REVIEW - Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam

This game was a surprise to me when it was first announced. I knew Nintendo would eventually release another Mario & Luigi game, I just never expected it to come only two years after the previous game, Mario & Luigi: Dream Team. That game was packed full of new ideas, new designs, and a relatively massive world to explore. I didn’t know how Alpha Dream, the developer of the Mario & Luigi series, was possibly going to be able to produce a worthwhile follow-up so quickly. But then I watched the trailer, and saw Paper Mario show up out of the blue and start doing all the great papery things he does. This was the greatest idea for a crossover I’ve seen in a long time, even if it did probably destroy about a thousand fanfictions.

Story Time. I said Paper Mario showed up out of the blue, but that’s not exactly right. More accurately, he was showed up after being shot like a bullet out of a magic book. Yes, that is the most precise way to describe it. One day Luigi was inexplicably responsible for doing all the custodial work around Peach’s castle, and managed to accidently open some strange magic book that released all the paper versions of the Mushroom Kingdom inhabitants into the regular Mushroom Kingdom.  This created a kingdom-wide state of confusion of panic, with Toads wondering where all the new, flatter Toads came from, and Paper Toads wondering if they were tripping on their own mushrooms at the sight of the three-dimensional counterparts. 

Side note: This whole concept of the paper versions of characters living in their own world separate from the regular Mario universe now also moves the Paper games into their own timeline, Legend of Zelda style. It’s worth being aware of, but I’ll let more obsessed fans than me try to figure out all the details. 

Unfortunately for Mario and co., the release of the Paper versions into the world also meant inclusion of less peaceful characters, with Paper Bowser Making his way into the Mushroom Kingdom as well. He ten very quickly joins forces with his bulgy counterpart to hatch a new scheme to take over the world. Now Mario, Luigi, and Paper Mario have stop double the Bowser trouble.  It’s all fairly standard fare for a Mario story, especially compared to all other Mario RPGs, but I don’t really mind. When the main premise of a game is the crossover aspect, you have to build a narrative that compliments the premise rather than overshadow it.

As far as gameplay goes, I guess you could think of it as… Mario & Luigi mixed with Paper Mario. I may not seem very clever right now, but Paper Jam is its own best comparison. All the conventional mechanics of both game series are rolled into one, with M&L’s emphasis on Bros. Moves and counter-attacking being coupled with Paper Mario series’ tradition of boosting Mario’s power (In Paper Jam this is accomplished by Mario making copies of himself). 

For new additions to the combat mechanic, we have the Trio Attacks and the Battle Cards. As you’d imagine, Trio Attacks are powerful attacks that are performed with Mario and Luigi in conjunction with Paper Mario. They are basically more powerful Bros. moves, but you know, paper-ish.

The Battle Cards at bit more complexity to battles. They are randomly distributed, and you must pay these “Star Points” as a cost to use them, with the amount of points needed for activation varying for each card. One card may restore health, another may damage opponents. You need to build a deck of ten cards and use the one(s) you think will help you battle, making your choice of cards a very important and strategic aspect of the game.

Aside from these new features, the tried-and-true battle system has not been messed with, except for one important change from Dream Team: no moves require the use of the gyroscope controls. Thank. You. God.

Regular turn-based battles aren’t the only action sequences in Paper Jam. We also get new (and surprisingly fun) Papercraft battles and Toad minigames. Yeah, they are Paper Jam’s gimmicks, but they work well. 

Papercraft battles are essentially boss fights that have you assume command of massive papercraft versions of various characters – such as Mario and Yoshi – and using there similar-yet-different moves and attacks to defeat Papercraft enemies. You control the papercraft, but they are actually moved around by a hoard of Toads, all of which channel their inner worker ant and carry the massive weapon around. It kind of supports the whole hive-mind theory about the Toads, but whatever. The battles are fun, not too long, and are a clever change of pace.

The Toad minigames I did not expect to be as prevalent in this game, and I also definitely did not expect them to be as fun as they are. It is a repetitive theme in the game that you must rescue a large number of Paper Toads, so they can build your papercrafts. Multiple times you will enter a new region of the Mushroom Kingdom, and learn that some Toads need to be found/rescued. This is done by completing action-based minigames. At first I was worried that this would get old very, very fast, but was soon overjoyed by the fact that they made a wide variety minigames for each new batch of Toads that needed to be found, making my job as Toad herder an actually fun and different experience from the rest of the game. I love when game developers make the effort to keep a key aspect of a game fun. It show that they value my money. …I mean care.

As for gameplay outside of battle, it’s really just the same as other Mario & Luigi games. You explore an overworld, visit various locations, interact with NPCs, and learn a number of abilities that help you traverse previously inaccessible areas. All things we are familiar with, except with Paper Mario as a third character, who is usually the key component to making any learned ability possible. It’s what you’d expect, what you’re used to, and what you should demand from any game like this.

Being a RPG, there plenty of the rpg-centric goodies everyone loves. You level up and increase stats the same as any Mario & Luigi game, and can equip a wide variety of gear, such as Hammer and Boots to alter ATTACK strength, and PANTS to enhance a character’s defenses. Eventually you can even receive special bonuses for achieving certain levels. Some of these include nice buffs such as extra equipment slots, extra Attack or Defense boost, or the ability to level up even faster. 

These are all things we’ve seen in previous Mario & Luigi games, but there is actually one surprising omission that I need to mention. Before, each time one of the Mario Bros. would level up, they would also receive the chance to select and increase on stat by a random amount. This allowed you to alter a character and compensate for any inherent weaknesses. For some reason, this is absent from Paper Jam. Maybe it was due to the inclusion of a third character, or for a change of pace, I’m not sure, but the function is now gone. It’s a bit of a shame, because it was a great way to balance the Bros. and make sure they fought better as a team. It doesn’t detract much from the game, especially once you get further in and obtain better gear, but for a long-time player of this series it will be a bit of an annoyance to not have the mechanic, especially when your years of experience and practice with it now no longer means anything.

Also, I need to mention something about the controls. They are for the most part the same as all previous games, with you controlling Mario with the “A” button and Luigi with the “B” button, but now you must also control Paper Mario, which is done by using the “Y” button. This can get a little confusing at first, especially during moments when you have to make precise inputs quickly. You get used to it over time, but is complex enough to warrant the developer’s decision to use the “X” button to make all three brothers hover jump at the same time when outside of battle, and, more importantly, serve as emergency block during battle. You could see it as a callback to Paper Mario’s traditional action command block that Mario always had, but it could also be an admittance of the ,at times, convoluted controls. It’s not that big of a deal, but resulting to using the block always felt like a sign of defeat to me, like I couldn’t handle controlling all the characters independent of each other. 

Let’s talk about enemies. In the previous Mario & Luigi games, the developers seem to love throwing new and bizarre creatures at us to fight. Not this time around. For Paper Jam, Mario and co. are more or less stuck going to the worst high school reunion ever. Paper Bowser came over to the Mushroom Kingdom, but he brought friends, and all of them hate the Mario Bros. just as much as the native baddies. We’ve got Paper Kamek, Paper Bowser Jr., Paper Koopas, Paper Goombas, and many more all joining up with their counterparts. But don’t worry, it’s not just like fighting two everything. Well, I mean it is, but I think you know where I’m going with this.

Paper versions, being paper and all, behave differently from the regular versions of every enemy, so you get a lot subtle variety that forces you to keep on point in every battle. A regular Koopa may attack you one way, but a Paper Koopa may use a different tactic or pattern. You have learn all the differences and develop the right counterattacks for each one, which greatly reduces the monotony you would otherwise experience.

By now, the more knowledgeable fans of the series should be wondering if Paper Jam meets humor standard expected in every installment of the series. Though none of the games have been as funny since Fawful’s last appearance (I miss that hilarious psychopath), I personally think the jokes are even better than in the last game, Dream Team. They break the forth wall more, we have two Bowsers to laugh at(which you will laugh at), and healthy number of recurring characters that always show up to complicated the Mario Bros.’ live in hilarious fashions. Also, Nabbit’s in this game. He is that special form of non-verbal humor that is actually a first for the series. 

I definitely wasn’t holding my breath for Paper Jam, especially when all I could think about was how quickly it was released after Dream Team, but I can honestly say I was not let down by this game. It reinvents without starting from scratch, which means it gives us something actually new without ticking the diehard fans off. It has exciting gameplay, loveable characters, and other various manner of “the works.” Paper Jam is of course not the best in the series (That distinction still goes to Superstar Saga. Don’t try to say it isn’t.), but it won’t end up as the series’ forgotten child either. 

In short, this game is a pleasant surprise that doesn’t fall flat. (You get it? Please don’t hate me.)


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