The handheld Mario and Luigi series has been a great alternative to the simple side scrolling days of the plumbers past, and with the extreme popularity of both the Mario and Luigi RPG series and the Paper Mario franchise it was only a matter of time before the two franchises would combine forces into one single adventure. With fun, engaging writing and addictive gameplay, it’s also one of the most charming Mario titles I have played in years. It’s just a shame that the game is bogged down with repetitive missions, uneven difficulty and unbalanced game mechanics used to pad the game’s length and challenge.
While exploring the castle, Luigi and Toad accidentally unleash the 2D world of Paper Mario to the 3D world of Super Mario, with paper counterparts of literally every character being hurled into the 3D realm. Eventually, Mario and Luigi meet up with Paper Mario and attempt to return the paper population back to their own world. I really enjoyed the moments when the paper versions of each characters would meet their counterparts, especially the interactions of each of the 2 Bowser’s. It’s also quite humorous to see almost every character in the game throw Luigi under the bus.
Using a turn based system fixed upon boosting your attack with a well timed button press, Mario and Luigi: Paper Jam is easy enough to get into, but parts of its combat system are incredibly hard to master. The fault with the combat system lies within the defensive prompts. Much like the attack system where timing a button press to inflict additional damage, you mostly do the same thing when being struck upon. Simple attacks are easy enough to block or dodge, but later on the game tosses so much variation at you with these incoming attacks, it can be a bit too much as each and every attack requires its own timing to defend against. Skilled players may find no fault with this system, but newcomers to this type of game, or even younger players, may be cautious to play this on normal difficulty. Combine that with the Crash Bandicoot inspired running sections that will often lead to instant death due to the insane timing as you need to control not only one of the characters, but all three at once. A boss fight midway through the game allows enemies to do some attacks that are well too powerful and can be extremely cheap.
Both Mario and Luigi play essentially the same, use the same gear and aside from the Bro attacks you can use in tandem with your team, there is nothing else to differentiate the two brothers other than their height and fashion sense. Paper Mario, on the other hand is far different, far more fun, and the saving grace of the game. Most boss fights, due to the whole defensive timing system, would often see both Mario and Luigi on the ground, knocked out, while Paper Mario would be kicking goomba’s and taking names. Paper Mario has the ability to create multiple copies of himself. Each copy acts as either an additional attack or a shield. Mario and Luigi can mostly hit twice depending on your skill, Paper Mario can hit for as many copies of himself as you have, and has a far better jump allowing you to bypass almost any attack that comes your way.
Each character has a selection of personalized strikes called Bro attacks. These vary from kicking a turtle shell soccer style, playing a game of racket ball with your opposing force, or firing a rocket off to have it crash down upon your foes. There is a good variety of these moves, and they allow you to practice them to get the timing right. You’ll also have access to a few special abilities during your exploring that allow you to traverse the well detailed and well designed environments. You’ll earn these at critical points during your adventure as they are designed to open up sections of the game based upon where you are plot-wise.
There is also a game-play diversion where you do combat in various paper craft mechs. These sections, while originally fun, start to get repetitive, don’t control too well, and don’t really add much to the game. You’ll need to keep the strength up of your team carrying the paper craft giants, and do so by completing a rhythm game on the various platforms around the arena. No matter which paper craft you pilot, they all handle and play essentially the same. Another diversion that pads the game for length is the scavenger hunts for Paper Toads. There are well over a dozen instances where you must gather Paper Toads for progressing throughout the game. While at first these sections were fun and gave a sense of variety, they start to wear thin and become repetitive, as you’re simply going through the same motions again and again.
Visually the game is gorgeous. Animations for the 3D models are incredibly well done, and the 2D elements, despite their simplicity, look great. The real stand-out for me was Bowser, his model is really well polished and animated. The audio in the game is your standard Mario-fare, as the music and voices are typical of a Mario game. Each character has a few spoken words, but it’s never more than that. I really wish Nintendo would spend the extra money and fully voice these characters. The locations in the game vary from snow capped mountains, creepy castles, sunny beaches and tropical jungles. The locations are well designed and offer a decent amount of variety among them.
If you have a few of the Amiibo’s that Nintendo has been releasing then you’ll have some use for them here, as they lend themselves to boosting attacks, defences or other traits that will help you in your battles. Mario, Luigi, Toad, Peach, Yoshi and Bowser and their alternative versions are all available to use in game. Each Amiibo has a library of cards that you can use to turn the tide of battle. Some of these attacks are so potent, they can almost be considered game breaking.
I wish the game had better Amiibo support, as paper versions of all the current Amiibo’s as attack summons would have been a killer feature. As it stands, there is only support for 18 Amiibo’s. Nintendo, in my eyes, has not fully supported their own Amiibo library well enough to make the collectible toys worthwhile. This game doesn’t move the toys past their collectible nature, but it does attempt to use them in a fairly decent and interesting way.
If Amiibo’s ain’t your bag, there is another version of the card system in-game. As you battle Bowser’s minions, you’ll earn star points. These points are used to play cards in battle that vary from things like boosting the gold earned after battle, or healing and attacking. You can store 10 cards in each deck and swap out as you go should you not like the card played. It’s a decent system that seems less game breaking than the Amiibo set up.
There are some areas in the game where the difficulty spikes almost unfairly. These moments are few and far between and usually swapping to easy mode can help you get past these difficult hurdles. Paper Jam is a fun game that sadly drowns in its own mistakes. The combat system while fun and addictive is plagued by a poor timing system when on the defensive. At times, the game feels basic and water downed from previous Mario and Luigi games, and even the prior Paper Mario games. The writing is sharp, witty and has all the charm you expect from a Mario title, even if the story itself is fairly lacklustre. If you can get past the difficulty and repetition, there is a solid game here that can be vastly enjoyable.