Game Name: Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam
Developer: Alpha Dream
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: 1/22/2016
Genre: Action, Role-Playing
ESRB Rating: E
A download code for the game was provided by the publisher for this review.
AlphaDream’s previous title Mario & Luigi: Dream Team, released in a very crowded year of Mario-related titles, was a huge breath of fresh air for a series that started to feel a bit stale. That twist on the formula of offering the fully-realized cartoony RPG experience that began way back with the mythical Super Mario RPG cross focused 2D-platformer sequences made for a full menu of dynamic gameplay that I kept coming back to time and time again. Moreover, Dream Team managed to surprise over and over again with interesting quirks to gameplay or off-kilter storytelling beats (especially in Luigi’s dream world). One might never expect to see such heartfelt presentation with two mute plumbers involved. It did, of course, drag in parts and the contrivances to keep players exploring felt like padding along with the uninteresting lore of Pi’Illo Island. 40+ hours was way too long.
So, moving forward with the fifth entry in the series, Paper Jam, AlphaDream has drawn from flatter reaches of the Marioverse to drag Paper Mario and the gang into the mix. The result? A hilarious and charming game that never overstays its welcome and has proven to be one of my favorite Mario & Luigi games. The missteps of Bowser Inside Story and the like are shirked off to give way to an excellent combination of Paper’s mechanics lovingly mixed with the M&L series mainstays.
Really Luigi? Again?
If there’s one thing we know about the lovable brothers de Italiano-stereotype its that Luigi is, well, a bit of a screw-up. Despite his best intentions to live up to the legacy his overall-sporting brother has crafted he tends to muck things up. This time around, it comes in the form of dropping a storybook that lets the entirety of the Paperverse spill forth in some sort of acid flashback papyrus nightmare. Paper Goombas and Koopa Troopas, two Bowsers wanting to kidnap two different princesses and far worse. This, of course, comes with the added benefit of bringing along the 2D version of everybody’s favorite mustachioed wunderkind and his gangly brother. It’s very much an Everybody Loves Raymond situation except that Luigi is still far more tolerable than Brad Garrett. So now the trio must embark on a great adventure to set things right within the Mushroom Kingdom once more. The setup is pretty typical of the series as a whole but, thankfully, drawing from the Paper Mario titles (minus the garbage of Sticker Star — Seriously. That game is terrible.) brings with it a whole new set of ideas for combat mechanics and twice the potential for shenanigans.
Things get rolling at a pretty breakneck pace and the familiar trappings of timed button presses during combat and without the laborious tutorials of Dream Team. That was one of the few “Come on, man!” moments for that last game for me personally and it felt so nice just to dive right in and get to work. The streamlining doesn’t end there as cutscenes and dialogue can be sped through should one choose with a press of the R button along with being able to save anywhere (Look, Ma! No save blocks!) along with Assist mode being toggled at the press of a button. That allows for easy indicators for which brother is being targeted at the time along with switching difficulties on the fly to allow for easier or more challenging encounters.
If one wants to cheese the entire system (especially in the early game), then the Marioverse amiibos will do the trick. Any of the core Mario statuettes can be used to grant bonuses, give items or, in the case of more than a couple, dish out extreme amounts of damage. The game is already fairly easy even on harder difficulty settings and adding the infamous figures into the mix only makes things easier. The later chapters of the game won’t feel as gimped by them but, still, your mileage will vary.
You want a fat lip to go with that mustache?
The introduction of the Paper Mario versions of Mushroom Kingdom faithful into the mix adds a whole other layer of potential humor to the otherwise already solid comedic writing and timing of the game. This ranges from the various 2D/3D bits that offer variety in exploration to the interactions between paper and their 3D counterparts. Combat also feels more nuanced with triple-tech style attacks made available along with the inclusion of a new mechanic, Papercraft. Imagine two giant cardboard versions of Mario and an enemy scrappin’ like warring kaiju across the battlefield. The execution of it isn’t quite as fantastic as I would have hoped but the game never forces it upon you for more than a few minutes at a time. The controls and presentation just simply fell flat (pun intended).
What made matters worse were the lead-up to the Papercraft battles in the form of Paper Toad collection. Toadette, that needy strumpet, desperately needs those Paper Toads to allow players through to the Papercraft battles. This is completely mandatory and has to be done to complete the game. A bummer into a bit of a disappointment with the battles themselves ultimately resulted in the biggest flaw of the game overall. Make those Toad collection bits optional and a major failing of the game is nullified.
Thankfully the Toad Collection and Papercraft don’t take much of the 30 hour run-time of Paper Jam. The rest of the game is a worthy successor to Dream Team and, honestly, improves on it in many ways. Let’s not forget that this game holds true to the other grand tradition of Mario & Luigi games. Everyone treats Luigi like the trash brother he is. Hurray!
Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam might not have quite the number of surprises up its sleeve as Dream Team or even Bowser Inside Story yet it never overstays its welcome. The games dialogue is often hilarious, combat is satisfying and this continued exploration into the weird underbelly of the Mushroom Kingdom keeps me coming back for more. A few missteps in the newer elements aside this is an excellent entry into a fantastic franchise. If only Fawful were somehow along for the ride, it might be my favorite game of them all. Need an RPG for your 3DS right now and are itching for more Mario? Look no further.
+ The inclusion of Paper Mario is fantastic whether it's in combat with the triple-tech moves possible or in the added humor of the 2D wonder in a 3D world.
+ Combat is as solid as it has ever been with new mechanics (aside from Papercraft) adding nuance to an already great system.
+ This series still delivers on the all-ages humor that nails it nearly every time.
+ The pacing is far better than Dream Team by a country mile.
+ The meta-elements are well-done but never stray for too long.
- Paper Toad Collection is mandatory and just not fun.
- Papercraft battles are cool in theory but not great in execution. You'll be fighting the controls more than the enemy.
- Not quite as many surprises along the way as Dream Team.