side-quest of their own.
With a useful party of adventurers to call on, you'll be a big hit in battles. Rather than having fights take place in the same location where you encountered an enemy, you're transported to a theatre, where an audience watches the action. The better you fight, the more of them turn up, and you can call on them for assistance once you're established as a crowd favourite. Fight badly and they'll throw things at you, or just get up and walk out.
It's packed with inventive touches, and there are loads of places to explore. The typically excellent script is marred slightly by Americanisms, but it's never less than a good, funny read. Mario's best RPG outing so far, and one of the finest GameCube titles of the year.